Flowers in Your Hair
My friend Sandy Tolan and I had a good intense discussion over dinner last night about journalism. We were both despairing over the state of the Fourth Estate.
I expanded on some of my thoughts below about how to transform the craft in the Age of Bush. This administration has managed an astounding triangulation: whipping up doubts, questions and suspicions among citizens about the legitimacy of the press; and effectively playing the press corps through intimidation, lack of access and controlled use of competition.
The administration is doing the same thing with the courts: by trashing the entire role of an entire branch of government they play on the gut reactions of voters and begin to make illegitimate the rulings of the courts.
The latter undermines the rule of law.
The former undermines reality. Deception as truth tends to do that.
I think the rules of covering this government need to be changed. Not the core beliefs of good journalism – accuracy, timeliness, public service, ethics and legitimate story selection based on public importance and taste.
The rules have changed in that we have a government that rejects entirely the role of a free press. The Bush administration refuses to be held accountable by voters (just look at the staged ‘town hall meetings’ about Social Security), by the courts and by reporters. Andy Card, the chief of staff, famously told media writer Ken Auletta that the press is only interested in headlines.
This is Nixon and Agnew on steroids. Back then, the rules changed because the press on a national scale began investigating en masse what the government was doing. And the press then was labeled as partisan, too. But, it was doing its job.
Now, things are more muddled. You have journalists who do serious and solid stories about the Bush administration. But news organizations are now much more business operations, and there is no doubt that environment plays a role in how aggressively papers, networks and web sites go after a story. You have a public that equates the journalism of The New York Times with Entertainment Tonight. And outfits like Fox News further blur the perception between news coverage and partisan positioning. Hannity, Limbaugh and Savage do the same.
It is no wonder the public favors fireworks over insight. The real journalists have failed to connect with an underserved, confused and very busy audience.
We need a New Journalism, one based on substance not style.
1. Major news organizations need to collaborate, not compete, on coverage. Not in terms of saving money and controlling ‘cost centers.’ Networks and papers should ‘flood the zone,’ to quote Howell Raines, on dozens of big stories. What if Frontline and HBO worked together? What if CBS did a show with Comedy Central? What if the Washington Post worked with CBS?
2. Networks need to each create long form, investigative programs. These do not need to be regularly scheduled. They should be specials—and specials that air multiple times. Much like Murrow’s documentary successes, NBC’s old White Papers, the press needs to do more to explain and focus attention on falsehoods. The press can set an agenda that better explains how the world works. All this bemoaning over the death of the nightly news program is a worry of accountants, shareholders and columnists. It is bosh.
3. Why NOT do documentaries on ‘manufactured consent,’ and, for example, the selling of Social Security reform? Comedy Central did a devastating send up of this very issue and exposed Frank Luntz, the oily GOP pollster, for the lying, deceiving postule he is. The sophisticated techniques of polling, marketing and advertising are being used to subvert democracy.
4. Explain the First Amendment News organizations have done a terrible job of showing the value of the First Amendment. We spend more time in the country debating the Second Amendment than we do the right to free and open speech. If news organizations can’t spread the accurate word about this fundamental democratic and civic value, who will?
Rob Harris, my final student, arrived this morning and we just completed recording his voice tracks. Last I saw him he was in search of a computer with ProTools. We’re off to KQED in about an hour or so. Leonie, Jason and one of Sandy’s students—Fiona---completed their mixes late last night.
I must say, Berkeley has some of the best, creamiest cappuccino in the world.
And the double shot of espresso has me BUZZZING!