The Who’s 1971 hit single, “Won’t Be Fooled Again” was a peon for young people to reject the views and principles of the establishment. The ending verse goes: “Then I'll get on my knees and pray, We don't get fooled again, Don't get fooled again, no, no.”
COVID-19 has brought out the worst in the mainstream print journalism industry. Daily we read headlines about how conservative politicians are inept and making the pandemic worse. In my neck of the pandemic woods, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tampa Bay Times (Pravda on the Bay to most conservatives) obsessively shills for progressive ideals and takes cheap shots at conservative ones. Headline, “DIRECTIVE SOWS CONFUSION,” is a story about how Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is making our pandemic lives worse by changing Florida’s response to COVID-19. The New York Times and WaPo, also perineal Pulitzer winners, continue to promote progressive sensibilities by condemning the president for his pandemic press conferences and not being omniscient.
U.S. presidents have long agonized over the unfair treatment journalists give them. President Obama decried Fox News as horribly biased, saying about them, "It's very hard for me to swallow that one. First of all, I've got one television station entirely devoted to attacking my administration. I mean, you know, that's a pretty big megaphone." In a 2013 Rolling Stone interview, Obama went further, saying: "Look, as president, I swore to uphold the Constitution, and part of that Constitution is a free press. We’ve got a tradition in this country of a press that oftentimes is opinionated. The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition." Of course, he considered the fawning New York Times and WaPo as unbiased, pure news sources because they treated America’s first mixed-race president with kid gloves, giving him the perpetual benefit of all doubt.
Obama was singling out Fox News as muckrakers. This was an antique reference to reform-minded journalists at the turn of the 20th century in the United States who exposed established institutions and leaders as corrupt. This term for the journalistic enterprise became popular after President Theodore Roosevelt used it in a 1906 speech, referring to newspaper and magazine reporters who refused to report the facts of a story accurately, claiming “the men with the muck rakes are often indispensable to the well-being of society; but only if they know when to stop raking the muck.” Demonizing someone v. real muckraking.
With the inherent ambiguities embedded in the novel coronavirus, there is no one clear path. Even the “medical experts” differ markedly on the best path to take. Today’s print journalists proudly display a predilection to perpetually rake any muck during this contagion, doing little more than foisting their leftist political opinions in the headlines and throughout most political stories they cover.
David Weinberger opined in The Federalist about why the news media can’t and shouldn’t be unbiased. He argues that “discerning which facts to report requires judgment, and judgment requires morality.” But equating muck raking with false narratives confuses and thereby disparages the truth. Print journalists are obsessed with creating muck where there isn’t any.
During the past week of COVID-19 quarantine, my wife and I watched all five seasons of The Wire. The 2002 series is about a hopelessly dystopian Baltimore where the politics, government, police force, public school system, courts and the newspaper, Baltimore Sun, are systematically corrupt and organized crime always wins. The majority of African-American children are learning precious little in school. Politicians take bribes and give away taxpayer money to crooks. The police force delivers bogus crime statistics at the mayor’s request. Judges are influenced, if not directly bribed by attorneys, and the newspaper editor, frantically looking to get a Pulitzer Prize, encourages his reporters to put their thumbs on the scale of truth.
A newly hired reporter, Scott Templeton, astutely reads his editor’s obsession with earning the Oscar of journalism and, thereby resurrecting the newspaper’s former glory days. He begins by using made-up quotes in some of his stories, and when his features editor calls him on not attributing the quotes to specific individuals, the stuff of bogus journalism, the editor steps in and dismisses the critique, encouraging him to continue exposing the fantasized muck.
As a communication professor for 37 years, I saw first-hand how my journalism colleagues inculcate their students with progressive thinking. Social justice has been de rigueur in journalism classes for at least three decades and infects about 80 percent of today’s journalistic writing.
The real story when you have a pandemic should be premised on the fact that all consequences are socially unjust. Vulnerable people, the elderly and infirm and those unable to socially distance themselves, will be the first and most prevalent causalities. Is that Trump’s fault, or Governor DeSantis’ fault? Hardly, but you wouldn’t know it by reading most newspapers, especially Pulitzer Prize-winning ones.
In the last episode of The Wire, Baltimore remains dystopian, people die needlessly, children don’t receive an education, cops are underfunded and led by incompetents, graft and corruption remain in place and the Baltimore Sun makes its case for a Pulitzer Prize based on phony reporting. The whole system is engaged in never-ending depravity. See the new journalism, same as the old journalism. It’s time we don’t get fooled again.