No "News" is Good News: Enquiring Minds and the Salvation of Print Journalism

Posted: March 15, 2010 in Media
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When I was a kid my grandfather frustrated the hell out of me. Anytime I said anything with any conviction he would pause, grin and reply, “Where is it written?” I loathed that phrase and the message that came with it; nothing I had to say had any weight unless it was backed up, in triplicate, and possibly had the stamp of God placed upon it.

What he really meant, of course, was that nothing is certain, any idea should be challenged and that just saying something doesn’t make it true. I have learned over the years that this applies more to the “facts” presented to us by the media in all its forms than to any other source of knowledge presented within, oh, the last 1200 years or so.

At first it was just Fox “News.” It was easy to bash Fox; Rupert Murdoch is clearly the devil, all of their talking heads are incoherent babblers who are steeped in evil like bad tea. It was easy to blame them for facilitating the greatest criminal act in American politics in the history of ever.

But then I started really reading. Everything. I treated the internet like an all you can eat buffet and, as I fed, I realized that almost everything I was eating was junk food.

Our brains have gotten fat. And our diet is going to be The National Enquirer.

I’ll get back to that.

Once upon a time, some white guys got together and decided it was high time to form a different type of government. One where everyone would get a say (and by everyone I mean white males who owned land)and no one would get bent over and shtupped1 by those in power.

But how, they asked, do we ensure the lack of shtupping? They scratched their bottoms gingerly for awhile (King George being a notorious shtupper of privileged white males)and Eureka! Print journalism was born.

The purpose of the fourth estate was always intended to be a protection for the people. A group of educated peers who had free access to the cummings (ahem comings) and goings of government and who…well tattled is an ugly word but really, who has any illusions? Remember that kid in elementary school? The one a couple years older than you who constantly wandered the playground and threatened to report you to the principal if he didn’t like what you were doing? That’s the press. Or rather that’s what the press was supposed to be.

But, over time, and with the assistance of much refining of things like the free market system and the truth, that little snitch has become lazy, blind, greedy and vacuous. He has, in short, become a whore. And, like any good whore, he has a pimp who beats him when he gets out of line. That pimp’s name is Advertising (or maybe Political Interests. He’s a shifty motherfucker who possibly has a multiple personality disorder).

I’m only going to say this once, so pay attention. There is no such thing as “legitimate news media.”

Doesn’t exist. Think Santa, the Easter Bunny and Effective Abstinence Only sex-ed all rolled into one. The difference between most daily papers (and the news you watch at night) and the aforementioned imaginary friends is that, unlike them, the “legitimate news media” has actually convinced you it really, really exists. Despite years of being screamed at by the journalism schools of every major university on this continent that major stories are being axed, squashed and gang raped out of existence by the political and corporate sponsors of every major news outlet, we still believe that we’re being told the truth; that these “facts” we keep being presented with are true because they are written.

Which is why we’re all supposed to be outraged at the indignity that the legitimate news services are now facing. What indignity? The simple fact that, along with submissions from many of the most supposedly reputable newspapers in America, a Pulitzer prize is in reach for The National Enquirer.

That one I’ll repeat.

The National Enquirer has a submission being considered for a Pulitzer prize.

No, it’s not the story about Elvis and Sasquatch being the birth parents of Jessica Simpson. It’s that pesky little John Edwards cheating on his wife and fathering an illegitimate child thing from 2008/2009. Not a lot of people remember this (myself included) but until Edwards actually came clean and stepped away from the presidential race, not one single major news outlet ran this story. Not one. Just the Enquirer.

Now, I’m not paranoid enough to assume that this was because of party influence on the media, though it could have been. It’s probable that, because the Enquirer was the paper to break the story, all the other news services turned their noses up and chose to ignore it as being implausible. But that’s a terrible excuse to not even follow a trail of breadcrumbs. More than that it’s proof positive of a worse failing on the part of our self appointed guardians of knowledge. They actually believe that there’s a difference between tabloid journalism and “real” journalism. They, on some level, still believe that what they choose to spoon feed us on a daily basis is still somehow right and true and good.

40 some odd years ago, a man named Hunter Thompson invented/perfected a style called Gonzo Journalism. He hounded politicians, made their lives miserable, discredited them, ruined their marriages and brought to light every possible misdeed and indiscretion. In short, he did what journalism is supposed to do, shine lights in dark places and scare away the evil before it has a chance to hurt us. He was also batshit crazy and did more drugs than the guinea pigs pharma companies use to test your Viagra, but he did his duty and, for a reward, Johnny Depp played him in a movie. I bring him up because what the Enquirer did to land and prove this story was exactly what he would have done. They got a lead and they immersed themselves in it. They didn’t care if it was true or not, not at first, they’re the National Enquirer. But once they could prove it they chewed that story up and spat it into Edwards lap and he folded. Sure it was an accident, but what was the result? Because of the enormous sales the paper generated, the editor in chief at the Enquirer is planning on opening a Washington desk of the paper, all politics, all the time.

That’s right, a shitty tabloid, that answers to no one and has the kind of sponsors that don’t care about content (clearly) is going to the Capitol to tattle on politicians, Gonzo style.

Heaven help the legitimate news, the martians are coming to town.

1 The word “shtupped may not actually be found in very many founding documents. You’ve been warned.

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