American journalism – awash in “Both Sides Do It” – has mistaken skepticism (which every journalist should have in their tool kit) for cynicism – which, actually, is the DEATH of journalism. A skeptic doubts everyone. A cynic doubts no one. That’s because the cynic thinks he knows where everyone stands (though he doesn’t). That’s why so much American journalism feels so lazy and feckless. Our press walks in the door convinced every one of US acts entirely out of self-interest! In their minds, no one is genuinely altruistic. No one does things for the greater good. “What’s in it for me?” – that’s the bottom line for each and every one of us. Sorry, news media, but that’s horse shit. Your cynicism has turned you all from journalists into unwitting propagandists. The math really is that simple: cynicism + journalism = propaganda.
That raises an obvious question: for whose benefit is the news media propagandizing?
Poor, powerless people can try to propagandize all they like. