SAN DIEGO – The media are a mess. Their New Year’s resolution should be to clean up their act.
This is hardly breaking news. I hear the indictment all the time. I might be giving a speech where I blast away at politicians. And, during the Q&A session, someone will often flip the script and lament what has become of my profession.
According to critics, the media are no longer the solution but part of the problem. We’re biased and not even honest enough to admit it. We often become the story, and we love listening to ourselves talk. Half of us live in bubbles, and the other half in glass houses. And the reason we don’t talk more about how far removed politicians have become from the American public is because we’re just as distant, if not more so.
Instead of being content to just get readers, viewers and listeners to think, some of my colleagues need to control what they think. After all, we act like we’re better, smarter and holier than most of our audience. With a mindset like that, what could possibly go wrong?
Remember when Ted Cruz brought down the house a few months ago during the GOP debate on CNBC? It happened when the Texas senator criticized the feckless moderators for asking questions that “illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media.” Even liberal comedian Bill Maher applauded, tweeting: “oh my god did i just hear Ted Cruz say something awesome that i agree with? Yes. The media is even stupider than the pols.”
Among the most popular criticisms is that the media cannot be counted on to keep the powerful in check, because they are intoxicated with their own self-importance. They are convinced that they can make or break politicians, and they become discombobulated when they lose that power. They cover the wrong stories, and put ratings circulation figures before journalism. And, while they have always been accused of having a liberal bias, they now seem more preachy than ever.
Much of that helped fuel some of the worst media blunders in 2015. Here is a partial list.
▪ In February, Brian Williams, the anchor of NBC’s “Nightly News,” was suspended after admitting to fabricating a story about his time covering the Iraq War. There were more cases of Williams spouting tall tales. NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke said in a statement: “By his actions, Brian has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News. His actions are inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate.” Williams was later replaced by veteran newsman Lester Holt.
▪ In May, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, the chief host of “This Week” and co-anchor of “Good Morning America,” apologized for not telling viewers or his bosses at the network about the $75,000 he had donated to the Clinton Foundation. The former aide to President Bill Clinton recused himself from next month’s Republican presidential debate on ABC.
▪ In August, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos infiltrated a Donald Trump campaign event in Iowa by posing as an objective journalist but, once inside, morphed into a commentator. Ramos interrupted the proceeding and, without being called on, failed to ask a question and instead made a speech. The newsman was removed by Trump’s private security, although he was soon allowed to return and ask multiple questions.
▪ In November, the website Gawker revealed that CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott had, in 2013, what can only be described as a cozy online relationship with Clinton State Department staffer Philippe Reines, who would freely suggest messages that Labott should tweet. She complied, and, at one point, Reines responded in an email that was later leaked: “Nice doing business with you.”
▪ And in December, to get in the holiday spirit, The Washington Post featured on its website a weird and offensive editorial cartoon depicting Cruz in a Santa Claus costume, acting as an organ grinder with his two daughters as monkeys. In response to criticism, the Post retracted the cartoon.
Clearly, these were not our finest moments. With each misstep, the Fourth Estate diminished its credibility, increased public cynicism and made it harder for our audience to trust us.
And to think, many people join the media to create a better world. We should aim closer to home and focus instead on being better at our jobs and creating a better product.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.