Sunday, July 26, 2015

Gawker and Why Americans Hate the Media

Back In 1996 Jim Fallows wrote one of the best analysis or the media I've ever read, and it was appropriately titled "Why Americans Hate The Media." Fallows talks largely about the dysfunctional and gross pathologies that plagued the Washington press pack during the Clinton years (and he wrote it before the absolute hysteria surrounding the whole Monica thing) but it's a remarkable, prescient, and well argued case about what's wrong with the profession of journalism as a whole.

The media of course doesn't like talking about this, and since they control the debate it's rarely mentioned.  But it's an empirical fact that the American public take a pretty dismal view of journalists as a profession. Simply put journalists are one of the most distrusted professions in America life, only business executives and lawyers are more hated.

I'd add one more dynamic to Fallow's mix though. I think one of the reasons people became so incredibly angry at Gawker after their destructive and morally repugnant "outing" story was Gawkers' combination of enormous power with an arrogance and total lack of responsibility. As in, "We will gladly destroy some random person's life for no real reason, but I now demand you get as upset as we are about how our editorial process isn't being respected by the CEO!"

Just take this piece by Gawker writer Jim Juzwiak who wrote a lengthy defense of the piece dripping with entitlement, self-righteousness, and a sense that Gawker writers being called out for behaving unethically means they are the real victims here.

He might as well have just said, "everything and anyone is fair game, except us and our God-given right to do whatever we want."

We of course see this anger in other walks of American life. Even now people are furious at Wall Street for literally destroying the national economy and facing no consequences. Or you can see it in people correctly outraged at incidents where police officers act like little more than violent thugs with badges.

Why should the media be treated any different?

If that's how journalists are going to behave, well okay, but don't ask the rest of us to stand up and defend your profession and institutions. Declining ad revenues and another round of layoffs? Haha, you probably should have gone to business school Jimbo. A reporter thrown in jail for not reveling their sources? Who gives a shit, and yeah you guys probably just make it up anyway. No access to the president at press conferences? Cry. Me. A. River.

Maybe we should just put Malcom Tucker (NSFW link) in charge of your newsroom? How would you like that?

These aren't good thoughts to have: I think it's bad for our democracy that so much of the public hates the media, but there are very real reasons for this. I really wish it could be different.

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