Crimes Against Journalism and You

by Diane Dimond on September 3, 2012

Are You More Informed Now Than 4 Years Ago?

You are being cheated– cheated out of important information the media should be bringing you but isn’t. To me, it’s a crime not only against you – the voters – but against the craft of journalism to which I’ve dedicated my life.

Understand that this is not a column touting either Republican or Democratic politicians. This is about the reporters who cover those politicians for a living and what I see as their monumental failure to serve the public.

I’ve been there done that. During my career I’ve covered presidential campaigns and conventions, the U.S. Congress and the White House. While it has always been a game of reporters trying to coax real news out of calculating politicians and their strategists today’s manipulation of the media – and reporters willingness to be used as conduits in the current trend of “politics of destruction” – is over the top bad.

Record Jobless Rates, No Relief

At a time when the economy is sputtering, unemployment remains intolerably high, health care is unattainable for so many Americans and the future of young people seems so dim the media covering the presidential race concentrates on the mundane. Why? Because it’s easier than trying to clearly explain candidate’s solutions to looming problems like Medicare, Social Security or the multiple-trillion dollar deficit. And let’s face it, those topics just aren’t as sexy as some of the “scandals” being laid in the media’s lap.

Party operatives (from both sides) spoon feed meaningless stories to reporters on the campaign trail hoping to sour voters on the opposition. These tantalizing tales are lapped up and regurgitated for the public under the guise of “news.” I mean, really, do you get up in the morning concerned that a freshman congressman from Kansas went skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee last summer? Or that a candidate drove around with his crated dog on the roof of the car during a family vacation nearly three decades ago? Of course you don’t because it doesn’t affect your life. But these insignificant stories continue to eat up countless minutes on television and fill column after column of newsprint.

Misguided Missouri Congressman Todd Akin

When one horribly mis-informed republican congressman makes a stupid crack about “legitimate rape” and how a woman’s reproductive system can shut down during an attack, do you think his comments should taint every member of the GOP? How about when the democratic Vice President slips into a drawl and tells a predominately black audience that if the republican wins the White House he will, “Unchain Wall Street (and) … They’re going to put y’all back in chains.” Should you think all democrats are class and race-baiters?

Gee, I learned in elementary school not to hold the words of one person against another. But political strategists, hoping to tap into the worst in human nature, have found a home for their ugly tales with undiscerning campaign reporters who with hypercritical fervor glom on to any and all controversies, preferring them to stories of substance. What’s worse is that when questioned, the straight-faced reporter defends the insipid stories as important for voters to know. Do they think we are that stupid?

Political Reporters at White House Press Room

The New York Times, Reuters, Vanity Fair and the internet site The Huffington Post recently revealed they have engaged in the controversial policy of letting political strategists approve and tweak their own quotes before publication. And local reporters in swing states say they have had to agree to stay away from certain topics before being granted a coveted one-on-one interview with either President Obama or Mitt Romney. Since when did reporters so openly agree to be used by the candidates? It’s journalism 101 to refuse to play such dishonest games. It turns my stomach.

Andrea Seabrook, ex-NPR

Some in the media are catching on and wising up. National Public Radio’s Capitol Hill reporter, Andrea Seabrook says that after 14 years on the beat she realized she was, “Actually sort of colluding with the politicians themselves.” Seabrook says couldn’t participate in the game anymore because she felt she was, “Lied to every day, all day.” So, she quit her job. I salute her bravery in standing up for ethical of journalism. So many reporters seem to have forgotten that we are supposed to report the truth and not simply parrot calculating politicians.

Jake Tapper, ABC's White House Reporter

White House Correspondent Jake Tapper of ABC News hasn’t forgotten. He recently made a stunning public acknowledgement about this year’s political coverage saying, “The media is failing the country.”MSNBC’s political analyst Mark Halprin, asked about Romney’s refusal to release any more tax returns declared, “The media are very susceptible to doing what the Obama campaign wants, which is to focus on this.”

Again, I’m not here to pick a side or to even talk about media bias for one political party or the other. I’m here to say that at a crucial time in our nation’s history the media is cheating you out of meaningful information that could help you make a critical decision about who should be our next president.

This is a challenge to every news executive out there. Stick to the stories that matter. Get your reporters back on track and refuse to be used in this obviously partisan political sport. This isn’t a game anymore. The future of the country depends on a clear, un-distracted focus on our monumental problems and who is best to help us back away from the cliff.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

CLS September 3, 2012 at 3:34 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more. Years ago, I worked as an editor, for a firm that published textbooks. It was bought by a wellknown publishing firm, owned in turn by an oil company. That, for me, is the crux of the problem. Corporate-controlled media is determining what manner of propaganda makes it to the press. It always seems to be worse, during election years.

I’d like to see more independent press made available, and I know it’s difficult to keep something like that afloat, in these times. Good for Andrea Seabrook, for her announcement. I’d like to see her spearhead such a movement toward independent media.

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Diane September 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Tina Derr writes:

“Thank you for your honest assessment of media’s bias! Human nature is to side with the view closest to one’s own heart.

However, my understanding of journalism’s role to “state just the facts” has become so suspect, I feel like I can trust no one to give me the whole story straight. It takes a lot of hard work, and time to get all the facts. To do that, a journalist may miss his/her chance to break a story. Consequently, many a misstatement is made to be the first to report on something. Or complete knowledge of the subject is missing. And personal bias is so easy to take over the content.

Thank you for keeping this problem of media bias in the fore front. I want to get the facts so I can make up my own mind about issues. An obviously slanted article will only keep me from reading that person’s material again.

I will be more inclined to read your articles more frequently now that I see you recognize your role in journalistic integrity.”

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Diane September 3, 2012 at 4:13 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Howard Plunkett writes:

“Re: Media Are an Embarrassment
Great OPED in today’s ABQ Journal, Diane. What you described is a trend I’ve been noticing for several years. You nailed the effect but my question is what is causing the media to do this? Reporters’ and TV producers’ laziness? Something more sinister, like financial influence from somewhere? Or simply a condescending view of their readers and viewers (which I also have noticed)?”

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Diane September 3, 2012 at 4:24 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Ron Nelson writes:

“I read your column in the Saturday’s edition of the Albuquerque Journal.

All I have to say is : Hooray for you ! About time that this issue comes into the limelight. You have no clue as to how sick I have become over the years, listening and reading about biased, editorialized “facts” that do not reflect the whole story.

Frankly, I sincerely believe that journalistic misconduct about not reporting all the facts and issues is a major threat to the survivability of the constitution.

Perhaps you should consider writing a column about judges that interpret the law instead of following it?

Keep up the great work.”

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Diane September 3, 2012 at 4:26 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Andrew Guzowski writes:

“I agree with your assessment of the news media and its shortcomings in delivering the truth to us, the American public. I grew up believing that the press worked not for politicians but for the public good, acting as watchdogs of corruption in the political and social arena and in business; basically doing for us what we ourselves had not the time to do, i.e., to dig deep into matters of importance and uncover the unbiased truth.
As a 10 year old paper boy back in the fifties I remember the daily newspaper I delivered, The Northern Virginia Sun, which claimed “All the news that’s fit to print”, as its slogan.
Without the unbiased reporting of stories of true importance we risk losing our greatest freedom – the ability to make informed decisions!
Thank you for your article, which I read in the Albuquerque Journal today.”

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Diane September 3, 2012 at 4:27 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Richard J. Davies writes:

“I thoroughly enjoyed your column in the Albuquerque Journal on September 1st about the news media. I would like to call to your attention to recent examples of what I consider to be bias and unethical ABC news reporting by liberal Diane Sawyer and her cronies. Just before the National Republican Convention, on her evening news report, she had report about the Mormon Church which was presented in a negative light. I can only assume that was intended to try and discredit Mitt Romney. Then, at the convention, the speech of Suzanna Martinez, our Republican, hispanic, governor of New Mexico was not broadcast to the public. During her speech, Diane Sawyer and other reporters just sat around giving their opinions about this and that. ABC also did not give the full speech of Condoleeza Rice. I believe that NBC pulled the same dirty trick. The speeches of these two outstanding women was intended for the national public to view if they wished. My wife and I e-mailed our strong objection to this “shady” decision to ABC but a comment by a nationally read columnist would carry a lot of weight.”

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Diane September 3, 2012 at 4:28 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Frans Monnereau writes:

“Kudos Diane, I have been preaching this mantra for some time now.

The bad state of our nation has less to do with the incompetence of politicians than with journalistic malpractice.

I like your clear thinking and clear writing. (a novelty nowadays)
I follow you in the Albuquerque Journal.”

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Diane September 3, 2012 at 4:30 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Lee Ann Johns writes:

“I am a friend of Gary and Sandy Hays and have been following your writing for years. I agree with your editorial 100% and want you to know there are many citizens wanting the truthful facts about each candidate without political party spin. Thank you for calling on journalists to do their job.”

