How Our Media Are Failing Us.

The US news media were once the envy of the world. TV news gave us legendary journalists such as Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley and Chet Huntley to name just a few. These were people who proudly informed Americans, exposed corruption and provided context for politics. So what happened? How did we go from Walter Cronkite to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. There is no single answer. Instead, a number of factors have led to the demise of journalism in the US. Here are the most prominent:

1- Media Have Chosen Sides: Newspapers have long leaned to one side or another. The Wall Street Journal was always conservative as The New York Times was always liberal. But despite their leanings, they at least tried to present both sides. That no longer is the case. Fox News Channel gets its daily talking points from the Republican National Committee and, since the end of the Fairness Doctrine, talk radio has become more than 90 percent right wing with almost no liberal counterparts.

2 – Infotainment And Ratings: Far too many so-called “news” shows have become infotainment – more devoted to creating high ratings than presenting actual news and information. They focus on the most bizarre, sensational and macabre stories rather than news that matters. As a result, we know more about the murder trial of the day than what Congress is doing.

3 – Equating Equal Time With Accuracy And Fairness: Fearful of backlash from the party faithful, the media tend to report both sides of a political story rather than dig for the truth. I call this the “We report, you decide” syndrome. This is no substitute for actual journalism. With no reporter focused on getting to the truth, the falsehoods from one side become accepted as fact.

4 – The Horse Race Syndrome: During the run-up to elections, the news media have refused to report the truth. They are more interested in reporting the results of polls with the idea of finding a winner. As a result, we hear two disparate views of issues with no context available to help us choose a candidate.

5 – Accepting Politically-Biased Nomenclature: Republican strategists are constantly trying to win a literal war of words. For example, Estate Taxes were once widely accepted as a way of preventing dynasties in the US – so that the extremely wealthy could not pass unimaginable wealth onto their heirs. But once the GOP labeled them Death Taxes, the media picked up the term and, as a result, public opinion began to change. The same thing happened when the abortion foes changed the description from anti-abortion to Pro-Life.

6 – Newsroom Cutbacks: In the late 1970’s, the owners of news organizations began seeking greater profits. They found them by eliminating foreign news bureaus and eliminating many reporters and staff photographers. As a result, they now rely on stock photos and wire services. Reporters no longer have the time to investigate corruption or to check facts.

7 – Laziness: Too many reporters are willing to accept what they are told by one source. It requires too much effort and too much time to seek other sources or to research the issue in order to provide context. It’s more convenient to go with the story half-finished. For example, business reporters often report that US corporate income taxes are the highest in the world. What they neglect to say is that is only the stated tax rate, not the effective tax rate which is often just one or two percent. And they never report the amount of subsidies and other forms of corporate welfare received by the very corporations that complain of high income taxes.

7 – Expediency: In the rush to be first, news media no longer take the time to verify the story through multiple sources. False stories are often repeated over and over before the mistake is uncovered and, if it is, the retraction (if there is one) is scarcely noticed. This was never more apparent than with Lara Logan’s false and misleading 60 Minutes report on Benghazi. The original story was nearly an hour. The retraction was only a minute or two.

8 – Economic Self-Interest: The vast majority of our media are now owned by just 6 conglomerates. (And if the Time-Warner/Comcast merger is completed, that number will drop to 5.) These corporations are less concerned with news than they are with profits. There are no longer firewalls between news departments and corporate operations. So if a story will harm the corporation, it is too often buried.

9 – Fear Of Retribution: Chuck Todd’s recent admission about treatment of Teapublicans on Meet the Press is exhibit A. When he said that he didn’t dare challenge a Republican lie or they would not appear on the show, he was, in effect, being a whistle-blower for the profession of journalism.

10 – Overwhelming Number Of Lies: As found, Teapublicans tell nearly 3 times as many lies as Democrats. They tell bigger whoppers, too. It’s hard for journalists to keep up. And with fewer journalists willing to challenge the lies, the politicians keep on telling them. Eventually the lies become accepted as fact. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples. One of the most popular lies is that the Keystone XL Pipeline will create thousands of jobs. Yet independent studies show that the number of jobs is grossly inflated and that they don’t justify the environmental risks.

