Thursday, February 01, 2007

Editorial statement for February 2007: Free the Press!

This article ran in the Fort Worth Weekly almost two years ago. It's titled, "Speak up, Woman" by Tracy Everbach. In this article, Everbach laments the lack of female opinion writers in the Op/Ed pages. While it was a good article that brought many interesting points, I wrote a Letter to the Editor pointing out that Everbach listed only left-wing writers. In my response (last letter of that webpage), I noted that if Everbach wants more women opinion writers, then she needs to support the writing efforts of ALL women, and not just those who agree with her left wing views (I assumed that Everbach was left-leaning because she chose only left-wing writers as examples, plus in her two e-mails to me, she never denied being left-wing).

There's a reason why it's important to support ALL women writers, and here's an excerpt from my Letter that explains it:

Potential columnists need a motivation to write, and that often comes with replying to views that they disagree with. So if Everbach desires more female columnists, then I advise her to support all female columnists who are out there now, not just the ones who agree with her political slant. Or it could be looked upon this way: With more conservative female columnists will come liberal female columnists motivated to reply to whatever opinions the former express. In such a scenario, all points of view will benefit.

I got the idea for this month's editorial statement because of the death of columnist Molly Ivins yesterday. In many of the accolades that I read, I was surprised to see how often she was referred to as "liberal" and "liberal icon". I say surprised, because most time she is referred to as "progressive" rather than "liberal". "Progressive" is a liberal's way of saying "liberal" without actually saying "liberal". I never liked that liberal tendency to try to hide what they are. And calling one's self "progressive" never fooled anyone beside the person using the label.

So why am I harping on the term "liberal"? It's because of one of the problems with today's media: Members of the media are too overwhelmingly Democratic AND liberal. Why is this a problem? It's because the work environment that is slanted too heavily toward one political viewpoint (regardless of the viewpoint) is going to be reporting with that slant, whether they intend to or not. It's called "groupthink", and it can get so pervasive that those who are caught in it are not able to see it even when they are surrounded by it. This is why I chose this month's editorial statement of "Free the Press".

The numbers of newspaper circulation has gone down, partially because the Internet helps provide news instantaneously to a generation that is used to getting what it wants instantaneously. However, I believe that newspaper circulation wouldn't be suffering so much if it weren't for the predictability of what a newspaper will say about a given story. Most of the time, you know that the reporting is going to be anti-Bush, or favor embryonic stem cell research as opposed to other forms of stem cell research, or that it will give favorable reporting to cherished liberal icons such as Barack Obama or Al Gore.

By the way, did you know that Obama smokes? If Bush had been a smoker, you'd be hearing it every freakin' day. Why isn't Obama's smoking habits reported more? It's because the press loves Obama. This isn't how news reporting should be. We knew of Bush's past alcohol problems and other legal indiscretions a long time ago, because the press doesn't like Bush. However, the press is not in the business of playing favorites. If they're going to report on the skeletons in the closet of one candidate, they should be doing them all that way.

And there's another problem the media has: Political correctness (PC from here on). PC belongs only in one area: politics. PC does not belong in our universities, and it most certainly does not belong in the press. In fact, PC should be anathema to any credible news professional. Understand that this is NOT to say that news reporters or columnists need to go out of their way to be offensive, but that they shouldn't be afraid to say what needs to be said just because someone somewhere is going to be offended. The plain and simple truth is that there is NO WAY to avoid being totally inoffensive. And being inoffensive is not a value to cling to for a news professional. If they don't have the guts to say what needs to be said, then they don't need to be in the business.

And last is the problem of more and more media outlets being bought out by fewer and fewer major corporations. This makes the media accountable to a bottom line. It makes the media accountable to stockholders. These profit-driven goals totally diverts from what the press should be doing. The press is not in the business of making profit, they are in the business of reporting the news. To hold a given news entity to a bottom line is to undermine its credibility. It has to have the freedom to report the bad news even of the corporation that owns it; otherwise, they are nothing but a public relations department for that corporation. This means that they aren't in the news business, in other words.

So folks, that's my editorial statement for this month: Free the press. Free it from not just liberal bias, but all biases. It needs to get back to even-handed reporting. Free the press from PC. Dare to be offensive if a given fact or story needs to be heard. And free the press from corporate takeovers. Let the press have the freedom of not being beholden to a profit margin.

Despite what might be reported about the decline of newspapers, I still believe that there is a role and a place for them in our society. Without a free and independent press, our leaders won't feel so accountable for their actions. The press needs to return to its roots, and it needs to restore its core values of reporting what needs to be heard. That's how to get readers back.

To paraphrase a familiar movie quote, "If you print it, they will read."

Free the press!

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