Journalists do stupid things. We err,
eavesdrop, plagiarize, fake stories and indulge in coverups that, were
anyone else doing it, would leave us roaring with pitying laughter. When we get caught, it’s our version of “stupid criminal tricks.” We also tell you about these missteps,
these ethical failures and sometimes criminal acts. That’s why it’s easy
to teach my “Media Ethics and Missteps” at UC’s Osher Lifelong Learning
Institute each autumn. Reality is my textbook.
I recognize the patronizing voice in
American reporting about countries struggling to find their way out of
chaos or recently overturned dictatorships. It rings of the arrogance that too often
accompanied our foreign aid, when it wasn’t politically incorrect to
refer to used cans of cooking oil as “appropriate technology” for Third
World women fetching water.
It hit me a few days ago. Next year will
be the 20th anniversary of the bloody Easter uprising at Ohio’s crowded,
racially tense maximum security prison at Lucasville. That deadly riot, the longest prison riot in American history, was The Enquirer’s finest hour.
Given the news media’s historic reticence
about admitting screw-ups, I have no idea whether we are more or less
ethical than in recent decades. What has changed is the likelihood that
unspeakable puffery and blatant conflicts of interest are likelier than ever to be caught and publicized.
WVXU’s decision to hire retiring Enquirer politics reporter Howard Wilkinson is the rare bright spot in the increasingly constricted world of local news gathering. Adding him to WVXU’s reporting staff
scored a twofer for news director Maryanne Zeleznik. In addition to his
sense of local and state politics, Howard is as passionate and
knowledgable about the Reds.
Rarely do foreign journalists’ brutal
criticism of American actions or policies get space or time in our
mainstream news media. That’s too bad. What passes for comment and
debate here is a pretty constipated exercise.
I finally watched the 30-minute online video, Kony 2012, calling for the capture or killing of African terrorist Joseph Kony this year. With an estimated 100 million views so
far, it’s an interesting example of manipulation of social media.
A printed news source
I can’t do without comes unfailingly in the mail: seed catalogs.
Forget Hindu, Jewish, Chinese or Gregorian new years. Delivery of the
first seed catalogs starts my new year before Thanksgiving.