The ways in which some reporters get their material and write it up has sometimes bothered me. I’m not talking about the steady, evidence-based, well-researched articles in reliable media. I’m talking about the information-distortion that goes on mostly in the tabloids. You all know what I mean. The half-truths and emotional headlines in four-inch fonts are in checkout stands everywhere. No-one really, totally, believes them but we can’t help seeing them, either, so we wonder how much of it is true.
Yesterday there were two events that showed the worst of this. The first was when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced that they were stepping back from the traditional roles of the senior royals in order to develop their own careers and to gain more control over their private lives. The second was when the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, walked from a briefing about the death of Iranian General Suleimani to another meeting.
Today I have read a few good articles, notably in The Atlantic, about the reasons for the Sussexes’ decision and why that may or may not be a good idea. I have also seen articles that simply show the front pages of the tabloids with their gigantic headlines, together with minimal reportage. So, in those, the news became what the tabloids decided would sell the most newspapers. That is terrible journalism.
On Wednesday, January 8th, I watched in dismay as Rachel Maddow, whom I normally admire, become giddy with praise in her MSNBC TV show over the behavior of two journalists who stalked and harassed Nancy Pelosi as she tried to go about her work. (This comes right at the beginning of the episode if you want to view the clip.) I cannot understand how it is considered good journalism to create a “gotcha” moment over an issue of national security with a person in high office who is already overburdened. Those two journalists, both from mainstream media, behaved like the tabloid paparazzi, and that, I think, is unacceptable.
The irony of the situation with the royals is that the tabloids had created a problem for themselves. In denying their subjects their privacy, they have now lost a significant source of fodder for their readers. They created a situation from which the Sussexes decided to just walk away. That took courage, and I hope it works out for them. Frankly, I’m glad the tabloids have one fewer family to harass for profit.
I suspect that the American media might be creating a similar problem for themselves by haunting the hallways of government buildings in order to catch politicians going about their business. If they continue to engage in these media muggings, I would not blame the politicians if they kicked the media out of those buildings altogether. Really they are not helping, and they may even be hindering the work of government.
Those buildings theoretically belong to the people, and the freedom of the press is loudly defended, but come on. Surely there is a way for reporters to inform the public without all that hallway nonsense. It’s embarrassing, undignified, and unnecessary. And, more to the point, we don’t learn anything surprising or new from those scrums. Journalists will keep on doing it, but one day that source for quotes may dry up completely. Eventually, politicians may decide to protect their workplace and their mental health, and if they do, perhaps the interviews will then become more mutually respectful.