“If You’re Explaining, You’re Losing.”

That is the “wisdom” voiced by a number of political reporters when discussing the latest GOP accusations that Social Democracy and Socialism are one in the same…a perfect example of the flaws with today’s headline-driven, sensation-seeking journalism. Those reporters and their editors seem to believe that the American people are incapable of understanding complexity and context. But how would they know? They have seldom tried.

Certainly, local radio and TV newsrooms lack the time, resources and will to analyze complex issues and report them objectively. But the same can’t be said of cable TV networks.

Cable TV networks like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News have both the resources and the time to provide insight and details for complex issues – to help viewers understand social democracy, climate change, immigration, federal deficits, racial disparity and most other issues of our time. Instead, it seems they would rather focus on headlines and details. (One notable exception is Rachel Maddow who often uses her entire hour-long show to accurately explore the details of a single story. At the other extreme is Fox News, which like many talk radio shows, prefers to serve as a cheerleader and propagandist for the Republican Party.)

Want to know the difference between social democracy and socialism? You’d have better success asking a political science professor than watching a newscast. In reality, the only people who are likely to be asked to define social democracy on television or radio are its Republican opponents who will confuse it with communism. They will want to scare the bejeezus out of you to prevent you from voting for programs that might actually benefit you as opposed to their tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations. For the record, most of the nations in the advanced world are successful social democracies. They have universal health care, free education, free daycare and pensions, all paid for by taxes. Instead, the US has gone in another direction. Thanks to sustained GOP tax cuts, the US is now recognized as an oligarchy – a government dominated by the very rich and powerful. But have you seen or heard any broadcast news organization question that? Have you seen GOP politicians and strategists asked to explain and defend the policies that led to oligarchy?

That should tell you everything you need to know about cable TV’s journalistic bias.

Want to know the details and consequences of the two parties’ budget proposals? You’ll have to sort through dozens and dozens of newspaper, magazine and online articles in order to piece together a scant understanding. Want to know the true consequences of unabated carbon emissions on our planet? You’ll need to read detailed reports and studies from the world’s climate scientists. Want to really understand the Green New Deal? You’ll have to wait for an interview with its sponsor. And you’re more likely to find that on a late night TV talk show than in a newscast.

What passes for fairness in television journalism these days is this: The news host presents a news headline or encapsulated story. Then the host brings on pundits or officials from each party to provide their viewpoints on the story. The viewer is then expected to reach their own conclusions. There is no attempt to drill down to the truth. The hosts are more interested in providing equal time.

That’s not journalism! It’s infotainment.

When I attended journalism school, we were taught to search for the facts and truth. Opinions needed to be labeled as such. Equal time was only considered in terms of political campaigns. We were taught that there are not two sides to the truth. There is only the truth. That’s why network news reporters were once ranked as some of the most credible people in the world. They reported the truth without concern for providing time for opposing viewpoints. As Walter Cronkite famously said, “My job is not to tell you what you want to know. My job is to tell you what you need to know.”

No one understands the reality of today’s journalism standards better than reality TV star, Donald J. Trump. During the 2016 election, as Hillary and other Democrats proposed detailed solutions for our nation’s most pressing problems, Trump offered simplistic proposals (“Mexico will pay for the wall”) and sensational attacks against his opponent (“Lock her up”). Not surprisingly, the television news shows ignored substance and, instead, fawned over Trump, giving him endless hours of coverage. Even when he was exposed as a sexual assaulter, racist, fraud and liar, the media continued to host him at every opportunity. In industry parlance, Trump was “good copy.”

Even today, Trump dominates the airwaves. Whether it’s news of the Russia investigation, the corruption of his administration, the criminality of his family and his associates, or his avalanche of lies, the cable TV news channels are virtually all Trump all the time. As a result, the reality of his crimes and corruption are diminished – lost in a sea of stories and commentary by politicians and pundits on both sides.

Of course, there are still many diligent, hardworking reporters writing in newspapers, magazines and online outlets. And, in fairness, there are also many working for television news organizations. But their work is often overshadowed by the TV hosts, the pundits, the political strategists, the fear-mongers and the conspiracy theorists.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” We all need to work at educating ourselves. We can’t rely on TV news hosts, radio instigators, and social media platforms populated by Russian trolls to do the job for us. We need to do our own research; to seek out serious journalists; to read academic and scientific studies; to find the purveyors of truth.

It requires effort. But that’s what the nation’s founders would have expected of us.

Journalism, RIP.

Regardless of what happens in the upcoming presidential race, one thing has been forever changed…journalism.

