An open letter/Op Ed to the Talking Heads Media
What has happened to Journalism?
In 2004, John Kerry, a verifiable war hero, had his military war record savaged for weeks based on the unsubstantiated claims of a few men. To believe those men, you had to believe that Kerry’s official military records were doctored in some way, that the man he saved was a liar, that the very act of piloting a swiftboat into enemy territory wasn’t brave, that two tours in Viet Nam didn’t earn him our respect, and that the military erred in awarding him medals because he wasn’t wounded “enough”.
The media, rather than researching the issue, ignored all of that and actually amplified these malignant lies designed to attack his greatest strength by giving these guys a huge amount of air time. Those lies and their media-fueled amplification are together known as “swiftboating”.
The media also spent weeks vilifying Dan Rather over the typeface on some memos, and virtually none of them compared the content of those memos to the official military record that Bush himself released. If they had, they would have found that every single one of those memos corresponded chronologically with documentation in that military record supporting the content of the memos. Those journalists that did this comparison were marginalized and ignored.
One man’s excellent, official record was trashed, while other man’s rather pathetic record was ignored.
Those of us who understood the concept of journalism began to mourn its absence.
Also during that campaign, two stories shared the front page of the Los Angeles Times. One was written by a reporter traveling with Cheney, the other by a reporter with Kerry. Cheney had attacked Kerry, and Kerry had responded. In neither case did these reporters practice actual Journalism and find out who was correct. But the story by the reporter traveling with Cheney did not even include Kerry’s refutation. I emailed the reporter about it.
His response to me: “It’s hard to write stories while you’re traveling on a bus all day”.
My response, aside from pointing out that his colleague had the Kerry response and he had a cell phone, was:
If you can’t do the job, get off the bus.
This week the subject is Mitt Romney’s role in Bain Capital, the company he founded and managed as CEO, President, and sole shareholder for many years. This is what his campaign claims as his strength – his ability to run a business. He claims this means he knows how to create jobs.
There is no dispute that Bain went into several businesses, increased their debt substantially, then closed them, and fired all of the employees, in some cases leaving them without their pensions – and walked away with millions in profits.
Yet the media has left it up to the Obama campaign to reveal this. They have left it up to Romney to spin it. They have left it us to up to figure out the facts. This is what they consider to be “balanced”. This is what they consider to be Journalism. The facts are the facts: either Bain did this, or they didn’t. Why isn’t that a story worthy of researching and reporting?
Instead, the story this week is about comparing Obama’s ads with the swiftboaters.
This is not only patently ridiculous, but insulting to the concept of an “informed electorate” as well.
But you don’t have to believe me, or Obama, or Romney. You can do the research. You can look at all of the facts, the official documents, review the videotapes of Romney’s own sworn testimony and the Bain news releases and the flight records. You can interview people who were there.
You can focus on the serious issues this raises and what it means to us as we select the man who will run our country. You can be Journalists.
Instead you choose to sensationalize, draw false equivalencies that in fact steer us to the conclusion that the facts are not actually facts, and leave us completely uninformed.
Even when others – professionals - have done the research and laid it out for you, you choose not to report the facts, and instead jaw on about campaign tactics.
It’s either true or it’s false. Do your job.
The irony here is that the ludicrous and easily refuted lies coming from Romney and the GOP are allowed to fester and poison the basis on which we will choose our President, while the media fosters ignorance about the facts of Romney and Bain Capital. Is it just easier than doing any fact checking or research – in other words, Journalism?
In fact, the Romney campaign and Romney himself have lied consistently and the media looks the other way.
For weeks the GOP has been saying Obama is "on a spending spree" when in fact he is spending less than other presidents. They claim he has raised taxes when 98% of us have received tax cuts. Romney's stump speech has included claims that Obama did not once mention the debt or deficit in the State of the Union address. That's only one of Romney’s out and out lies about the SOTU that can be revealed by a simple viewing of the speech.
And Romney, incredibly, claims that Obama has not offered a jobs bill.
Romney’s campaign has been caught creatively editing Obama speeches, but that was a small blip in the “news”. Romney’s very statements are laughably untrue – even his statements about his own record. The lies are virtually endless, and virtually all of them are easily researched and refuted.
And why are the Romney campaign and the GOP so unconcerned about spouting easily refuted lies? It’s because Journalism has been exiled from the mainstream media, and they know it.
They know you won’t watch Obama’s speech and point out that Romney is lying. They know that you won’t point out that Obama has not been on a “spending spree” and in fact has offered 10:1 spending cuts to revenue that the GOP refused. They know you won’t point out what the independent Congressional Budget Office says about policies like the ACA. They know you won’t point out that Senate Republicans are filibustering everything and the GOP in the House has passed countless abortion and ACA repeal bills instead of offering even one jobs bill – they know you’ll just blame both sides equally.
They know you won’t do your job. .
There isn't a grey area here. No other owner/manager/president/sole shareholder/CEO would get away with claiming that he had no culpability in what his company does, or that despite documents he signed and news releases saying he'd be there part time and his own sworn statements about his unabated involvement and the fact he received a salary didn't mean he was actually “involved”. It’s worthy of your time and effort to investigate and report.
A few years ago there was a dispute between the Democrats and Republicans in the Senate. The Democrats were in the majority, and the Republicans were complaining that they were not confirming Bush’s judges. The Democrats pointed out that they had, in fact, confirmed far more of Bush’s judges than the Republicans had confirmed Clinton’s.
The story ended there. The Republicans complained, and the Democrats responded. If only there were a way to verify who was right, some sort of “record” of “facts” you could have checked that would enable you to impart some meaningful information to us.
If only you did your job.
In past election cycles, the media has also held back important stories because they were discovered “too close to the election” and reporting them might affect the outcome. In fact, that is your role: to give us information so we can make an informed decision. You wouldn’t hold back an auto recall for fear we might decide to purchase a different car, or withhold a report on e-coli for fear we might stop buying spinach.
Why do feel you can’t trust us with information about the people who want to run the country?
Facts are facts - they are not biased. If the facts make Romney, or Obama, or my grandmother look bad, that's not unfair, it's Journalism.
What you are doing is not Journalism. "Balance" at the expense of truth is not journalism.
This particular story is about the activities of Bain Capital, and whether Romney was involved in those activities, and it’s an important story because he claims his work there equips him to be President of the United States. The story should not be about the Obama campaign’s role in calling attention to it.
We are at a crucial juncture right now. There is no more important time for you to find out the facts and tell them to us. There is no more important time for Journalism.
If you can’t do the job, get off the bus.
Update: WHOA, the top of the wrecked list? Thank you, everyone. :)