Journalism called out

by Alan Johnston, Pottsville, Australia

Recently I read a piece of ‘long journalism’ in the Washington Post Magazine by staff writer Gene Weingarten. The kind of in-depth, thoughtful reporting the majority of newspapers in Australia abandoned long ago as they raced to the bottom in the world’s first media ‘murdochracy’.

Weingarten’s article is simultaneously about a lurid murder case that occurred in North Carolina in 1970 and the latest in a string of appeals by the convicted perpetrator – but it is also a very insightful examination of journalism itself. Remarkably, Weingarten discusses, uses and highlights techniques of journalistic bias as he goes along. The kind of spin he applies, as he openly leads his readers to the conclusion he wants them to come to, makes for insightful reading.

He does this because this case is notorious not just for itself, but also for several books, one written in 1983 by journalist Joe McGinniss.

A dozen or so years after the event, during a legal appeal by the deemed guilty party, McGinniss embedded himself with the defence team – ostensibly to write a book about an unjust conviction. At some point he became convinced that the appellant was guilty but he didn’t reveal this so as to keep his access, and any inside information, flowing. The upshot of this duplicitous ingratiation included a number of highly self-revealing letters sent to him from prison by the perpetrator. In his book, McGinniss pilloried the convicted person as a psychopathic monster. Later his book was turned into a TV mini-series.

Subsequently, in 1990, McGinniss was excoriated for his actions in an article in the New Yorker Magazine by writer Janet Malcolm. She began with what has become a famous quotation:

‘Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.’

Now I’ll quote Weingarten:

‘(Janet) Malcolm contended that McGinniss’s tactics were symptomatic of what all journalists do, to some degree: fool people into trusting them, then betray them by spinning facts, or distorting them, to create whatever compelling narrative they wish. Every story, she implied, is on some level a con job.’

So here is journalism being called out by its own.

The reason I am writing this post is simply that when I first read the above it resonated so much with me with respect to the recent tabloid reportage on Serge Benhayon and others associated with Universal Medicine. Here the usual leaden-footed suspects were trotted out –loaded words, factual errors, glaring omissions, snide allusions, condescension….

Indefensible to anyone who is not ‘too stupid or too full of himself’.


126 thoughts on “Journalism called out

  1. That is an in-depth article that really reveals the ugliness of journalism. Thanks in presenting this so we can be real about what this industry looks like. Your article also enriched my English vocabulary with the word murdochracy, thanks. Too bad it is not a word which comes along with playfulness and joy. The article underneath tells a lot what everybody should know. It is a scary idea that in Australia 70% percent of the media, press and on-line is controlled by one man. A man that has no interest in presenting truth to people. For me it reveals how much we have be to aware what we read. How we very much should and can rely on our wisdom. And it should be our objective to change this media landscape to an industry that is truly serving humanity by presenting the truth. I will do my part in that. Thanks Alan.

  2. This article certainly opened my eyes to the extent of spin and deception widespread in the media.
    With such a culture ingrained in the profession I can now see how it could lead to a sense of “that is how it is done” or “its for the greater good to expose this so I will spice it up a little” “if I tell it how it is the story it will appear quite bland compared to other journalists articles so I will make it more colorful.” I imagine a journalist working in this culture for many years become insensitive to it, and as it goes widespread and unchecked, a sense of complacency or even legitimized arrogance. This would also explain the reluctance to withdraw false reporting or print apologies unless heavy litigation is involved. The attitude of Jane Hansen comes to mind.
    It must be a tough atmosphere to work in and maintain credibility with betrayal and spin accepted as normal. Those honest maverick Journalists who resist the temptation to indulge, and hold their integrity in greater importance probably do not get paid as well but should get the respect they deserve.

  3. Every journalist is still a human being with a heart. Media and journalism’s foundation is to get a story at any cost. Our current media is just one example of the dangers of creating a system, any system based on recognition, money, power, and ambition rather than truth. But one day those journalists will remember their heart and when they start to live from that place, truth will return and the systems will no longer hold sway.

    1. Beautifully said Annie C. Journalism is meant to be informing the world of what is happening, but as we know the story is only as encompassing as the awareness and integrity of the teller of the tale. Reporting from the heart is the way forward, and these blogs and comments are great examples of this in action.

    2. Thank you Annie for exposing the judgement that it is so easy to fall into when we observe the indefensible behaviour of some of those on the media spin cycle. Every person is a human being with a heart and we all have a responsibility to inspire and demand truth, integrity and love for all.

  4. From what you write, journalism has a lot to answer for and the utter lies and misconceptions about Serge Benhayon, his family and Universal Medicine are but one such example of the extent the press will go to in its blood thirsty pursuit of a story – and who cares about the truth anyway?

