first amendment

The Press – A Powerful Enemy (of Itself)

Here’s a good example of being your own worst enemy:


I *DESPISE* those people – usually powerful – who don’t like having to answer questions about their decisions; especially those who, once questioned, react with all the grace of a two-year-old who’s had his lollipop ripped right out of his mouth.


So this article, at first, made me angry.


A newly elected CONGRESSMAN? Hitting a reporter after the reporter DARED ask a question?


But then I read this line: “Jacobs [the reporter] said Gianforte [the ‘body-slammed me and broke my glasses’ after he asked a question about the Republican health care legislation.”


And I hear this in my head…

MbC’s Head: How dare he! How DARE a man in the Congressman-elect’s position BODY-SLAM a reporter and then — wait, what? “He broke my glasses”? That’s a weird thing to say after getting body-slammed. What about, “He shattered my femur” or, “He gave me a concussion”? Granted, the average congressperson has roughly the physical prowess of a quadriplegic three-toed sloth, but if the reporter got “body-slammed,” why is he complaining about his frickin’ GLASSES?


Uh-oh. And here’s the “own worst enemy” part. First of all, I deal with this kind of massive, ground-shaking level of complaint and fear for life and limb on a daily basis. I do, after all, have two pre-teens in my house. And any time it goes from, “HE/SHE ALMOST KILLED ME!” to “Also, look at this scratch on MY FAVORITE TOY,” I immediately know that the issue is not one of physical danger, but tender feelings with tewwible boo-boos.


This complaint, which devolves in a SINGLE SENTENCE from, “I was gravely attacked after doing my reporterly duty,” to “My glasses got busted by an old dude!” is, I fear, just the same.


About a year ago, a NY Daily News reporter (in)famously wrote an article called “What is it like to fire an AR-15? It’s horrifying, menacing and very very loud.”


In it, the reporter told of the massive terror, which he claimed ACTUALLY CAUSED PTSD in the instant it occurred,* that he felt upon firing the weapon.


“It felt like firing a bazooka.”

“I was just terrified.”

“The recoil bruised my shoulder, which can happen if you don’t know what you’re doing. The brass shell casings disoriented me as they flew past my face. The smell of sulfur and destruction made me sick. The explosions — loud like a bomb — gave me a temporary form of PTSD. For at least an hour after firing the gun just a few times, I was anxious and irritable.”


So how does this all tie in?


It used to be that reporters were there to keep the powerful accountable. They were there to uncover the truth, and to give us a more informed set of facts upon which to base our decisions.


Now? Now, sadly, they ARE the powerful. And we know the old adage about what power does. And we see, to our horror, that it’s true.


“He broke my glasses”?


Men and women of the press used to put their lives and careers on the line. Men and women of the press used to go up against the bullies, stand firm, and rely on the truth to take down those who abused their power.


Now? Now most of them put little on the line at all. Now men and women of the press are, all too often, the bullies themselves. Now they stand firm – no matter how unreasonable their positions – and rely on media pressure, mob mentality, and the threat of constant exposure to reprisals to take down those who stand in the way of the reporters’ power.


Is this always the case? No, of course not. And I don’t have all the details of the case of a man who was “body-slammed” and got a pair of broken glasses as a result. Perhaps it was a legitimately dangerous and terrifying event. But even if so, it doesn’t change the simple fact that “great reporting” used to mean timely, careful, and accurate dissemination of important information. Now it mostly means dissemination of information that is carefully timed to create the maximum buzz and anger. The accuracy is still there, but whereas “accuracy” used to mean “let us give the whole story, the whole set of facts, and let a human race that is mostly good come to the good conclusion on their own”; now it means, “what we said IS technically correct, and we’re going for the letter of the law because the spirit of the thing doesn’t pay as well.”


Freedom of the press is important – critical, really. But only if that press works to improve OUR freedoms, and not simply to create media firestorms, up ratings, and raise salaries.


There are good people in the press corps. I just wish I said that more from experience than from faith.



*The New York Daily News later posted this “update” from the reporter, Gersh Kuntzman, after a massive backlash to his use of the term “PTSD”:


Many people have objected to my use of the term “PTSD” in the above story. The use of this term was in no way meant to conflate my very temporary anxiety with the very real condition experienced by many of our brave men and women in uniform. I regret the inarticulate use of the term to describe my in-the-moment impression of the gun’s firepower, and apologize for it. [end quote]


I call bullshit – and those who know me and who read my posts know how rarely I use that term. The guy is a REPORTER. A professional writer whom we depend upon to provide full and accurate information. I know that when *I* write ANYTHING, from an entire book to a single WORD (like, for example, PTSD), that’s on me. Kuntzman says here that he made a mistake (only he doesn’t  even actually admit to any wrongdoing, just an “inarticulate use of the term” – which makes almost no sense at all, given that it is primarily used to describe indistinct speech patterns. If talking about the “cannot express oneself clearly,” definition, and if this applies to Kuntzman (especially since he admits it does), then he should not be publishing news pieces – even those of the op/ed variety – especially not on incendiary topics that require the utmost care to discuss and decide.


Posted by in Life Advice