(Reporters, of course, do this about PR people, as did I in my journalism days. It seems I’m an equal-opportunity whiner.)
While Joe agreed with our complaints, he made a pointed comment that stuck with me ever since:
“Thank God for a free press.”
Indeed. And that’s why I’m worried today.
The Pew Research Center released a survey that showed a significant decline in credibility ratings of major news organizations. In the last decade alone, the public’s confidence in news coverage has declined on average from 71 percent positive believability to a tepid 56 percent. Local TV news continues to be the most believable, though that group reaches only 65 percent.
Why the fall-off? The reasons are legion. News coverage is anemic and often inaccurate due to slashed budgets and staffs. Marketing and entertainment wield too much influence on the reporting side. Recent examples of unethical behavior have tarnished the profession. And on and on….
What bothers me a great deal is the way some institutions, particularly political ones, are using the plight of the Fourth Estate to further weaken its role.
A few weeks back, I blogged about the push by the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns to review quotes before publication—and the appalling fact that some news organizations had agreed to allow it. Thankfully, a number of them have since backed away.
Yet we read about it again, this time in relation to Vice President Joe Biden. As his many gaffes have shown, Mr. Biden is his own worst enemy. Apparently his handlers agree. Check out this reference in an article by Jonathan Martin at Politico.com:
"[R]eporters were hustled out of retail campaign stops in diners and other intimate settings, aides tried to edit media pool reports for any potential landmines that could be seized on by Republicans and even hovered at close range to eavesdrop on journalists’ conversations with attendees at Biden rallies."
This strikes me as the kind of stuff one might have seen in the days of Communist Russia.
As the Fourth Estate struggles through an unprecedented time of change, the role of public relations in helping reporters get the right information to report accurately and objectively is more important than ever. Instances like the Biden situation only serve to slowly strangle one of our nation’s basic freedoms.
We must hold journalists to the highest ethical standards. Same for those who work with them.