  5. Serious investigative reporting is an amazing science. As a reader, I cannot thank enough the journalists that bring that. Their articles are simply a joy to read. Serious investigative journalism, however, is a ‘rara avis’; a scarse good. The usual is journalists running a personal agenda, who (ab-)use the media and their consumers. Their journalism is not about true service. Their style is not investigative reporting either. It is utter manipulation. The quotes Alan presented us with speak for themselves.

    1. I agree Eduardo – there is certainly a place for true journalism – someone communicating the facts of what is happening to the world. But unfortunately it is all too common to give people what they want rather than what they need to know – so drama and agenda creep in. There is a responsibility for us as readers to call this out, just as it is the responsibility of the journalist to be accountable. If this was any other job and someone was twisting their work to get what they wanted, they would risk losing their job. Sadly because readers endorse this behaviour, it has continued to happen.

  6. To understand the depths of the words “ morally indefensible” and the absence of this quality in virtually all media nowadays is to have revealed to one the extraordinary sea of illusion that everyone is swimming in, taken for granted, and even contributed to. We now need a lodestone of moral integrity to restore active humanity communication en masse in its truth form… This is what Universal Medicine is offering always.

  7. I’m pretty sure such tabloid journalists are not “too stupid” because from what I can see such lie based sensationalist reporting takes a degree of cunning and manipulation that hints to a destructive use of intelligence.

    1. It is the stupidity of the wilfully blind, the arrogance of chosen ignorance and the determination to hold on this status quo that they will go to such destructive lengths to perpetuate the illusion of their power and recognition, all at the expense of truth.

  8. To understand the depths of the words “ morally indefensible” and the absence of this quality in virtually all media nowadays is to have revealed to one the extraordinary sea of illusion that everyone is swimming in, taken for granted, and even contributed to. We now need a lodestone of moral integrity to restore active humanity communication en masse in its truth form… This is what Universal Medicine is offering always.

    1. Well said rachelandras. As how can the news delivered for people and about people – by truth – if the way they got the information is done without: respect, love , integrity or truth? Quiet hard, and exposés the fact that truth is more than saying what is right, but it is the way you act and treat people. Yes Alan, Journalism is called out, and we need to do so all.

    2. I agree Rachel, we need to get to the heart of why we have so much corruption in media and so many other aspects of life.. and this is inevitable when we run the world from the basis of self and individualism, and investment in our own needs even at the expense of others, rather than living and working for the true good of all.

  9. Great article Alan on exposing the deceipt in journalism, its very applicable in the case of what has been written about Uni Med

  10. Journalism is played like a game of chess, tactical, orientated towards the “win”. Small problem. The pieces are people and the board is their life. And that “win”, whether it be publication, attention, Tweets, or awards has not the slightest bearing towards truth.
    Yes, journalism is playing games with fellow human beings and truth. How shall it ever recover itself to integrity?
    And to those of us who consume it with our coffee and Coco Pops, how is it that we have allowed it to fall so far?

  11. It is a dangerous game when a journalist takes it upon themselves to be judge and jury, rather than be content to be the mechanism by which evidence is objectively presented for examination by the public. Too often the temptation is there to lead the public towards the personal viewpoint held by the journalist, using whatever tactics are at the journalist’s disposal to make that happen. Byron Kaye, Heath Aston, David Lessor, all used innuendo and slight of hand to present their case, and in the case of Byron Kaye, even outright lies. They presented the type of evidence that would by all accounts be thrown out in court for one reason for another, and yet all of these journalists were happy to present their cases as though they were fact – as though the natural rules of justice that apply to our law system do not apply to journalism.

  12. Alan, what a fantastic piece. I never fully understood how biased journalism can be, and how manipulative in it’s approach, but it makes absolute sense in seeing some of the end products and the way the media operates. When anything is approached with an agenda in any way then the tools will be found to skew it, in this case tone, words, how facts are presented, indeed this applies to tv news also, it’s all very subtle, (sometimes not), but none the less it’s there, it feels like we’ve forgotten what true journalism is, to observe, to report and in the event of any bias to admit it, to allow those who read to make up their own mind. Definitely not something we have in any shape or form today.

  13. Great that you’re highlighting the fact that the false accusations levelled at Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine by the media aren’t at all unique but are in fact part of a long legacy of scurrilous story-mongering and spin that’s been tolerated over too many decades.

  14. Alan, thanks for this blog which is worthy reading for all of us. Journalists have a particular moral duty to research and report as truthfully as possible but I am also thinking about how many times I have played a similar game of telling someone something in a certain way because I want them to see things my way; to justify and convince them that my actions or beliefs are reasonable, sound, the best way, to discredit someone else, to gossip etc. Mmmm … I may not be able to have much of a direct impact on the state of shoddy journalism globally but I can definitely keep a closer eye on my own behaviour.