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Diane September 3, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Facebook Reader Randall Eades writes:

“Good piece, Diane. H.G. Wells wrote long ago that the danger of a “free press” is that it is up for sale to the highest bidder and will always bend the “news” to reflect the owner’s point of view. That is still true, and very probably alway
s will be. But we can’t just blame them for being what they are, any more than we can blame a dog for chewing things. At some point We The People have to take personal responsibility to recognize the inherent biases and do our best to balance them out by broadening our information stream.”

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Diane September 3, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Facebook Friend Patti Petow writes:

“Again, and to my delight, you have put out an important message minus the drama that the media uses to sidetrack us. Are they, too, part of the conspiracy to keep us focused on what’s not imperative that Americans MUST understand for the be
st future of our great nation? IS there a conspiracy? I’m losing hope for our country based on what I hear on the news. I’m not the only one and that’s a sad thing. We could do so much better with today’s technology.”

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Diane September 3, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Facebook Reader JoAnn Clark writes:

“Thanks Pat. Good read. Unfortunately, she is only touching the very tip of a very vast iceberg.”

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Diane September 4, 2012 at 9:12 am

ABQ Journal Reader Ed Hoover writes:

“Your recent article “Media Are An Embarrassment” was outstanding! I am hoping that it will help people remember what is truly important as the country moves forward. One of my favorite topics that doesn’t seem to get any publicity is the IOU’s that Congress has been writing for decades in order to “steal” money from the trust fund. If the media would just take a balanced in-depth look at that single problem, it would speak volumes for what our elected officials have done to the American people — both Democrats and Republicans. If there was ANY justice at all in this world, those who have taken part in this grand thievery would be thrown out on their collective butts.

Maybe then we could elect real citizens to office instead of sending these crooks back year after year to continue their financial raping and pillaging.”

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Diane September 4, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Facebook Friend and former media colleague Lou Miliano writes:

“Lou Miliano
Yikes! “Crimes Against Journalism”?? With one sweep of your pen, you have indicted virtually an entire profession…the media…for not bringing the public important information. You point a wagging finger at reporters covering politicians
for a monumental failure to serve the public and the media covering the presidential campaign for reporting the mundane because it’s easier than a candidate’s solutions. (“Quote tweeting” is revolting and relatively new, wasn’t around the WH when you worked it, nor later when I did). We both know covering politicians can suck, it’s by handouts and one-on-ones, you fact check it, context it and run it and hope the pol won’t shut you out when you try an enterprise piece. Sure some kiss up, but certainly not all. And come on, we’ve both been on the campaign bus/plane, stop after stop, day after day, news is rarely, ever committed except for the trivial crap…so you top with it or you don’t get on. Besides, how many times do candidates make news on the trail with “solutions” to the nation’s problems? And unless you have lots of column inches to fill, who on the bus has the time or the vehicle to write about solutions in detail, anyway? Skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee reveals a lack of judgement, not to mention respect…and a traumatized, shitting dog on the roof of a station wagon shows a lack of compassion. What you have done, Diane, is feed the public’s perception the media are biased, lazy, take payoffs, are condescending, play dirty tricks, are jeopardizing the constitution, are incompetent, guilty of malpractice and the content of stories are controlled by corporate owners (read the comments on FB and in the paper). There are a hell of a lot of political and campaign reporters and field producers out there, NOT commentators, who are busting their asses under grueling conditions to bring the public an eye on the system, as imperfect as it may be, with little thanks from anyone. They don’t need “one of their own” beating up on them for the actions of a few. and that’s -30-”

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Diane September 4, 2012 at 2:33 pm

From the get go you misrepresent what I wrote, Lou. I didn’t “indict virtually a whole profession.” I made it clear that I was talking about those reporters who cover national politicians for a living. But, I agree when you write:

“We’ve both been on the campaign bus/plane, stop after stop, day after day, news is rarely, ever committed except for the trivial crap…so you top with it or you don’t get on.”

See, to me, Lou, being a reporter isn’t about being ON THE AIR. Its about bringing the truth into the light. I will be so bold as to say I don’t think it is in a cash-strapped network’s best interest to have reporters flying everywhere with a candidate just to hear the same old speech – and you know that’s what they do. Its the same speech with a variation or two. You and I know its really a death watch – i.e. the day Regan was shot outside the hotel in DC. An important event to be sure but a very, very rare one.
I think news executives should let loose their reporters to dig deep into important topics and candidate’s voting/lobbiest contacts/and business relationships so that voters REALLY get a taste of what the character of the man is.

