SAN DIEGO – You’ll have to excuse some of my journalism colleagues. They’re not themselves lately.
When someone is attacked by a mob of critics, we’re not supposed to pile on additional and unnecessary criticism.
It used to be unseemly to beat a dead horse; now it’s how too many in the Fourth Estate spend much of their time – especially if the horse is really an elephant.
All too often the folks who get piled on by the media are conservatives and Republicans.
People like Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly. In a previous incarnation as a reporter for CBS News many years ago, O’Reilly was sent to cover foreign conflicts in Argentina and El Salvador. Current and former journalists have accused the cable news host of exaggerating, even lying, about his experiences there.
O’Reilly was also a reporter for a Dallas television station, where he attempted to look into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. CNN – whose weekly news program “Reliable Sources” has dedicated two shows to O’Reilly’s foibles – obtained a tape recording that seems to contradict an item that he mentioned in his best-selling book “Killing Kennedy.”
I don’t get it. Why is this even a story? O’Reilly was once a journalist, but that suit doesn’t fit him very well anymore.
Last month, the person at the bottom of the pile was Rudy Giuliani, who learned that Pat Benatar was right. Love really is a battlefield. During a Feb. 18 dinner for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the former New York City mayor acknowledged that what he was about to say was horrible. But he foolishly said it anyway.
“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Giuliani told a private gathering. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”
What Giuliani said was repugnant, but the reaction by the media was excessive. After a barrage of columns, editorials, analyses and commentary, Giuliani tried to explain what he meant in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.
“My blunt language suggesting that the president doesn’t love America notwithstanding,” he wrote, “I didn’t intend to question President Obama’s motives or the content of his heart.”
What did we learn from all this? Not much. Print, broadcast and online media turned a nothing story into a feast that lasted two weeks.
In the age of 24-hour news channels, networks have to fill air time. And if you have to feed the beast by making mountains out of molehills, or rehashing stories without additional facts, then so be it.
I’m not sure what you call this, but you shouldn’t call it journalism. Maybe that is what’s happened here: The world of media and the world of journalism have finally parted ways.
Folks are supposed to become journalists so they can – as the saying goes – comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
I chose this line of work because I wanted to stand up for the little guy. Had I wanted to protect the big guy, I might have become a high-priced lobbyist, corporate lawyer or investment banker.
And, in this spirit, the journalism profession has an unspoken code that dictates that if we stumble upon an angry mob on top of someone, we’re not supposed to align with the mob, jump in the fray and inflict more pain.
Yet, these days, journalists are quick to pile on. And it seems that the goal isn’t to merely discredit the person being attacked but to destroy him.
How did we get here? More importantly, how do we get back?
Sometimes, it’s journalists who are at the bottom of the pile. Then things get interesting.
The day before NBC News anchor Brian Williams was suspended for exaggerating, even lying, about his experience reporting from Iraq, the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” defended their friend and colleague.
“We all make bad mistakes,” host Joe Scarborough said. “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
Meanwhile, co-host Mika Brzezinski acknowledged that the scandal hit close to home.
“This is in our house and it’s very painful,” she said. “I’m kind of horrified by the pile-on that I’m seeing out there. I guess it’s part of the game and Brian would know that, too. But it’s hard.”
It’s time for a new game.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.