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.