Despite the media’s many failings, all is not lost. There are still numerous, credible news outlets. But the best way to be informed is to actually work at it. After all, that’s what our Founding Fathers expected of us. It’s not even all that daunting. The Web can be a very convenient and useful tool. The basic rule is to never accept anything from a biased source, or even a single source, as fact. Seek out information from independent sources, as well as conservative-leaning and liberal-leaning sources. Then check the information through Websites such as, and

The very future of our nation depends on it.

What Next For “60 Minutes?”

60 Minutes was founded as a weekly news show from the premier broadcast news organization. The idea was that, as a news program with a full hour to devote to a few stories, it would have the time to thoroughly investigate issues and report beyond the headlines. It became a huge success. For decades, Mike Wallace, Harry Reasoner, Ed Bradley, Diane Sawyer, Dan Rather, Morley Safer and others broke stories of real substance, even when the subjects of the stories refused to cooperate.

Unfortunately, the program now seems a shadow of its former self.

In a short, ten week span, Lara Logan and Leslie Stahl showed us what happens when a reporter lacks a real curiosity for the subject matter and fails to follow the disciplines of basic reporting. Maybe they were deceived. Maybe they succumbed to the charm of their interview subjects. More likely they approached the story with preconceived notions. Whatever the reason, they turned in reports unworthy of those who established the once-proud tradition of CBS News and 60 Minutes.

Logan later apologized for her false story on Benghazi, and was given a leave of absence from the network. Stahl, however, has not commented on criticisms of her shallow and misleading story on “Clean Tech.” She was given no time off. And this past week she returned to the type of story for which I believe she is better suited…fluff. Her report on those who have superior autobiographical memory is the kind of insipid story at which she truly excels. Indeed, it was the kind of story best-suited for the new 60 Minutes…a story that requires no real reporting. No complicated technologies to grasp. No requirement to investigate and vet sources. No nuances of international politics.

The question is, were the recent failures solely the fault of the reporters? Or were they the failure of network management? Time will tell. In the meantime, I find myself missing the insightful reporting of Andy Rooney, he of large eyebrows who filed investigative reports about his shoes or the contents of his office. In many ways, he displayed better journalistic instincts than some of the show’s most recent stories.

CBS’ “60 Minutes” Fails Again!

After its well-publicized failure to report the truth about the attack on our Benghazi consulate, one would expect that CBS, particularly its 60 Minutes crew, would be careful to assure accuracy in future reports.

Yet, this past Sunday, just 10 weeks after its Benghazi debacle, 60 Minutes failed again.

In attempting to uncover government waste on the part of the Obama administration’s clean energy loan program, Leslie Stahl displayed her apparent bias and ignorance of the subject. Under the label “clean tech,” she conflated high-tech companies with clean energy companies. (Not every clean energy alternative is high tech.) She also conflated the failure of venture capital-backed start-ups with the failure of companies receiving federally-backed loans. In doing so, she implied that a majority of loans to clean energy companies were lost. She also implied that clean energy is a fool’s errand.

Further, Stahl failed to provide real context for her story.

She failed to report that when a federally-backed company fails it doesn’t always default on the loans. That’s because the loans are often recovered through the sale of assests. She failed to report the failure rate of federally-backed loans which, according to congressional testimony by the former head of the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, is less than 3 percent. She failed to report that the loans to Solyndra began during the Bush administration. She failed to report that even companies that fail often create products and technologies that eventually benefit us all. She failed to report that, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, 2013 was a huge success. She failed to mention that nine states now get 10 percent or more of their electricity from wind and solar; that wind is now the dominant energy source in Spain; that solar and wind compete head-to-head with coal in places like South Africa.

Stahl also failed to report that approximately three-quarters of all venture capital-backed businesses fail. That’s across all industries. Not just in the clean energy sector. She didn’t recognize the ecological consequences of making fuel from trees (one of the “clean tech” start-ups she covered in her story). She failed to report the ecological consequences of basing our future on oil, most especially tar sands oil. More important, she failed to report the staggering amount of money that the federal government gives to the carbon-based energy sector with no expectation of repayment (estimates range from $14 billion to $52 billion annually).

Stahl suggests that taxpayers should expect more from our government than failures such as Solyndra (which was a superior technology that failed primarily because of our long-standing trade policies with China).

