Dreamstime

VB The Wise: Journalism?

Perhaps Not

Boston.com Morning Show
June 16, 2017 - 5:37 am

 There's a horrific trend going on in "journalism" these days, and it is not hard to spot if you look hard enough.  Consider the following headlines taken from recent events:

The Atlantic, May 19th:

"This Could Be the Most Consequential Week of Jared Kushner's Life"

CNN.com, June 8th:

"Comey Told Senators Sessions May Have Met Russian Ambassador a Third Time"

Washington Post, June 9th:

"Does This Rise to the Level of Obstruction? Perhaps"

New York Times, June 13th:

"Trump Friend Says He May Consider Firing Special Counsel"

Vanity Fair, April:

"Is Kelly Anne Conway Getting Edged Out of the White House?"

   Notice a trend?  "Could be", "may have", "Is?"  All of these are leading headlines that asked questions that are designed to be answered in the affirmative by the reader.  But there are two problems here.  The first is that, as it turns out, the actual answers to these questions are actually in the negative.  As luck would have it, that was NOT a consequential week for Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions did NOT meet the Russian Ambassador for a third time, and Kelly Anne was NOT edged out of the White House back in April.  But hey, those headlines achieved their desired effect in the extreme short run, so who cares if they later turn out to be inaccurate.  That's quite a standard "journalism" is being held to these days, huh?  Take it a step further with the New York Times headline.  While it is technically true that "Trump MAY Consider Firing Special Counsel", it is equally true he MAY NOT consider firing him.  Further, if he considers it, he may actually fire him.  Then again, he may not.  And yet, with those FOUR scenarios at play in what turned out to be a factually untrue story (the Trump friend in question later admitted NOT having talked to Trump about the matter) the headline plants only one seed, that Trump is going to fire the Special Counsel.  Weak.

   All of which leads me back to the Washington Post headline containing "Perhaps", and herein lies the second problem with these headlines.  Let's leave aside the fact that by it's nature, the word "Perhaps" would seemingly be followed by "Perhaps Not", but of course it wasn't in this case.  Why?  Because the WashPo wants you to think that "This" did indeed rise to the level of obstruction.  But here's what really caught my eye with this particular headline.  It was just two short years ago that the movie 'Spotlight' won Best Picture for its portrayal of the true story of the Boston Globe investigative team that broke the Catholic Church sex abuse story in Boston.  In that movie, there is a scene where one of the investigators first tells the editor of the team that several Catholic priests may  have been molesting children without any repercussions.  The editor looks at the investigator and says, "get me proof".  And the rest of the movie shows how those investigators locked down the story with FACTS.  I bring that up because the editor in real life who ordered his team to "get me proof" is now the Executive Editor of the Washington Post, the very paper which is now putting "Perhaps" in its headlines.  All of which goes to show just how the phrase "Print Journalism" has now become just "print"; no longer does "get me the facts" apply, but instead it is "print whatever rumor and innuendo is damaging to the administration, and we'll sort it all out later."  I guess what I would ask Marty Baron is this -- if you had the Spotlight events back, would you have EVER instructed them to run with the headline "Catholic Priests May Have Molested Children?" or "Did Catholic Priests Molest Children? Perhaps".  OF course you wouldn't Marty, because lives and reputations of priests and institutions were at stake.  You rightly instructed your team to "get the facts".  Why is it that that same standard does not apply to the President of the United States and his inner circle?  Are the reputations and careers of the people running the country less important than those of local priests?  One would think that Washington is even more important than just Boston, or at least we know Marty Baron thinks so since he made that "upward" move in his career.  And yet the move in terms of standards has been "downwards".  Hmm.

   Let me sum it all up this way, and I'll put it in terms that Marty Baron and his colleagues can understand -- "Is this Horrid Journalism? Perhaps".

More wisdom next week.