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’.

 

137 thoughts on “Journalism called out

  1. When we spin or distort facts by the way we present them the truth will most likely be misinterpreted, misunderstood and become mere gossip.

  2. People will find the media less and less appealing.. its certainly not a part of my way of life any more. This in turn has fully supported me in all aspects of my life to discern correctly what is truth and what is not truth. So, not engaging the media as it is today keeps you more in touch with what is really going on.

  3. ‘(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.’

    Great quote Alan conveying the state of the media. There is no journalism that is not coming from an agenda and hence is always not presenting the truth, a truth that is truly without bias. In fact, in most cases it is not attempting to convey the truth, though many may claim to be doing so, but to sell a story for personal gain and therefore ‘at some level a con job’.

  4. Journalism need to be called out, in many cases it has lost its standards and prefers to write sensationalist stories to stimulate the readers interest. What ever happened to reporting the truth and writing a balanced story?

  5. .
    Imagine if, in the schools of journalism, that ethics and integrity were 101 classes, that this was the essence of what was necessary to take up a pen and write stories and to report for humanity… Indeed this is what is actually necessary as we see in the many blogs and articles written by those who choose to feel this deep and inner connection of awareness

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