In his book “The Other Side of the Story” about his dealings with the media, Jody Powell, President Carter’s press secretary, presciently observed that if Americans knew the people responsible for covering the news, they wouldn’t believe anything they read. In Powell’s day, cable news was in its infancy and most print journalists were known only by their bylines.
Prominent journalists today are a collection of personal “brands” attached to mostly liberal publications. Many are more ubiquitous on television and Twitter than the sources they are assigned to cover. As Powell predicted, the public doesn’t like what it sees. A recent Investor’s Business Daily survey found that trust in media continues to erode; more than two-thirds of Americans believe the media is “more concerned with advancing its points of view rather than reporting all the facts.”
The media doesn’t appreciate its perilous state. Supporters of President Trump applaud his calls to make it easier to sue media outlets for libel and there are mounting rumblings elsewhere in the country to hold journalists more accountable. Georgia is one such place, where a bill has been introduced to create an industry panel to establish ethical standards journalists would be required to follow and face penalties if they don’t.
In theory, the intent of the bill isn’t a bad idea given the media’s inability to regulate itself and stop reporting fake news with increasing regularity. But the bill would hamper the dwindling number of conscientious journalists committed to ferreting out genuine government and corporate wrongdoing. Politicians and corporations most likely to file complaints with the panel invariably will be the ones most deserving of critical coverage.
It’s fitting that Georgia is on the vanguard of media regulation. The watershed moment in the precipitous decline of American journalism was in 1996 when the media fingered security guard Richard Jewell as a suspect in the Centennial Park Olympic bombing. Jewell was actually a hero who alerted police and saved countless lives leading an evacuation from the Atlanta park.
Multiple publications settled libel lawsuits with Jewell but his hometown newspaper, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, was defiant, arguing it was just “doing our job” reporting on what the FBI was investigating. The “doing our job” excuse has become a near constant refrain to justify the unfortunate consequences of the media’s continuous rush to judgment.
The liberal media was quick to condemn Nicholas Sandmann, the MAGA hat-wearing Covington High School student, for supposedly provoking a confrontation with a Native American activist based on an edited video posted on Twitter. A release of a video of the entire incident revealed that Sandmann wasn’t the provocateur. The Mueller Report is another example of discredited reporting; for two years the liberal media reported that Mueller had the goods to prosecute Trump Administration officials for colluding with Russia. But he didn’t.
The media’s leadership is disingenuous or naive about the recourse victims harmed by erroneous and reckless reporting can pursue. Lynn Walsh, Ethics Chair at the Society of Professional Journalists, maintained that most newsrooms have a code of ethics and should be responsive to complaints and criticisms. Tell that to the Washington Post, which waited weeks to formally correct its reporting on Sandmann – and only after it was sued for defamation by Sandmann’s family.
As for the media’s accountability for its Mueller reporting, Margaret Sullivan, a Washington Post media columnist, declared journalists “should be proud” of their Mueller reporting. The Columbia Journalism Review opined, “journalists were doing their jobs.”
The media has lost its connection with the public because it has become overwhelmingly staffed with liberal elitists who don’t respect the views and values of a wide swath of America. It would be most unfortunate if journalists became regulated, but it would be an outcome of their own doing.