  15. I read a quote from a person giving media training: The journalist does not care whether you live or die when they interview you. They will want the story and don’t care what happens to you. If this is true, then journalism can’t be very enjoyable work.

  16. True, just and innately good people have been pilloried by the press and publicity machines from time immemorial, it’s just that now it all happens so fast, and is distributed so widely… imagine if this acceleration was mirrored by a concomitant sense of ethical responsibility in publishing… this seems totally fanciful, but one day it must and will happen.

    1. a beautiful idea cjames – what it needs is the thousands and millions who see the pillorying of true and just people to speak up and express that this is not ok. arrogance, bullying and supremacy thrive on others’ apathy and reluctance to speak up so this is where we all have a part to play,

      1. Yes this expression is what is needed now, and the apathy and reluctance that you speak of is so thick and murky, you know when you get stuck in mud really thick mud, it seems impossible to move your feet, and sometimes you just have to leave your shoes behind and jump out of the mud, let go of what is there, what has held you down, and just go for it.

  17. Everyone and everything should not be entertainment fodder. As soon as the news is entertainment, facts become something to manipulate to sensationalise. It is sad that journalists are manipulators. You would imagine that they did not start out to become people who twist the truth or present lies, yet this is what we have seen in the case of the press verses Universal Medicine and everyone associated with them.

  18. This assault by the media really does call us to account. We must stop reading the news and relying on another to tell us what is really going on. It is time to connect to our own innate wisdom and discern what is true and what is not. It’s no wonder the media would attack Universal Medicine because as students of this work we are exposing the absolute con job that has been done on us by the media and it’s moguls. Thank God for the Internet, despite it’s many misgivings it does give us a voice that ‘murdocracy’ cannot control.

  19. Journalism as it currently stands is absolutely a con and needs to step into the footsteps of it’s origins in the ethically based, factual and unbiased reporting of truth that we sadly and ignorantly still look to them for.

    1. Yes , but it is not only the responsibility of the journalists and writers, but also the readers. As if the readers do not step up and let their voice be heard, it is seen as accepted and we actually accept it by not saying anything. Slow cooking, hide yourself and not expressing is not actually saying enough, therefore if you stand for truth – let go of the drama and illusion of hiding, and step up to share the truth. This is what journalism needs, this is what the world needs.

  20. Thank you Alan – true purpose seems to have gone out of the window with some Journalists – the state of the media today is a far cry from the absolute gold of living truth it could deliver to us all.

    1. Yes Shelley, it is tragic to see the distance between what we could have in true journalism and what we currently live with. But it only takes one journalist to stand up and make the commitment to truth, that will inspire other journalists to remember their own commitment and heart’s purpose. And from there the change begins 🙂 Imagine the press where humanity will be honoured instead of savaged and ripped apart, where truth is the first and foremost quality rather than the first casualty, and where instead of judgement, blame and sensational lies, it will be where the joy of mankind and living in brotherhood can be explored and experienced for us all to learn how to move forward together – now this would be true journalism

  21. Journalism is definitely overdue for a return to its true purpose. But we have to look at our own responsibility for allowing it to slide into the corruption and lies that are the basis of its current raison d’etre. With such a rotten foundation it can only feed more lies and sensationalism to sustain its existence. If we know of even one false report that has been published then we can not claim ignorance of its malevolent intent and corrupting influence. And this is where it is our willingness to stand up and speak out against that which is not true, is what will begin the turnaround and change towards the dissemination and expansion of truth which is at the heart of true journalism and in the heart of any true journalist.

  22. ‘Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.’ Great quote Alan. However, as Annie refers to in her previous comment above, we have allowed this state of affairs. If we stay silent thinking ‘it’s not my business’, then we are complicit in what transpires.

  23. Of course what is happening in journalism and media in general is indefensible… we live in a ‘spin’ world, (not simply a spinning world) but it is what drives this relentless spin that needs to be felt, and nominated, and through individual choice re-connecting to a knowing of truth that is available to us all.

  24. I agree Alan the current state of most journalism needs to be called out by us and the true purpose of journalism, to investigate and inform (with any bias admitted to), needs to be re-connected to and understood as a service to humanity rather than for personal or corporate gain.

  25. Alan, thank you for sharing this, it gladdens my heart that there are some journalists out there who feel the call to integrity and truth, and are prepared to stand up and call out what is lacking in these fundamental foundations that society is desperately looking for.

  26. Perfect example Alan to what has happened again with the inept journalistic reporting of Universal Medicine. There are many however that know from their bodies what is truth and see the intention behind this kind of reporting for what it is.

  27. When a journalist writes: ‘Every story, she implied, is on some level a con job’, it makes you wonder exactly what we’re reading!! Obviously, deep down, they know that the abhorrent lack of truth in journalism is very wrong too.

