I spent almost 30 years in workaday journalism. I started when I was 19, still in college, a complete novice with only a few bylines in the student newspaper to my credit. When I started working full-time for a daily newspaper, the totality of my press experience included interviewing a librarian, interviewing (as a joke) a homeless dog and a two-part piece of serialized fiction I was lucky to have published in the first place. That was it.
My first real hard-news story was a hard one, indeed. A train derailment in downtown Hope, Ark., resulted in the destruction of a home and death of a small child. I wrote the story … well, I participated in coverage, might be a better way of putting it … and ended up winning a first-place prize in the state newspaper contest. I got into journalism not quite by choice, and my first real success in the field literally resulted from an accident.
That said, I’ve always bristled when people outside the industry claim to know something about the industry.
I feel the same prideful protectiveness of journalism that anyone would feel of their profession. I’m sure mechanics don’t like it when accountants dis their line of work. I’m sure lawyers are resentful of mechanics when they dis theirs. And so on. We all bitch about our jobs but get our toes stepped on when someone else bitches about them. So it is with me.
As a brief follow-up to my post about the Clinton craze, let me state that those afflicted with said craze always, always, always implicate my profession in their insistence that a cover-up – but only a cover-up – helped Bill Clinton to the White House. “The media didn’t report on it,” they say. “The media helped him. The media ignored it. The left-wing media.” And on and on, hallelujah, amen.
Let me say right now that if anything, “the media” have been complicit with those who want to bash, degrade, malign, smear, besmirch, libel, embarrass, humiliate, drag down, question, doubt, destroy, impeach and otherwise dis Bill Clinton – for years. That goes for Hillary, as well. I haven’t exactly been hiding under a rock the last quarter-century. I’ve watched CNN, FOX News, and every mom-n-pop Internet media outlet known to man blame Bill Clinton for every murder, solved or unsolved, real or not real, that even thought about coming down the pike. (I’m surprised he wasn’t mentioned in the O.J. murders.) There has been such a paucity of good news about Bill Clinton that I sometimes wonder if there ever were any – or did it all simply get swept under the rug?
Last night, someone close to me blamed “the media” both for Donald Trump’s fall in the polls (which are no doubt unfair and crooked) and the rise of Hillary Clinton (who clearly is undeserving). I overheard them say that the media “needs to stay out of politics – it’s got to stop.”
Well, I can’t blame the speaker for their opinion or hold it against them. Like millions of other people, sometimes you get this point of view in your family and there is nothing you can do but shake your head and go on.
But it still pissed me off.
Having labored in the thankless orchards of journalism for so long – for such little appreciation by management and such a small, fuck-you paycheck – that I feel I can speak for what it’s like to actually work for a newspaper. And I can say unequivocally that at no time, in Arkansas, Texas or Oklahoma, at one of 15 different newspapers, large or small, daily or weekly, owned by a range of corporations with a variety of interests, did I ever hear the words, “Hey, we can really help out Bill Clinton if we..”
Not one time. Not ever. Not in 30 years. Not even while Clinton was governor. (For one thing, no one ever gave a shit who was governor. The governor couldn’t make them money.)
Newspapers exist to generate revenue for their shareholders.
By and large, they are NOT political entities.
Oh, some of the larger ones express a political viewpoint, on pages plainly marked EDITORIAL, but those viewpoints are taken about as seriously as Patton Oswalt selling sex aids. Your downhome newspapers, the “media” outlets that most people come in contact with? They stay as far away from political views as possible. Why? They don’t want to piss off anyone who advertises.
And that is that.
More to the point … when a major political party nominates a maniac for the presidency, what is this strange train of thought that people should just keep their mouths shut – that facts are facts, and it will all come out in the wash? In a democracy, there is no requirement for people to keep silent. If a maniac is running for office, it’s the duty of the American people to keep said maniac out of office. Sure, he can get his fair share of coverage and exposure, and has a right to respond, to write guest editorials, etc., but he or she doesn’t have the right to their own facts, and no one should expect democracy to just shut down on their behalf.
In other words, if a presidential candidate is losing, it’s because of the candidate, not the press (my preferred nomenclature).
Finally, “it’s got to stop.” Who’s going to stop it? And stop what, exactly? Free speech? Freedom of the press? This is the longing for authoritarianism that Donald Trump seems to have inspired in certain people. Angry people, marginalized people, those who believe the mere existence of other people in the world has led to their own victimization. People who already believe “the media” is unfair, “left-wing,” “mainstream” … pick your poison. They want someone who’ll not only protect them from terrorists (as in EYE-sis) but tell other people what they can and cannot say … and there won’t be anything those people can do about it. Unless they want to go to jail.