The motto which sits at the upper left corner of every New York Times issue states “All the News That’s Fit to Print”. It’s been there for 118 years. When Adolph Ochs coined the slogan, the idea of television, radio, the internet, cable news networks, blogs, and countless other modes for the conveyance and reporting of news was then beyond the imagination of anyone but science fiction writers. To me the slogan suggests that someone of integrity has reviewed a full spectrum of events and having made informed and responsible judgments, put news-worthy material out there. (I can hear the grumbling now: what does responsible mean? What constitutes news-worthy?) I don’t always know, but I can tell you that what I see ain’t it. CNNs Fredricka Whitfield calling the perpetrator of the attack in Dallas “courageous and brave” ain’t it. Former Fox News host Glenn Beck suggesting that the Baltimore riots were staged ain’t it. Commentator Marc Lamont Hill raging that those same riots were “uprisings” not riots because of police terrorism is sure as hell not it.
Do such guardians of news content exist? I gave up watching the news on television because it’s simply…well, not news. A healthy diet of who shot who, what building burned down, what celebrity was arrested, inaccurate weather updates, and sports do not make something newsworthy in my mind. There are far more serious national and global events that we all should be more familiar with. Then again, given the popular diet of reality television, I suppose it’s not a big stretch to see why there isn’t more opposition to watching non-news. Why can’t we get a news report on the tax issues facing our country? Why can’t we see an analysis of the danger we face from Russia, or China, or North Korea? Why can’t we get a fully informed report on exactly what happened at the McKinney swimming pool? Instead we get a news break with the barest of information and within minutes judgments have been made, and lives have been ruined.
It broadcasts the overall decline of editorial standards. Journalism is supposed to be founded on the principles of accuracy, objectivity, and impartiality. The American Society of News Editors actually has a Statement of Principles:
ARTICLE I – Responsibility. The primary purpose of gathering and distributing news and opinion is to serve the general welfare by informing the people and enabling them to make judgments on the issues of the time. Newspapermen and women who abuse the power of their professional role for selfish motives or unworthy purposes are faithless to that public trust. The American press was made free not just to inform or just to serve as a forum for debate but also to bring an independent scrutiny to bear on the forces of power in the society, including the conduct of official power at all levels of government.
ARTICLE III – Independence. Journalists must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety as well as any conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict. They should neither accept anything nor pursue any activity that might compromise or seem to compromise their integrity.
ARTICLE IV – Truth and Accuracy. Good faith with the reader is the foundation of good journalism. Every effort must be made to assure that the news content is accurate, free from bias and in context, and that all sides are presented fairly. Editorials, analytical articles and commentary should be held to the same standards of accuracy with respect to facts as news reports. Significant errors of fact, as well as errors of omission, should be corrected promptly and prominently.
ARTICLE V – Impartiality. To be impartial does not require the press to be unquestioning or to refrain from editorial expression. Sound practice, however, demands a clear distinction for the reader between news reports and opinion. Articles that contain opinion or personal interpretation should be clearly identified.
ARTICLE VI – Fair Play. Journalists should respect the rights of people involved in the news, observe the common standards of decency and stand accountable to the public for the fairness and accuracy of their news reports. Persons publicly accused should be given the earliest opportunity to respond. Pledges of confidentiality to news sources must be honored at all costs, and therefore should not be given lightly. Unless there is clear and pressing need to maintain confidences, sources of information should be identified.
Does anyone heed these principles, or is it more about providing a platform for advertisers to sell their stuff? Since when did journalists abandon a code of ethics for the type of biased reporting found in newspapers and media streams? How is it that any form of news media is permitted to skew to the left or the right? This surely adds one more factor to the polarizing of our nation just as badly as politics or religion because it’s used to inform opinions and those opinions will only be as sound as the information they’re drawn from. As I mentioned, look how the country is now dividing over the issue of police violence – it’s the quandary of the chicken and the egg – which begat the other? Instead it’s a see-saw of argument that no one will ever win, but I guarantee that it will only lead to more blame, more invective, and solve absolutely nothing.
News that’s fit to print; man, I wish I had some.