Though the competition for ratings has long influenced the news – forcing news editors to adopt the “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy – the demand for ratings has relegated newscasts to stories of violent crimes, accidental deaths, and confrontations only occasionally interrupted by feel-good “human interest” stories. Instead of informing the public about issues that really matter (pending legislation, environmental destruction, corporate influence in government, foreign policy decisions, and government and corporate corruption), the philosophy governing reporting by corporate-owned news media seems to be to keep the public perpetually frightened and stupid.

Newscasts have become little more than infotainment.

How else do you explain Donald Trump’s ability to manipulate the media into providing his campaign with roughly $3 billion of free news coverage – many times that of his competitors? How else do you explain the lack of coverage for Bernie Sanders’ campaign, even though he has drawn larger crowds than Trump at every stop? How else do explain the media’s reporting of the latest accusations about Hillary Clinton’s emails without facts or context?

When I earned my journalism degree, every story was expected to contain the basics of who, what, where, when, why and how. Rumors and accusations were not, in themselves, considered news. No story could be printed or aired if it didn’t include those basic elements. What’s more, the story had to be verified by two independent sources – more if the story was deemed to be exceptionally controversial.

Journalists like me were inspired by giants: Edward R. Murrow, John Cameron Swayze, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. News gathering operations like CBS had news bureaus and reporters located around the globe based on the concept that it was not enough to tell the story, it was important to provide context and real understanding. It was considered more important for reporters to be right than to be first. Opinion was clearly labeled as such and not permitted to contaminate a news story. And there was an impenetrable firewall between the business side of the media and the news department, except in the not-so-rare instances where the owner of the media was also a journalist.

Such news departments exposed the viciousness of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Bob Woodward’s and Carl Bernstein’s reporting brought down the criminal enterprise otherwise known as the Nixon administration. Seymour Hersh’s reporting laid bare the horrors of the My Lai Massacre. Cronkite’s reporting was credited with ending the Vietnam War.

In more recent times, based on the woeful state of modern journalism, the corporate news media made it possible for the Bush administration to lead our nation to war in Iraq based on propaganda and lies. And they didn’t just report Trump’s ascendency to the GOP presidential nomination. In search of ratings and ever-larger profits, they actually created the Trump we see today.

Each day, the “news” is dominated by Trump. The media rarely fact-check his rants, provide context for his claims, point out inconsistencies in his statements, or broadcast alternative views. Unlike opposing candidates, he doesn’t need to waste campaign funds on airtime. In fact, he has actually made money by using campaign funds to pay his own companies for transportation, lodging and more.

In the heyday of broadcast journalism, reporters and news anchors tried to create a signature to be used to end a broadcast. For Murrow, it was “Good night, and good luck.” For Cronkite, it was “And that’s the way it is.” Now that the media are no longer willing to hold their newscasts to the standards of journalism, I’d suggest a slightly different slogan – “Another day, another dollar.”

That’s all the corporate media seems to care about.

A Failure Of Journalism.

The impasse in Congress that has shut down our federal government is not only the result of a political failure. It’s the result of a journalistic failure. As evidenced by statements from NBC’s Chuck Todd, too many reporters believe that their job is simply to report the positions of both sides and let the public decide which side is telling the truth.

Few make any attempt to bring perspective to the debate by fully explaining the issues or determining which side is telling the truth. As a result, politicians are able to lie with impunity.

This so-called journalism is completely counter to what I was taught in journalism school. Moreover, it’s a disservice to the great newsmen of the past. The great Edward R. Murrow exposed the excesses and cruelty of Senator Joe McCarthy’s communist witch hunt. Murrow exposed the plight of migrant workers. And Walter Cronkite effectively brought an end to the Vietnam War by reporting the reality of the war from the combat zone.

Indeed, Cronkite once said, “My job is not merely to report the facts. My job is to report the truth.”

Of course, there are a few writers who have reported the reality of our dysfunctional Congress. In their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein explain how the issues are very much one-sided, caused by a growing extremism of the right. Fareed Zakaria, Bill Moyers and Charlie Rose have done an excellent job of thorough and unbiased reporting. Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone and others have also reported in depth. But their audiences pale in comparison to the national mass media. And their articles require a willingness to read with an inquisitive and open mind.

That’s probably expecting far too much of today’s Twitter-fed millennials and older generations fueled by Faux News Channel and Rush Limbaugh who refuse to let facts get in the way of a good political fight. They tend to view politics as a blood sport and they have already chosen sides. Cronkite and Murrow combined probably couldn’t change their minds!

In reality, the only way out of this mess is for the news media to realize what their predecessors did. That being a reporter and a journalist is a privilege. And that the position comes with a responsibility. Not just to report the news…but to give it context so that the audience can readily understand the truth. The whole truth.