Journalistic Ethics is a Myth, Just Like in Any Other Business; Long Live Journalism

By Alan W. Cohen

Conservative commentator Sean Hannity says Journalism is dead. The truth is, however, it was never truly alive, at least not in the sense that journalists want the public to believe. From the beginning of our country, journalism, that is newspapers, were political instruments. Both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison published what we now fall the Federalist Papers under pseudonyms in “friendly” newspapers. The election of 1800 was marred with false rumors published in similar friendly outlets. The election of 1824, certainly the most mean spirited in our history, was highlighted with a claim that Andrew Jackson’s wife was a bigamist. The turn of the 20th Century was the era of the muckrakers. These were the original investigative journalists, the high minded that saw the evils of the Gilded Age, with its sweat shops and child labor. Yet, the bottom line was that the business of journalism was to sell newspapers. Circulation increases advertising, and advertising revenue pays the bills.

These high minded ideals were painted on the hallowed halls of the nation’s first journalism school, where I am still a proud to have graduated. There I was indoctrinated in the myth of my new profession, that we were seekers of the truth, where ever that might lead. The real truth was that all publishers, owners of radio and television stations have a political agenda. They hire like minded journalists to preach their agenda to the masses of respective readers, listeners and viewers, not the truth mind you, but their version of the truth. Every story has an angle, a spin. Yet, like any good snake oil salesman, the job of the news outlet is to convince the world that their truth is unvarnished. We see it in their advertising. Channel X, your trusted name in news. The news you can count on. And so on.

Like many of my era. I was once a true believer, drawing inspiration from the muckraking work of Woodward and Bernstein, Yet, when I graduated from Mizzou in 1981, I entered a world completely unprepared for the truth about my new profession. There were no idealists out there, just people trying to make a living, doing anything and everything to please their bosses, including, and especially obeying their edicts as to story choice and placement. Anyone who violated those rules was sent packing.

We have returned to the era of Yellow Journalism, when the very wealthy publishers had no illusions of purity.  Their agenda was to create the news and to shape public opinion. Their goal is to create as many auto bots as possible to carry their message forward. We see that in politics with the likes of billionaire globalist George Soros who finances scores of agenda driven organizations of the far left and the libertarian leaning Koch brothers on the right.  Big Media is nothing more, using past reputation as fodder to convince the masses, attempting to destroy any that would oppose their views. Journalism used to be about protecting free speech. Now it is about protecting only the speech of those that agree and support your message. We see this scenario play out over and over again on the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore, and on college campuses across the nation, as  the media driven auto bots repeat the hate and intolerance while at the same time proclaiming themselves as completely right. At the same time, the media justifies their violence and destruction as protected protest.

Yet, true journalism lives on in the spirit of the muckrakers that did deep to uncover corruption, especially of those in power. Unfortunately, those are few and far between. What remains are the snake oil salesmen that pitch their truths to anyone who will listen. The worst of these are the sanctimonious who actually believe their version is pure. Ironically, if every reader, listener or viewer attended journalism school, they would know how to filter truth from the politically driven garbage that masquerades as news.

Alan W. Cohen is an attorney and author. His most recent book, Private Vows: The Case for Ending State Regulation of Marriage and Divorce is available on Amazon.





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