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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Generations of Americans have come to trust the U.S. mass media’s reliability, objectivity and its role in holding our nation’s leaders accountable for their actions. All that has changed in recent years.
Recent revelations by WikiLeaks show how journalists have forgotten or deliberately failed in their journalistic responsibilities, as defined by the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. For weeks now, WikiLeaks has released hacked emails that show a disturbing coziness between the media establishment and the Clinton campaign and family.
Mass Media Loses its Objectivity
In one of its latest email dumps, WikiLeaks showed how an influential reporter from “Politico,” an online news organization, sent the Clinton campaign a story for final review regarding Hillary Clinton’s fundraising apparatus before final publication. Politico had an “agreement” with the Democratic National Committee.
Similarly, a New York Times reporter, Marl Leibovich, emailed Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri on July 7, 2015. Leibovich sought approval for quotes by Hillary Clinton.
During the primaries, New York Times contributor and CNBC anchor John Harwood sent Clinton campaign chair John Podesta an email in December 2015. Harwood had criticized the GOP presidential candidates in that month’s debate and questioned Donald Trump, saying, “Let’s be honest, is this a comic-book version of a presidential campaign?”
Harwood sent an email gloating about his Trump query to Podesta. He stated, “I imagine…that Obama feels some (sad) vindication at this demonstration of his years-long point about the opposition party veering off the rails.”
The media’s partisan approach manifested itself in the Democratic primary. Longtime Clinton supporter Donna Brazile, formerly a CNN contributor and now the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, appears to have sent the Clinton campaign a potential question on the death penalty before an upcoming town hall in Orangeburg, South Carolina.
At the town hall, co-moderator Roland Martin virtually cited verbatim the exact language of the question asked by Brazile. Brazile even went so far to state in the email, “From time to time, I get the questions in advance.”
Boston Globe op-ed editor Marjorie Pritchard went well above how journalists are supposed to cover political campaigns. She suggested to the Clinton campaign when a story should be run in order to have maximum impact for Hillary Clinton.
Media Seeks Ratings over Truth
Early this month, CNN President Jeff Zucker regretted the amount of airtime his network gave Donald Trump in the Republican primaries and all for high ratings.
“If we made any mistake[s] last year, it’s that we probably did put on too many of his campaign rallies in those early months and let them run,” Zucker stated during a October 2016 forum at the Kennedy School of Government Institute of Politics at Harvard University. “Listen, because you never knew what he would say, there was an attraction to put those on air.”
If the media had treated Trump like the rest of the Republican presidential candidates and vetted his over-the-top rhetoric, then we may have had a different Republican nominee.
De Tocqueville’s Comments about Journalistic Ethics Still Relevant
Zucker’s words echo the sentiments written 184 years ago by French diplomat and political scientist Alexis De Tocqueville, who wrote “Democracy in America.” In this book, De Tocqueville commented on American journalism.
He stated, “The characteristics of the American journalist consist in an open and coarse appeal to the passions of his readers; he abandons principles to assail the characters of the individuals, to track them into private life, and disclose all their weaknesses and vices.” De Tocqueville continued, “In the United States, each separate journal exercises but little authority; but the power of the periodical press is second only to that of the people.”
The lack of journalistic ethics by the media extends to what they cover. The very basic tenets of journalism when covering governments is in the code of ethics: “Recognize a special obligation to serve as watchdogs over public affairs and government. Seek to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open, and that the public records are open to all.”
An absence of journalistic transparency manifested itself in the lack of coverage on Obamacare last Monday. The Obama administration stated insurance premiums will rise by double digits in 2017, a far cry from what President Obama told the American people when the Affordable Care Act was passed.
Russian Author Solzhenitsyn Chastises the Media
Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s critique of the press during a 1978 Harvard University commencement address rings true today. He asked, “What sort of responsibility does a journalist or a newspaper have to the readership or to history? If they have misled public opinion by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, even if they have contributed to mistakes on a state level, do we know of any case of open regret voiced by the same journalist or the same newspaper? No, this would damage sales.
A nation may be the worse for such a mistake, but the journalist always gets away with it. It is most likely that he will start writing the exact opposite to his previous statements with renewed aplomb.”
Solzhenitsyn chastised the American press: “Yet one would like to ask: According to what law has it been elected and to whom is it responsible?”
Mass Media’s Credibility Suffers
The media has entered a slippery slope. By failing to adhere to journalistic ethics, the mass media set in motion its own demise. In June 2016, the Pew Research Center reported sharp drops in subscription to the major news dailies.
How pervasive is this corruption? No one knows. No one has been held accountable, but the corruption likely reaches the top of the media establishment.