Media Blog

“Growth of a Spine or the Emotional Maturity of a Toddler?”

The debate continues. Reader Michael B. writes:

The thing is, Mr. Spruiell, with all due respect, I do not turn to ‘news’ for an emotional education but for factual information. Whether that information touches my heart as well as my mind is something that, I really have to insist, is up to me and even ‘honest’ manipulation is unacceptable. If they just do their damn job, I will get it if it is there to be got and trying to hammer it into me will not better facilitate that internalization.
In this particular case these men and women of the press are in the middle of a ninety-thousand square-mile story and are at best able to see and report on a tiny fragment of that whole. They have no hesitation about extrapolating the universe from this tiny fragment, indeed they demonstrate no small degree of rank presumption. They cannot know who is or is not responsible for the evident inadequacies in their tiny fragment and they need not. It is not their job to be omniscient, merely to be accurate.
Many of their rash pronouncements will shortly be revealed to be as premature as they were fatuous. The fact that they can report in the moment does not necessarily mean that they can do so well. That they can wait long enough to get all the facts is of course impossible but then surely the public’s right to be informed instantly places added need on those reports to stay within the actual factual information available in that instant. No more. And if that means that much is left for later examination and further investigation, then so be it.
I have no doubt that they are genuinely concerned, truly frustrated by what they can only see as inadequate response to human suffering but a good reporter confines him or herself to reporting facts, not feelings, even sincere ones. If they are good enough at uncovering and presenting facts their audiences can make correct inferences. I resent it profoundly when these people presume to tell me what my reaction should be.
Even actual, truly experienced news people, alas, succumbed to the ‘I am here and it is AWFUL and dammit I want somebody here right now!!!’ trap. Does this demonstrate the growth of a spine or the emotional maturity of a toddler? It is possible to present compelling information and a sense of urgency without also pitching a hissy fit. Professional reporters have done so from the beginning of reported history even in really AWFUL circumstances. I have seen and heard them do it.
And, finally, it is quite acceptable to question officials closely, it is even to be encouraged. Ted Koppel interviewed Mike Brown one night last week and he was tough, he came close to incivility at points but he stopped short, just. But Koppel has real, hard-won credibility. Viewers know that he will be similarly tough on all the other players, not just the ones whose politics may be counter to his own. What spiney reporters ought to aspire to is this same consistency. It is not acceptable to fawn over the poor governor and take shots at the mayor, not acceptable because as soon as one is seen to make these decisions, one ever after will be seen as unreliable. Which is, of course, precisely where US journalism finds itself, in camps, mutually distrusted, mutually incredible.

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