You insult everyone’s intelligence when you write this about me:

“What you have done, Diane, is feed the public’s perception the media are biased, lazy, take payoffs, are condescending, play dirty tricks, are jeopardizing the constitution, are incompetent, guilty of malpractice and the content of stories are controlled by corporate owners.”

I didn’t say anything of the kind and I completely reject the old debating trick of throwing up an untrue red herring to put the opponent on the defensive. I don’t think today’s political reporters are lazy at all – I think they are focused on mundane issues most Americans don’t give a rat’s ass about.

They want jobs and a more stable economy a whole lot more than they want to hear about past income tax returns or a guy who says Romney’s health care plan killed his wife (which turned out to be completely false.) AMERICANS ARE TIRED OF THE POLITICAL BICKERING, Lou…..that was the point of my column. While YOU might think skinny dipping by a freshman republican congressman LAST YEAR should smear the party’s presidential candidate- I do not. And, Lou, you must admit that things Americans did THIRTY YEARS AGO – like incessantly smoking cigarettes, driving cars without seat belts or eating a whole cube of butter a day (or putting your dog’s crate on top of the car) should not define the person you become THREE DECADES LATER.

Look, I’m a registered independent – always have been. I write not to endorse any candidate. I write to make the media more relevant because the way we’re going, Lou, we rank right down there on the popularity poll with used car salesmen and members of congress. Why do you think that is? Maybe because the public is seeing us as more and more irrelevant. We need to police our profession or it will keep diminishing before our very eyes.

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Diane September 10, 2012 at 11:52 am

ABQ Journal Reader Gordon Hennessy writes:

“Ms Dimond, that was a terrific OP ED paper entitled Media are an Embarrassment. A free press is basic to our way of life. We could not have a democracy without the power of a free press. But that power must be harnessed and directed to serve the purpose for which it was established. You words are reflective of my thoughts and beliefs. Emanating from a member that free press and one with great stature, your the OP Ed article is extremely powerful and meaningful. Thank you.”
Gordon Hennessy.

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Diane Dimond September 18, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Santa Barbara Noozhawk Reader socaljay writes:

“The sad part is, that with the economy in shambles, people are more concerned about keeping their jobs than they are doing the right thing. They also don’t want to be black-listed. I don’t fault them for that, because you have to feed your families and put a roof over their head. Which is why I say sad.

Political ideology has so divided our country that strangers show visible anger at those who oppose their ideals. Family, friends and coworkers are afraid to speak about how they feel for fear of damaging their relationships, whether it be personal or professional. That’s a far cry from when political discourse was the life’s blood of this country. Where freedom of speech was the number one right we valued, the first on the Bill of Rights.

Political correctness has created an environment where a normal person fears to open their mouth to say something because they might offend someone. We’re almost at the point where jokes are illegal. Instead of teaching our young about the variety of points of view that exist in the world, we only teach them the party line. As a result, many of our young cannot think for themselves. Without a central committee churning out talking points, they are helpless.

I agree with Diane. We are being done a disservice by reporters who refuse to report the news. But we must remember one thing. The news media is in business to sell the news. If we want the truth, we must, as consumers, demand it.”

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Diane Dimond December 25, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Florida Times Union Reader Phil Scanlan writes:

“The Times-Union opinion column by Diane Dimond complained that the media is not doing its job in covering political campaigns and that some good reporters have quit because they are tired of being lied to every day.
It is not the responsibility of the broadcaster in the sports booth to call the penalties on the football field, all they can do is comment on the play.
However, it seems that we need some referees for the most important game we watch every four years, our presidential campaign.
Since the NFL referees are still on strike, perhaps they could help the country between now and Nov. 6.
Start calling penalties on the presidential campaign teams whenever they tell a lie, which is almost all the time.
When a lie occurs, the referees could call a penalty and fine the campaign team that lied $50,000. If it is a half-truth, that could be $25,000. There would be only one fine for each lie per day, no matter how many times the same lie was told that day.
Each campaign could appeal to the referees for a judgment, perhaps using video replay or review of printed material whenever they believe the other campaign has told a lie. This would apply to all the players on each campaign team, including their PACs.
If the same lie is repeated the next day by the same campaign team, the fine would be doubled to $100,000.
This doubling would result in a fine of $6.4 million on the eighth day the lie was repeated.
I would also like to fine the cable news channels for repeating the same lies but will not attempt to censor the media.
Penalty fees, beyond the cost of administration, could be given to pay off the federal deficit since I know both candidates really want to see that paid off as soon as possible.
If this improved things in our presidential campaign, perhaps we could also implement a similar system for Congress where the penalties would be for “Delay of Game.”
By the way, I can’t imagine that a football game would work very well without referees.”

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