Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Piles of Unnecessary Fluff

As most ethical people in America today who understand modern media know, just because a topic has become something "everyone is talking about" doesn't mean the topic has to have any serious substance or value.

Just look at the recent furor over Megyn Kelly's ridiculous comments about white Santa and white Jesus, or the exaggerated and near apoplectic weather reports from major national sources last weekend, about the blustery but generally meager few inches of snow that fell in the U.S. Northeast - in December.

The old news media trope has always been, "If it bleeds, it leads." If the only goal of a newspaper, website, TV or radio station is to get people's attention, sadly that rule is still often true. That doesn't mean the bleeding news maxim is ethically correct. It also doesn't guarantee the next hackjob media outlet down the street can't start an even bigger and more pointless rhetorical fire - all while missing the very crucial details of a very important story.

Take the NSA leaks exposed through the theft of government secrets by Edward Snowden.

Those leaks are making the news again today, in large part due to the ruling of a Federal judge on Monday, who determined the widespread bulk collection of telephone metadata by the NSA is likely unconstitutional.

That the lawsuit against the Federal government was filed by an extremist right-wing nutjob, with a questionably racist and anti-Obama history shouldn't matter. That the suit involves information leaked by Edward Snowden, a man who broke Federal laws and that the Obama Administration believes should still face Federal charges shouldn't matter.

Yet you can bet for most media organizations hyping the NSA court loss story today, those are two of the main inflammatory angles they're likely to take. Most media organizations will likely ignore the key paragraph in the judge's decision against the NSA citing a key 1979 Supreme Court ruling, explaining why that ruling doesn't apply today.

None of that kind of conduct should be surprising though, when you look at the news media today.

Forget the Megyn Kelly kerfuffle that Jesus and Santa are black. Fox isn't a news organization anyway, for the most part. They're propaganda for the right wing, with the occasional small kernel of honest news thrown in.

The AP and '60 Minutes', however, have a long and mostly honorable history of ethical journalism. Yet the AP's most recent Politics Editor is leaving to flack PR for oil giant BP, saying she'll now "get the opportunity to tell BP's story." Meanwhile, '60 Minutes' - still reeling from the fallout over their Lara Logan/Benghazi disaster - just aired what amounts to a thirty minute puff piece lauding the NSA, right as a Federal judge declares the NSA's domestic telephone spying unconstitutional.

If you think the entire media, from all sides, is filled with incompetent, unethical hacks who can only focus on bad news, we invite you to read the Twitter feed of Boston Globe reporter Billy Baker. Baker, on Monday, composed a fantastic, inspiring, well-written story, 140 characters at a time, about the American Dream, as an update to a story he wrote in the Globe newspaper two years ago.

Ethical, positive journalism like that doesn't usually receive great attention. Yet, as Mr. Baker's story shows,  it is still possible in our over-connected, highly digital world of today to do good, well.

It just means our media has to work harder to reach that point.

It's time our legitimate media organizations put down their rhetorical matches, picked up their journalistic shovels, and began digging in. Right now, the other stuff is piling up - and we're not talking about snow.