I’d suggest that we should expect better…much better…from Leslie Stahl and 60 Minutes.

A Sad Episode Of “60 Minutes.”

When I was in journalism school a long time ago, CBS was rightfully used as an example of great journalism. Such industry giants as Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Robert Trout, Harry Reasoner, Eric Sevareid, Roger Mudd, Charles Kuralt, Mike Wallace, Robert Pierpoint, Howard K. Smith, Douglas Edwards, Ed Bradley, and Daniel Schorr were part of the world’s premier news organization. They were idolized for their impartiality and determination to get at the truth.

Since those halcyon days, CBS News has sunk to such lows that journalism schools may now use its 60 Minutes report on Benghazi as an example of what not to do.

Lara Logan’s story was fraught with holes, inconsistencies and outright lies. Apparently Logan and the 60 Minutes crew were determined to break a sensational story that would expose some sort of cover-up by the Obama administration. Certainly, the story was sensational. It was also false.

In filing the report, CBS News broke some of the most basic rules that are taught to would-be reporters in Journalism 101. There were so many red flags, it’s astounding that an editor, any editor, would agree to air the report, let alone make it the lead story on the telecast. First, the “source” (independent contractor Dylan Davies) asked to be given an asumed name (Morgan Jones) for protection, yet he agreed to appear on camera making it easy to identify him. Second, Davies admitted to the reporter(s) that he had lied to his employers when asked if he had reached the US consulate during the attack. Third, it was known that Davies had also shopped a manuscript of his tale to a book publisher.

To most experienced reporters any one of these issues would place the source’s credibility in question.

Finally, and more important, Davies’ testimony was in direct contradiction with what was already known about the events in Benghazi. It not only contradicted accounts by the State Department, the Department of Defense and the Obama administration. It contradicted reports from independent groups empaneled to investigate the matter. This should have caused CBS News to seek further corraboration. At very least, it should have caused the network to do much more investigation before running with the story. But it seems, CBS News and 60 Minutes were more intent on exposing or, more accurately, creating a scandal.

The only scandal they created centered on their failure to accurately present the news.

Yet the most astonishing aspect of this sorry mess is that CBS News chairman, Jeff Fager, stood by the story after serious questions were raised. Indeed, he used the fact that Davies had previously lied (not once, but twice) as evidence of his credibility!

Not until CBS News became aware that Davies had told a different story during his testimony to the FBI, did Fager and CBS News start to question Davies’ credibility. Seriously, CBS? No one in your news organization thought to check out your source? No one thought to read the volumes of testimony on the events at Benghazi? No one thought to ask the administration, the State Department or others for a rebuttal? The editor of my college newspaper would have fired me for less.

Of course, CBS News did pull the story from its website several days after it aired. And it apparently arranged for Lara Logan to apologize for the story during her appearance on CBS This Morning. It also has stated that it will correct the story on an upcoming 60 Minutes. That may undo some of the political damage from the story. But it won’t undo the damage done to the proud reputation of CBS News.

All of this is painfully ironic when you consider the network’s actions following Dan Rather’s report on the favoritism shown to George W. Bush during his service in the Air National Guard. If you remember, Rather presented documents showing that Bush had gone AWOL and never served the remainder of his enlistment. When the veracity of those documents was questioned, CBS News hung Rather out to dry. Three producers were fired and Rather left the network shortly afterward with his career in tatters. Yet, since that time, it has been determined that the documents could have been authentic, and that Bush likely was AWOL.

Maybe this time, instead of punishing the reporter(s), the network should fire Fager and the editor(s) who failed to question the Benghazi story. Maybe it should commit to raising its news standards. Maybe it should ask itself, “What would Edward R. Murrow do?”

UPDATE: Lara Logan gave a “correction” at the end of a “60 Minutes” telecast in which she admitted to errors. Given the fact, that her apology was at the very end of the program and lasted only 90 seconds, there’s only one word that adequately characterizes the “correction”: LAME!

Logan did not explain why the network chose to give so much credibility and air time to an admitted liar who was looking to cash in by selling his story to a book publisher. She failed to explain why CBS did so little investigation. And she did not explain why CBS chose to give the “correction” so little time and attention.