When Journalists Start Thinking They Are Special, They Lose All Credibility
Jim Acosta is a virus. No, not the man himself, but what he represents. Like most viruses, there is an inherent evil. His evil stems from an ability to masquerade as something beneficial; in his case, a journalist. Journalists are a boon to society. The importance of good journalists and good journalism is evidenced in the Constitution itself, in the very first Amendment; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (emphasis added). The founding fathers knew a functional and flourishing democratic republic requires a press unafraid to ask tough questions and publish those answers. Where American journalists of all shades have gone awry is in thinking they are special. Journalism is special, not journalists.
This is not a screed against journalists. It is a reminder that in America, no journalist is actually in danger. That is why the title of Acosta’s upcoming book, “The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America,” is so appalling. You are not Jamal Khashoggi. No American journalist, especially one whose role is as a White House Correspondent, is in mortal danger. The Ernie Pyles are few and far between in 2019. What Americans need is truth tellers. Not personalities. However, nobody pays attention to the truth any longer. Our attention spans are limited to the point only a strong personality can break through it. Who cares about the veracity of someone’s claims when how they say it is more interesting?
There are good journalists out there. Jake Tapper genuinely tries to honestly report the news. Yes, he makes mistakes; his performance at the CNN Townhall following the Parkland shooting allowed for a scene straight from George Orwell’s Two Minutes of Hate. But more times than not, he is toeing the middle line as best as possible; Tapper’s ardent calls for the left to denounce antisemitism and their failure to do so are the most noteworthy. Where the issue begins to snowball is when people begin to confuse journalists with pundits.
Pundits are people who are paid for their opinions. They write opinion articles and host their own shows and podcasts. Rachel Maddow is a pundit. Ben Shapiro is a pundit. Those are the easy ones to decipher. However, it is Acosta and his ilk that sow the seeds of distrust in the media and allow for a rise in people hollering, “fake news.” The clamoring of “Fake News!” is more prevalent than ever because CNN wants you to believe Acosta is objective. Claiming Jim Acosta is an objective journalist is like saying you are not quite sure about the rooting interest in the next Super Bowl for somebody that bought the “TB12 Method.”
But Acosta was not the first reporter to be touted as objective despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. George Stephanopoulos was a Clinton aide, but is now the face of ABC news. Yet, we are supposed to take his every word for truth. Dan Rather’s career came to a screeching halt with the Bush Papers. A truly objective journalist would never have gone to such lengths. Journalists track down stories and possible leads, and when they find there is nothing to the story, they let it die. Or, once they have the documents, they make sure to verify them before publishing. It was only Rather’s desire as a left-wing anchor that drove him to commit Seppuku on his career. Brian Williams loved being the center of attention, so he fabricated a story about being under fire (Hillary Clinton nods her head).
*(Quick jab: sports journalists are some of the worst transgressors when they (1) hate their fanbase and seemingly publishes articles merely to troll and (2) take themselves too seriously as the harbingers of truth; you write about sports, calm down and enjoy that fact).
All of these fantasies claimed as truths stem from two main issues: a desire to take down someone deemed an opponent, and an urge to be the center of the story. Both of these problems are easily fixable if journalists stuck to the core tenets of journalism; nobody is an opponent, only those that mask the truth are opponents, and a journalist should never be the story. The story is the story.
With a President like Donald Trump, many journalists have lost their minds, and with good reason; the President lies more than a funhouse mirror. It started literally on Day One of his inauguration in regard to crowd size. However, just because he speaks from both sides of his mouth, does not mean everything he says is a lie. Nor are all lies the same, and this is where the trouble arises. Should he be bludgeoned every time his lies or speaks in hyperbole? Unequivocally no. When you are wasting your time fact-checking how high burgers would be when stacked on top of one another, you are doing a disservice to the American people.
We need journalists that will hold the President and politicians to a certain standard of truth. Part of that process is admitting your biases so the audience can decipher where objectivity ends and subjectivity begins. Everyone is biased. It is a fact of life. No matter your desire to be 50/50, something in your background will sway you slightly to one side. It is how a journalist handles that extra weight to one side that reveals their worth. Journalists do have worth and they are certainly not the enemy of the people. But they do harm “the people,” when they start believing they are special and central to the story. Journalists are not special. The people and stories they cover are. If they remember that little factoid, then they can truly achieve something special.