Sunday, September 1, 2019

Bernie Sanders and Old-School Real Journalism

Democracy & Public Interest

In an op-ed (“Bernie Sanders on his plan for journalism;“ August 26, 2019), published in the Columbia Journalism Review, Bernie Sanders, the U.S. senator for Vermont and the Democratic candidate for president, says quite clearly what hampers journalists and how journalists can better do their job—if only they were allowed to and had the means and support to do so. (How many frustrated and disappointed journalists there must now be.)

In so many words, in a well-functioning democracy, it is imperative to let journalists do what they were trained to do. Ferret out the facts. Get at the truth. Remain devoted to attacking wrong-doing. Report everything without fear of reprisals.

It was once like this, or much more so than today, before the Age of Internet, before social media, before attacks on journalists and the publications they represent became so common that moral outrage itself has been impeded and often suppressed along with the free unimpeded flow of dissenting views. One would agree that there is a need for reform only if we value and enjoy the benefits of democracy, which have been eroded and in marked decline for some time, but more noticeably so during the last two decades with the obvious moral decline in public life. As has been a decline in independent thought, maverick ideas and a strong social conscience.

It can be turned around, but it will be a challenge, because the obstacles are many and great. For one, it is necessary to put a stop to the conglomeration and control of the media by large business concerns, which is decidedly harmful for democracy, because it leads to real news being under-reported or ignored. It leads to the failure sadly common today of not holding the powerful sufficiently  accountable, which has always been a prime mandate and motivation of the press.

Even in the face of all these obstacles, many, many journalists are doing an excellent job in America—their hard-won efforts and stories reported on this blog. It is, however, not easy. The fault chiefly lies in those who hold the levers of power, in those who want to consolidate their power, in those who want to hang on to it.

Imagine what it could be, if there was greater transparency, greater diversity of views in the corridors of power, and, moreover, if power itself (and wealth, as well) was viewed with suspicion as an unhealthy burden to bear. In the end, it is fair to say that concentration of the media in the hands of the wealthy is not conducive and actually is terribly harmful to real journalism, the bringing to light of injustices, the bringing to light of wrong-doing and corruption, the bringing to light of the plight of the poor, the underprivileged, the underdog and anyone not part of the ruling and privileged class.

In other words, writing and speaking for ordinary people, giving voice to those who have no voice in the corridors of power; in the op-ed, Sanders writes:
Real journalism is different from the gossip, punditry, and clickbait that dominates today’s news. Real journalism, in the words of Joseph Pulitzer, is the painstaking reporting that will “fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, [and] always fight demagogues.” Pulitzer said that journalism must always “oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.”
When we have had real journalism, we have seen crimes like Watergate exposed and confronted, leading to anti-corruption reforms. When we have lacked real journalism, we have seen crimes like mortgage fraud go unnoticed and unpunished, leading to a devastating financial crisis that destroyed millions of Americans’ lives.
Real journalism requires significant resources. One reason we do not have enough real journalism in America right now is because many outlets are being gutted by the same forces of greed that are pillaging our economy.
And, yes, greed underpins most of what we are witnessing today in the realms of politics, of law and the courts, of business and of religion, to name four prominent areas of public life that require closer scrutiny. Such are four areas that have done little, or certainly not enough in the last 40 years, in this writer’s view, to markedly better the lives of the majority of  its citizens, or of its consumers or of its congregants. This, despite the promises made and not kept or fulfilled, as if they, “the forces of greed,“ never really had any intention to do so.

In a transactional society, where there is desire to commodify and monetize everything, these four areas of public life now converge to the top of a large impressive and monumental pyramid (somewhat crumbling at closer inspection), yet for now still richly rewarding the greedy, the unprincipled and those without an operating and awakened conscience—a spiritual necessity (but not necessarily religious) for the moral human being.

For such people who care nothing or little about morality and pursuing good, facts and truth are their adversaries and enemies and are to be assaulted and put down. For real journalists, facts and truth are allies and friends and are to be nurtured and kept close.

For more, go to [CJR]