My small message has to do with our line of work called
and why, according to the polls, we are now down there with the
lawyers, the Congress, and the child pornographers in the public's
respect and esteem. And there is a long list of reasons.
One reason is the new savagery that has become part and parcel of
some of the so-called new journalism. It is marked by predatory
stakeouts, brutally coarse invasions of privacy, talk-show shouting
and violence, no-source reporting, and other techniques.
Another reason is something I call the new arrogance - words,
sneers, and body language that say loud and clear: Only journalists
of America are pure enough to judge all others.
Another reason could be our new problem with entertainment.
Garrison Keillor a few years ago warned about the danger of trying
be fascinating rather than just informing: "When you slip into the
field of entertainment, then you will be expected to be fascinating.
This is going to shorten your careers. Nobody can be fascinating for
long, but people can be accurate and responsible for an entire
Another reason may be confusing personnel moves. As Jim Squires,
former editor of the Chicago Tribune, wrote recently: "News events
spawn new celebrities.... Actors, comedians, politicians, lawyers,
infamous criminals now regularly masquerade as reporters....
Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy and Clinton White House adviser
George Stephanopoulos are both now widely considered to be
journalists. Former Nixon speechwriter Patrick Buchanan and civil-
rights activist Jesse Jackson go from being story subject one month
to storyteller the next. Worse, many of the people signing the pay
checks of these pretenders and making the programming decisions
see any difference between real news and celebrity news.... It never
crosses their minds that their position in charge of news
organizations carries with it a responsibility to protect and
preserve the values of real journalism."
The most serious reason is the new blurring of the lines among
straight reporting, analysis, and opinion. When I began in this
business more than 30 years ago, reporting was done by reporters;
analyzing by carefully labeled and credentialed analysts; and the
"we" or "I" thinking by editorial writers, columnists, and
commentators. Reader, or listener, or viewer knew the differences
because they were part of the contract between mainline news
organizations and their audiences that has changed dramatically, and
without much discussion or explanation.
My experience is that the public is very confused. It sees
network reporters on the nightly news as straight reporters, then on
weekend programs as commentators or pundits. …