Why do journalists stop to be watchmen?
Matt Lauer gives a bad name to journalist. It’s time for NBC to pull the rug from under his feet. “The Enquirer” is eager to have him.
During the 2016 presidential elections, Matt Lauer of NBC’s Today Show displayed all the characteristics of what true journalism MUST NOT be; he represented the “specimen” of what a real journalist ought not to be. And yet he is lauded at NBC as “indispensable” and admired by most in his audience. No wonder journalism has become a dying art!
We already discussed in parts one, two and three (here, here and here) how we got here. As a quick reminder, Fox Opinion – referred to by most as Fox News – undoubtedly the pioneer of FAKE News has “zombified” its audience into accepting gossips, conspiracy theories as news. To Roger Ailes, former CEO of FOX, the network is a business which must be profitable; news doesn’t sell. So, he masqueraded the network as news spewing gossips, conspiracy theories – highly sellable items – to grow FOX’s audience. Read the series Lie to Me (here, here and here) to understand why Mr. Ailes’ focus was never to transform FOX into becoming the best news network. He understood from the very beginning that the news industry is not a profitable business. So, he did what he had to do to make FOX profitable; after all, that’s the primary job of any CEO working at a “for profit” organization. To that end, Mr. Ailes was a great CEO.
What happened to the other news networks? For a while, they all ignored FOX and wrongly assumed that it would eventually have to fall in line (change) or the network would go away. When it became obvious to the news industry’s brasses that FOX was not going away, they panicked and began to implement drastic changes. They shuffled journalists, reporters, anchors; they changed the formats of the programs several times; they introduced new formats, new programs, hired fresh blood, all to no avail. Year after year, FOX has continued to carry the flag of the most watched network in the country; translation: advertisers are more willing to pay higher advertising fees to FOX than to other networks, a conundrum for any news organization.
Except for a few newspapers such as the Huffington Post, most news networks have not denounced FOX for propagating falsehoods, feeding fake news and conspiracy theories to its audience which brings me to the question I asked earlier, why do journalists stop to be watchmen?
Most journalists strive to live by the most important principle, to report the truth irrespective of the consequences, in some countries even at the cost of their lives. Unfortunately, quite a few are also very shortsighted. Case in point, I watched in disbelief how Matt Lauer entertained regular phone calls – most of which were unscheduled (not part of the show) – from then candidate Donald Trump to simply “air” whatever he had in mind for the day during the primaries, scenarios which could only be described as a circus, but Matt referred to them as interviews. He very rarely challenged Trump; he didn’t call him on his lies and his misleading statements which were very frequent. No one at NBC caught the fact that not only Today Show was promoting Trump but Mr. Lauer fell very short of fulfilling the most important aspect of his job: to inform his audience, not to mislead them or allow them to be misled.
Besides reporting the truth, a journalist’s focus should be to protect his audience from misleading information, untrue statements and outright lies. As such, no “real” journalist would interview someone, let the guest spew lies, nonsense and carry on with the interview. The audience relies on the host to do what a journalist with ethics is supposed to do: to call out nonsense and challenge misstatements and untrue information; to a large degree, Matt Lauer failed spectacularly.
It doesn’t suffice to just report the truth; “real” journalists are watchmen. Their job is to categorically challenge falsehoods and call out nonsense. Matt Lauer had failed Today Show’s audience big time. I apologize for the repetition. It is one of the few things in life which got under my skin, for a journalist to fail at his job.
In a broader sense, one could say that Matt Lauer contributed a great deal to Trump’s ascension to power, whether it was intended or not. Mr. Lauer displayed during the presidential elections very little characteristic of true journalism. When one misleads his audience intentionally or not, – as Mr. Lauer did during the primaries – that individual can no longer speak for the media; Mr. Lauer misled his audience over and over and over again, giving credence to lies and rise to fake news during the general elections.
The primary job of a good and ethical journalist is to report the truth irrespective of the consequences.
- If one does not report the truth, s/he is not a journalist
- If one has to weigh the pros & the cons of reporting the truth, s/he is not a journalist.
- If one worries about his/her job when deciding to report, s/he is not a journalist.
- If one goes along with the boss on NOT reporting the truth, s/he is not a journalist.
- If one gets paid NOT to report on news worthy information, s/he is not a journalist.
- If one’s boss asks to bury “that information” and ones goes along, s/he is not a journalist.
- If one hesitates to report the truth because of the subject’s social status or government position, s/he is not a journalist.
- If one avoids to report on the truth in any way, shape or form for whatever reason one convinces himself/herself not to, s/he is not a journalist.
If you can see yourself in the mirror above, you are not a journalist; you give journalism a bad name; you contribute to killing the profession. Find yourself something else to do. Get a job with The Enquirer. Stop calling yourself a journalist because you’re not.
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