Lynn Sherr’s post advocating that the press should stop covering everything the Trump administration says or does unless it’s actual news prompted nearly 2,000 people to comment on the BillMoyers.com Facebook page.
Sherr argued that although the press must continue to hold the president accountable for what he and his staff says, it must be careful not to fall into the trap of perpetuating false narratives. In other words, if something was untrue yesterday and is still untrue today, she writes, the press needs to stop asking about it and move on, preferably to covering policy or other substantive matters.
Your comments were thoughtful and smart. We chose three of them and asked Sherr to respond:
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I think our current problem is the result of our flavor of capitalism. Media corporations are required to maximize profits for their shareholders. Sensationalism, yellow journalism, fear mongering, etc. — those things are more profitable than reporting the nuanced, complicated truth. If a media corporation has to choose, then they must choose the one that brings in the most money.
Lynn Sherr: You’re right: The bottom line has, in many ways, wrecked journalism. I’ve often commented that you could definitely call my time at ABC News (1977-2008) the glory years, when news was still recognized as a public service and getting the story was the only thing that mattered. When we were reality TV. But our influence waned as priorities shifted, profits ruled, channels proliferated and new outlets splintered our audiences and diminished our power. Way back when, news was the loss leader, the giveback to the public when the new networks got all those airwaves for free. No one ever expected TV news to make money. Now that it does, it’s expected to make even more. In the process, the public often loses. A teeny example from my time at local TV news in NYC: Forty years ago, we had a critic who reviewed plays and movies — clearly good information for the public. Today they report the box office grosses, which benefits … um … the Hollywood producers?
Also, nothing against capitalism. And yes, I enjoyed a good salary. But I suspect we stopped serving our viewers when we worried more about profits than the people running our lives.
I see Lynn Sherr is currently a freelance journalist. I think that had she taken this position while employed full-time at ABC News, she would have been given a cardboard box and told to clean out her desk. Don’t get me wrong. I totally agree with what she is suggesting. But I also know reporters either do as their bosses tell them or they are fired.
Lynn Sherr: It never would have occurred to me to write that piece when I was employed by ABC News! I fully understood who owned the microphone, and tried to use a more subtle approach for my rebellious rants. Or else spoke up directly to management rather than publicly. I won some, lost many more. But I knew how to do my job. Alas, that’s one of the differences today: I lament the fact that so many TV reporters let us know how they feel, when their job is to tell us only what happened. I believe that if reporters want to be taken seriously, they need to stop agreeing to be in movies or on TV series, playing reporters. There is a difference between news and entertainment. Perhaps that will be part of my next BillMoyers.com column!
Normalizing the Craziness
I’m conflicted about this. We don’t want to risk normalizing this crazy behavior. His craziness will still get lots of air time on the right. One of his recent crazy tweets that didn’t get covered by mainstream and progressive media was from an inaccurate Fox News report about R-1 visas letting jihadis into the country. Nobody else called him out on that. I think respectable journalists need to keep calling him out on his craziness.”
Lynn Sherr: Kathy, I’m also conflicted, because it’s a real challenge for responsible journalism. And my friends still in the daily reporting game wrestle long and hard with every new outburst. I’m talking about daily print reporters; I fear many cable TV news folks don’t do much wrestling because their time pressures are so much greater. Of course I wasn’t suggesting that the media just blank out the White House; that would be equally irresponsible. But it’s clearly time to exercise journalistic judgment on what to report, and how. And attributing the lies to the president in headlines — rather than just treating them like facts — is way overdue.