  28. ‘(Janet) Malcolm contended that McGinniss’s tactics were symptomatic of what all journalists do, to some degree: fool people into trusting them, then betray them by spinning facts, or distorting them, to create whatever compelling narrative they wish. Every story, she implied, is on some level a con job.’ Why has this become the way it is I ask myself? Why does a journalist need to con people with this “morally indefensible” behaviour to meet the thirst for such a story and why does this thirst exist?

  29. What the journalist (Janet) Malcolm said about other journalists is very interesting to read ‘to some degree: fool people into trusting them, then betray them by spinning facts, or distorting them, to create whatever compelling narrative they wish. Every story, she implied, is on some level a con job.’’ This is a great call out from a journalist exposing the corruption that can exist in the media. Why have we as a society allowed this to go unchecked for so long? Turning a blind eye doesn’t solve anything, by standing by we are allowing this harming behaviour to continue. Sure the media need to be accountable for their actions, but we as a society equally need to look at the part we have played in allowing this as the ‘norm’ for a very long time.

  30. Journalism has truly lost it’s way as highlighted by your blog Alan. To build trust under the false pretences of trying to get a story and then twisting the facts to sensationalise it is now common practice and has debased a large percentage of journalism to gutter press. As you say we have seen this behaviour first hand with the way the press have treated Serge Benhayon over the last few years. Certain members of the press have tried hard to pin Serge down and label him with all sorts of lies and innuendoes, which have no substance what so ever, and just a small amount of honest investigative journalism would reveal this.

  31. A very interesting read Alan – thank you. I do not know much about journalism, but I do understand that there is some sort of ‘code of ethics’ to do with being able to publish your articles. I wonder if anyone sticks to what is written or it’s just there to tick a box.

  32. Beautifully said Alan. In the recent US Presidential Election campaign we had the apparent advent of ‘fake news’ – but perhaps this was not the true advent at all and we have in fact had ‘fake news’ for many years. There is an irony to me that many journalists are calling out this ‘fake news’ in their articles when many of them have been manipulating stories for years. It is perhaps true that these ‘fake news’ stories are complete creations rather than based on an element of truth but where does this leave us? How do we know what is and what is not true? Perhaps by learning to discern in our bodies what is and is not true – something that Serge Benhayon has been advocating since I first heard him speak over 6 years ago. And maybe we need to stop buying into the way journalism is today. They may write the stories but we who buy the newspapers propagate the lies.

  33. Sadly journalists are more concerned with selling newspapers or magazines than actually covering the truth of an article and giving it a balanced view and leaving it up to the reader to come to their own conclusion.

  34. So true Alan, I was a bit naive to the media before I saw how they have pillaged Serge Benhayon. The falsity in which they present themselves and their motives to get close to the interviewee but only to attempt to fill a narrative they have already written.

  35. Great exposè of journalism. We are all capable of feeling whether what we read has a semblance of truth to it. Even if we don’t take it that far, the style of writing can be a give away and ring warning bells – if we are appealed to or enacted emotionally, it is often dead giveaway that there is an underlying agenda.

  36. ‘(Janet) Malcolm contended that McGinniss’s tactics were symptomatic of what all journalists do, to some degree: fool people into trusting them, then betray them by spinning facts, or distorting them, to create whatever compelling narrative they wish. Every story, she implied, is on some level a con job.’ We as a student body been privy to the above in the disgraceful treatment of Serge Benhayon by the media set up.

  37. When particular profession areas are “called out by its own” it begins the process of change, as those within an area begin to see how off track they have gone. Really we should welcome this for what it is, but unfortunately those who are calling out are the ones who end up being attacked by those with vested interests.

  38. Journalism has many angles: the company behind the media whose interest is profits, the journalist who wants to succeed in this profession and have no remorse to “fool people into trusting them, then betray them by spinning facts, or distorting them, to create whatever compelling narrative they wish”, the regulators who are theoretically an instance where what is published can be challenged if it does not honour truth but who often choose to collude with industry against the public, and the consumers who are equipped with a body that allows them to discerningly assess what is being presented by journalists. In such context, unsurprisingly, things that should not happen, happen at the expense of truth.

  39. An intelligent and exposing article highlighting the fact that journalists are well aware of the con they participate in… and yet sadly allow to continue for it is seemingly how the business is run… corruption seeps into so many areas of our lives we are often blinded to it’s prevalence or sadly become apathetic to its normality.

  40. Unfortunately when I have heard first hand stories of how journalists work, the statement, ‘every story on some level is a con job’ fits. Words get twisted and the interviewee always feels duped.

  41. What you are saying here is that journalism today is corrupt from its very outset almost to the degree that it is required as part of the job. However there was a time when people started to write and read that this was a means to empower them and know the truth, but there has been a long decline since.

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