Last night I re-watched the 1976 movie “All the Presidents Men”; the story of an investigative journalistic effort that led to the discovery of the illegal activities of The Committee to Re-Elect, and then to President Richard Nixon himself. In the end there were many guilty pleas, and the resignation of the President himself. The two year long investigative reporting was unprecedented, and may be never duplicated in our current climate as we head forward, where we seem to only want news fixes, like a junkie in the alley looking for a cap of heroin. We want this short burst of adrenalin laced news feeding our eyes and not our heads, before we duly nod off.
The parallels to the situation in the U.S. in 1974 to today, become obvious upon review, almost startling. The Trump presidency is difficult to even fathom, but in no way do I think that Trump and the family lackeys who are already proven liars, are not capable of further deception, not capable of illegalities, in order to maintain their power.
The positive side of this, in some backward fashion, at least in the short term, has been the rejuvenation of an active and determined group of journalists who have now tasted blood. They have the resources, and the experience to both confront the administration and write about it. Even more importantly, they seem to have the backbone necessary to withstand the onslaught of government power run amok, who try to bend, or deny each and every story with a spin that is both dangerous and sometimes laughable.
The Washington Post and the New York Times seem to be the central figures in this relentless daily battle with the truth. Both are decorated newspapers. The Washington Post with Woodward and Bernstein were the central figures in the Watergate matters in 1974, which brought down Nixon. And here again the Post is providing in-depth laudatory coverage of the daily crisis, which is the Trump Whitehouse.
Before Trump, both newspapers were in financial trouble, both cutting personnel and funding. Since Trump, their subscriptions have increased and they have been given a temporary respite from the unenviable and seemingly inevitible dwindling of subscriptions.
The sourcing of their stories, and protecting those stories is relentless. Anybody with an interest in how to conduct, and source investigations should take note. This is not an easy undertaking, their jobs are often on the line should they misspeak or be wrong in any of their reportage.
Where is television in all of this? Unfortunately, in the last few years, it is trying to re-invent itself, it has become a medium, not a message. They are consumed with banner headlines, breathless “breaking news” but make no mistake, and they seem to have abandoned the time and effort needed for investigative reporting. Their “news” is no longer journalism.
In an effort to capture the attention of the latest generation, they have come to believe, maybe correctly that this generation is only capable of 30 second attention spans. Therefore anything on video, twitter, Facebook, or trending on YouTube is re-invented as the news regardless of its worth. A good video of a cat up a tree jumps the news queue and becomes headline material. It is cheaply available, and citizens with their phones have become their “stringers” in the field, at no significant cost.
In covering Potus, the TV news groups; CNN, Fox, CBS etc. are for the most part reporting what the newspapers are writing, then putting a lot of talking heads around a dais to pontificate about it. The more outrageous the talking head, the better the chance of capturing the eyes of the viewing public so we get the likes of Kelly-anne Conway spinning ludicrous analysis and misinformation about the latest Presidential gaff posing as policy.
In many ways, this President has mastered Twitter and the wants of the new age, and has reduced governing to a sitcom. His statements, such as the one where he talks about grabbing women by the genitals, is outrageous, but it goes no further than that, the outrageousness is the news, not the meaning or the implications. The United States reputation around the world is now tarnished, and may not recover for some time. The United States is now reduced to being a large military with an unstable leader. Sound familiar?
Of course this lack of investigational interest is all applicable to Canada, with its smaller population concentrated around the cities and the borders with the U.S., our television is a smaller mirror image of the U.S. It is astonishing to see how much the CBC National news coverage now revolves around the U.S. trending stories. In the last couple of days, hours of repetitive footage of the hurricane stories. Here they are able to rollick in the abundance of 10 second videos that are available showing bent over palm trees, shot through a rain covered lens; and of course always maintaining a look out for a “Canadian” located in the centre of the storm to give them some relevancy to Canada.
I am not saying this big story should not be reported, but it should not be all consuming. Are there no issues in Canada worthy of some form of journalism? Of course there are, but they are hampered by this new age of video at all costs, and dwindling funds to conduct those stories. A journalistic Catch-22.
As I opined before, television should be written off as a model of investigative journalism as it simply does not exist at any measurable level, nor is it even possible in their new corporate mission statements.
Newspapers in Canada are in equally dire straits, The Globe and Mail, although business oriented still is the bell-weather of Canada’s newspapers, today they announced a couple of further layoffs.
But the other problem, although we are a highly literate country, is that we are no longer reading.
The newest generation has fallen prey to the love of convenience, wanting summaries, not depth in their reporting. Coles Notes versions, not the details. They need to be constantly fed only enough for them to form an opinion in a few seconds, and damn the details.
Of course, the devil has always been in the details.
This leaves us susceptible to being victimized by misleading or downright false reporting. We are often misled by the headlines, and only when one chooses to read the whole article does it make sense, and it is usually a more calm explanation than advertised.
We are manipulated as a result. Our own governmental agencies have learned that if they issue singular statements of little meaning, it goes unquestioned. The reporters can not be bothered to check the truthfulness of the statement as they are being pre-empted and diverted to a story which may have caught the attention of YouTube and the assignment editor. If you don’t believe me, check out what is currently trending on Youtube, or what the top 10 stories are on Reddit.
Justin Trudeau gives speech after speech making generalized statements of fixing this problem or the next. It goes un-examined for the most part, but we will get pics or video of his latest selfie canoeing, or of him photo bombing a wedding. It makes me think that Trudeau may be a Canadian version of Trump, one who has mastered social media, but but not the relevant issues, but he is young, photogenic and polite. The left in the United States think he is god like, as they too are only reading the headlines. He is a former high school drama teacher, born with a famous name and reputation, how could we not be concerned about what he actually understands.
As experienced journalists are being replaced by the young, the photogenic, who stand in front of endless monitors and fast-moving graphics (I assume it is their attempt to show they are on the cutting edge of technology), and push buttons which play the latest newly trending video.
And now the Americans have confirmed that the Russians and other intelligence agencies have figured this out. You just need to put out the headlines, no need for details, nothing gets checked.
Facebook just revealed the confirmation of false ads, a total of 3000 from 470 “dark accounts”, during the American election, in-directly tied to the Russians, and aimed at altering the election to a candidate they feel they can manipulate. Despite some intrepid reporting a few months ago which Facebook initially denied, it was not until two days ago that Facebook admitted to the problem. The New York Times summed it up by saying “we are in the midst of a world wide, internet-based assault on democracy”.
None of this sounds good, or leaves much room for optimism.
Will we go back to newspapers, unlikely? Will television be simply a stopping off point where they re-package video? Likely.
There is no immediate answer to these changing times, but this generation does need to question, and it needs to go deeper than Twitter; our democracy depends on it, and we will lose faith if truth becomes the first casualty.