I sent the commentary below to the Times Union newspaper in Albany, where it appeared last Saturday (July 16). However, I can't read the version which ran because they require a $13 subscription, and I'm not going to shell out that much for one article.
In this, I discuss how corporate greed has corrupted serious journalism. So, for what it's worth, my opinion below.
We need grownups in the newsroom
By Stephen Seitz
The Hillary Clinton e-mail embroglio should never have happened, and would not have happened if responsible media organizations dedicated themselves to putting events in their proper perspective and context, rather than race each other to the next overhyped headline.
In the first place, any “scandal” originating in conservative media is suspect from the outset. They are up front about their bias. They make no pretense of being fair. They have been caught using deceptive practices over and over again, and even outright lying is routine. Fake conservative scandals are as common as aphids, and not one has ever panned out.
The legitimate news organizations have an obligation to take that into account. They should evaluate the actual facts and proceed from there. They should place events in their proper context. But they don’t.
Instead, they repeat the accusations at face value and get people screaming at each other. Thus, the FBI Clinton e-mail report is “scathing,” when it isn’t. The State Department Inspector General never “ripped” Sec. Clinton’s e-mail practices; in fact, his report tends to favor her.
Before news organizations were forced to be profit centers, newsmen like Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley would be saying, “Wait a minute. What’s really going on here?”
One thing that finally came out in FBI Director James Comey’s statement is that Sec. Clinton used several servers, something which should have been obvious to anyone who’s worked in a government office. One of those servers is exclusively devoted to classified and secret information; that’s a basic security precaution. Sec. Clinton’s private server was used for daily administrative tasks. This should have been made clear months ago. If any cable commentator mentioned it, I am unaware.
The Old Guard journalists would have known that the Secretary’s job is managing U.S. foreign affairs and diplomacy, not wrangling records. No president would ever say, “Hillary, we have to find a graceful way out of Iraq, contain a civil war in Syria, and do something about Iran’s nuclear program. But your top priority is to know, in detail, how e-mail servers work.”
Executive staff should not be expected to have to care about these things and, if you’ve ever worked in a government agency of any kind, you know they don’t. That isn’t their job. There are support staff in place for those matters. Executive staff have more important things to do. They just want the equipment to work. They shouldn’t have to care about comparative trivia.
What do we have instead? Finger-pointing, name calling, promises from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to waste even more taxpayer money on yet another witch-hunting investigation into how this could have happened. When news organizations were independent divisions, there might have been coverage of exactly how much money the House of Representatives has wasted for no better reason than political gain for Republicans. It’s got to be close to $1 billion over the past 20 years.
What is apparently off the table in the current presidential campaign is: expanding health care coverage, campaign finance reform, anyone explaining the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and what it means, stagnating wages, a shrinking middle class, doing something meaningful to reduce gun violence, or anything else that might actually affect the lives of average Americans.
It has come to this: everything is reality TV. Facts and perspective don’t matter anymore.
I did meet Walter Cronkite once, but, of course, I thought of the question I should have asked him too late: What are we in the press doing wrong?
Now I think I know. We did not have these problems before the three original networks were absorbed by large corporations. The profit motive has sullied journalism as it has sullied so much else.
Stephen Seitz is an author and journalist based in Vermont. In the past, he worked under contract for several federal government agencies in Washington for about 13 years.
Journalism is the only profession given Constitutional protection for a reason. Newsrooms should be independent and protected so that they can properly do their jobs of informing the public. Not fattening next month’s bottom line.
Tags: corporate greed, journalism, news