Saturday, July 28, 2012

When journalists were heroes

I'm sure by now most of you have either seen at least one episode of The Newsroom or this particular clip from the pilot.  "The most honest three and a half minutes ever"?  Perhaps, though I wouldn't rank it above the classic "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!" from Network.  If anything, it gives substance to Mary McNamara's complaint that the show's drama is "weighted too heavily toward sermonizing diatribes."

Yet every once in a while somebody in Hollywood manages to write an effective rant, and this is one of them; in fact, I'm surprised it isn't being delivered by Al Pacino.  Because for once someone has gotten behind the parrot-talk and the left-wing/right-wing demonizations to enunciate the frightening truth we've been hiding from at least since 2008 (and more like since 1968): We have completely lost our way.  America is a good country, but it's not a great country anymore; we're a rusty mechanical giant, stumbling and fumbling near a precipice while suffering from a hangover from massive materialist self-indulgence.

But with all respect to Jeff Daniels (and writer/producer Aaron Sorkin), we weren't great because we were an informed nation.  In fact, with the exception of a brief period from about 1950 to 1980 — before the Big Three networks figured out how to make money out of the news — American journalists have largely been the political shills and propaganda machines they are today, from The National Gazette to The Daily Beast.

Or maybe that's just my fear of romanticizing the past too much; at forty-eight, I'm as prone as Daniels and Sorkin to daydream fondly about a past that wasn't really all so ai-ai-ai. Maybe there really was a time when journalists strove to get their facts straight rather than retail the latest fashionable factoids.  Maybe there was a time when public debate could take place without mindlessly parroting the bogus history, bad science and boilerplate sneers of the "in crowd" (or — worse — the constant aspiration to victim status to emotionally coerce the timorous into agreement).  Maybe there really was a time when journalists didn't try to write the outcome of the trial before the forensic specialists had collected the evidence and the cops had questioned the eyewitnesses.

Maybe, just maybe, there was a time when journalists told the truth as best they could, when they weren't just part of the ever-increasing bloc of social leaders we believe compulsively lie to us.  

But that was when we believed in truth, justice, decency and the American Way ... whatever those words mean anymore.

You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.—Jesus (Jn 8:31)
What is truth?—Pontius Pilate (Jn 18:38)