I started working in the media when I was about 13.
We had taken a family vacation some time before that, and my father had tossed me the family’s camera to use. It was a small step above Kodak’s box camera of the day, but it had some adjustments (and I read a lot.)
When we got home, I had 8 rolls (bought from the outdated film counter) of film to take to the drugstore, and my father said, no, that was too expensive.
So, I went down to the local camera store, bought three dollars worth of chemicals (and a book), and my family soon lost its main bathroom.
When I had the negatives in my hand, I went to see a friend with an enlarger; and we started to make some prints.
The first time I saw a picture pop up on a piece of paper in a tray of developer, I was hooked for the rest of my life.
It dawned on me immediately that this is how you could tell stories to people, and I was already pretty good at that.
Writing came along when I discovered the local daily newspaper wouldn’t hire a photographer under 18, but would hire a sportswriter at 16.
And broadcasting came along when I discovered my skills were transferrable. My father put a public TV station on the air when I was in college and then took over the operations of Bradley University’s radio station as well.
I have had, in my life, the privilege of working with really good journalists from the “who, what, when, where, and why” school.
And, in a lengthy career, I have also had the privilege of working at every conceivable level of the business.
I give you this background because I am sad to say that my observation of quality of journalism today is that it is in the toilet.
I don’t mean everybody, and I don’t mean all the time.
But it’s enough that trust in what we have come to refer to as the “mainstream media” is way down and, frankly, I’m no longer all that impressed with talk radio and certain blog sites either.
The biggest problem is facts.
Few people seem to think very much of them these days.
You are entitled to your own opinions, but you are NOT entitled to your own facts.
Reporters see something in another report, and it immediately becomes a “fact”.
Only it’s not.
Despite the availability of more material than I could have ever imagined when I got started, all at the click of a mouse, there’s very little research done any more.
Or, they do it at lazy-person sites like Wikipedia (which is never guaranteed to be accurate).
In looking at the reporting of the Bundy Ranch standoff last week, the factual errors were littered across the landscape from the Las Vegas Review Journal to CBS News, with plenty of talk radio hosts and web sites in between.
Everybody, as an example, took the government on faith that Bundy “owed” a million dollars.
Where is it memorialized?
I ran a lien search on Cliven Bundy in the online Clark County records, and he has a small medical default judgment listed from 1995. That took about 50 seconds. In the old days, it would have taken an hour trip to the Clark County recorder’s office. And it’s not like he’s hiding from anything because all of the lawsuits are against him personally. That’s from PACER, the online federal court record system. And that took another minute.
So, where is this million dollars he allegedly owes?
Yet, most of the media blithely says that Bundy owes the government a million dollars. Not even “allegedly,” which is the most famous and overused weasel word in journalism.
They also continuously get the sequence of events wrong along with Bundy’s potential claims against the government.
We even have a few “conservative” talk show hosts who fall into that trap.
The other day, I heard Lars Larson holding forth about how Bundy was violating the property rights of the United States, completely ignoring that the 1993 unilateral decision by the government to reduce Bundy’s herd to a level which would have driven him out of business may have been a regulatory taking as defined by the Supreme Court in Penn Central vs. New York City.
I called in, and he didn’t want to listen to me because, just as Barack Obama, he was the smartest guy in the room. His mind was as closed on this subject as Nancy Pelosi’s is on Obamacare.
And then there is this constant quoting from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The credibility of these clowns is or should be in the toilet.
Everybody who carries a gun is a racist to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and we have yet to see any serious scientific credentials from the so-called Center for Biological Diversity (which continues to ignore the fact that the Desert Tortoise is actually doing better than ever.) Apparently, turtles can co-exist with cows.
The pictures were compelling, and there was a lot of heat; but the light was murky.
The best reporting was done by Breitbart.com. They posted all of the relevant court documents, told the whole story, did legal research, and took an awful lot of pictures.
Ben Botkin of the Las Vegas Review Journal made a strong recovery after a shaky start.
The rest of them?
It’s a lot easier to be a “reporter” these days. Many people with that title do it in their pajamas from their bedrooms.
It’s also easy to be very lazy.
There is so much information available on the internet that assertions (Bundy owes the government over a million dollars) become facts, even though they are easily disproven on the same internet. That’s the product of pure laziness or, worse, a predisposition to the facts of your choice as opposed to finding out the truth and writing it.
When I was starting in the business, there was always a mentor.
He might have been a grizzled old copy editor (who certainly seemed grizzled and old to me at age 16, anyway) or a city editor who looked a lot like Ed Asner playing Lou Grant.
Today, in many cases, that person doesn’t exist.
And with it goes any institutional knowledge.
So when a lot of bloggers get it wrong, it’s because nobody asks them the questions they should be asking themselves and don’t.
And, then, there is the matter of opinions. In this day and age, everybody becomes a pundit before they become a reporter.
In the good old days, you spent the first part of your career learning to get it right. Accuracy and speed.
Today, before the facts are out, everybody is giving us their personal opinion.
If I don’t care what Harry Reid thinks, why would I care what some reporter of whose credentials I have no idea thinks?
They should get some life experience, gain some credentials, and then I might be interested.
But before they do any of that, they should cover a story and answer accurately, the questions who, what, when, where, and why.
Then, I might be interested in what they think about the story itself.
There is a line in the 1962 classic, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, where a newspaper publisher tells a United States Senator, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
Too often these days, people who are supposedly journalists do just that; and it is a very good reason why you should question everything no matter where you read, see, or hear it.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.
This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom