Advocacy journalism, formerly known as slanted journalism, is becoming a big problem in the U.S.--turning one of our most revered public institutions, the Free Press, into the private Romper Room of a few media ego-maniacs who think they're smart enough to game the system and get away with it; call them the Bernie Madoffs and Jack Cunninghams of their trade. Part of the so-called "hedge fund" defense, you may remember, invoked the claim that these players were not actually part of the Wall Street dupe machine. They were simply being misled, not unlike the way Ken Lay claimed that he was being misled by his most senior partners in crime at Enron. Some advocacy talk show personalities we now see and hear splattered all over TV and radio have picked up on this theme and are now saying that they're not actually journalists.
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Advocacy in the press isn't new; it's more like the goal posts have been moved ... a way of changing the rules of the game ... a way of negating that stodgy old accountability factor so that it no longer becomes the irritant it once was. Forget retracting mistakes. Forget acknowledging errors. Forget objectivity and the basic rules of fairness. There's an agenda that must be served first and foremost. I wouldn't go so far as to call it "yellow" journalism ... not exactly ... not totally. Would you?
Yet not unlike their infamous Wall Street cousins, these "not actually journalists" will find their day arriving as well. You see, in advocacy journalism there is room for only a handful of "bigs" at the top and if the financial crisis taught us anything about greed, you can be sure that those few positions have already been taken. It's lonely up there as well, just as it is was for "the smartest guys in the room" at Enron where the object of the game was to rake in the money while making as many enemies as possible.
It's sad ... sad to think that Beck and Limbaugh have so many secret (very secret) admirers in the press who seem to be looking around for their personal peep hole ... searching for a way to cash in on some notoriety of their own, then hitting pay dirt recently when in their narrow field of view they settled their sights on Lou Dobbs, an Emmy award winning journalist with over 30 years as a highly respected broadcaster. With no apologies, they simply ruined this distinguished man's career in just a few short weeks.
How they did it is now simply a matter of record. Why they did it I'm sure I'd find incomprehensible from a thinking person's point of view. Yet there are other records out there, like the one that aired on an edition of 60 Minutes devoted in part to Mike Wallace's retirement from that venerated program. At one point Mike was asked the question, "Who do you most admire in journalism today.?" He could have responded with any of the living greats ... Tom Brokaw, Jim Lehrer or whomever. But who did Mike Wallace mention? He mentioned Lou Dobbs.
I would love to be a fly on the wall when radio talk show hosts Stephanie Miller* or Randi Rhodes** try prodding a guest into piling on, only to have the guest say, "Ms. Miller (or Rhodes) ... I know Lou Dobbs. Lou Dobbs is a friend of mine, and you, madam, are no Lou Dobbs."
One would search long and hard to find a better example of the media not simply reporting the news, but acting instead as the CREATOR of news (which does in fact define yellow journalism, by the way). As a regular viewer of his program, I at no time heard Lou say that he thought the "birther" issue deserved to be taken seriously. Instead it was nothing but advocacy media hype that created the Lou Dobbs story before milking it as far as it went.
Lou can defend himself, but if I or anyone else were to say, "There's a simple way to end this controversy (or any other for that matter). Just produce the goods, and if you have what you say you have, let's see it."
This is a simple imperative asking only that logic be allowed to prevail, and one that pre-judges absolutely nothing. It makes no accusations ... takes no sides. Isn't this exactly what is expected of an investigative reporter? I have never heard Lou turn to speculation and then report it as fact. It just doesn't happen and I am certain it did not happen in this case.
Who are these people--the Stephanie Millers and the Randi (with an "i") Rhodeses? Well, my Internet research says that the Stephanie Miller Show originates on Democracy Radio, and that the Rhodes program is carried on the Premiere Radio Network. My gut, however, tells me they are folks who have nothing better to do and nowhere else to do it ... stuck on low budget call-in radio programs with a bunch of near--if not outright--scammers for advertisers. Wanna hear it like it is? Well here we go.
These shows seem to be particularly good at snagging questionably motivated online services such as "Carbonite," one of several new "cloud" PC backup enterprises. What a great idea! While doing everything we can to keep mischief makers off our PCs with firewalls, spam guards, virus detectors (and everything but bubble gum) to protect our most personal and private information, we allow these potential (yes, I said "potential") fly-by-nighters to come in and COPY every file, every photo, every bank account number, every SSN and every secret family recipe all in the name of computer backup protection. Have we lost our collective mind? Apparently we are now prepared to do the unthinkable--PAY people to come in and steal our identities.
Are we done yet? Well here's a fork--let's try another. Using a similar ploy, along comes an ad for "Double My Speed." All you do is log on to their website and their computers go through every nook and cranny of your hard drive. Do you typically click "yes" when your computer asks to save passwords? How about your online banking password? You see, these are the kind of people you are up against. They think you were born yesterday and unfortunately they're perfectly willing to let you prove it.
You're also going to hear, "Call for this life changing CD," complete with celebrity endorsements, no less, because the name of the game in radio talk show advertising is, "What can we give these suckers the LEAST OF in return for the MOST amount of money?" as indeed the come-ons never stop. "Remember, this is a FREE CD," they blare. You pay only $29.95 for shipping and handling."
Sweetheart, if this really were a "life changing" CD, you'd be able to buy it at Wal-Mart for ten bucks. And while it certainly is true that every PC user needs to do backups, it is not a difficult task, and if you use a computer for anything but laughs and giggles you need to learn how--no doubt about it.
Step #1 (Just as a personal recommendation). Go out and buy a copy of Nero (which burns CDs). Nero ... burns CDs ... get it? (Actually I think it was Rome that burned.) But with Nero the process couldn't be easier. When you start Nero (with your backup CD already in the drive) Nero looks first at your hard drive and then at your CD. Differences are then recorded and presented on screen. Then if you so choose, the program goes ahead and executes the backup. Done ... ba-da-bing. I can say with assurance as a software engineer myself that programmatically speaking anyway, Carbonite does the very same thing (possibly even using Nero) while charging you a hefty yearly subscription price, over and above the potential (again, I said "potential") for helping themselves to the full market value of all your personal information.
Step #2 (There is no step #2.).
So what actually did happen in the Lou Dobbs saga? Small minds--that's what happened. And a small mind is a terrible thing to encounter. It can take down a stellar career just like that. Pray you never run into one.
* With a name no one remembers, Stephanie Miller's father ran for the #2 spot on the (losing)Republican ticket along with (losing) Presidential Candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964. Stephanie, a sometime actress and stand-up comic, seems to be particularly enamored of pre-pubescent bathroom humor.
** Claiming to be a non-journalist, Randi Rhodes--former fantasy runner-up in the "Miss Making- the- Absolute- Most- Out- of- the- Very- Least- to- Begin- With" Pageant--has tried her hand at everything from female mechanic to radio disc jockey. Not a journalist, my foot. Rhodes wouldn't find herself anywhere near a media megaphone except at the behest of various and sundry giant media moguls. That, friends, is what makes her a journalist, and just between you, me and the gatepost, a lousy one at that.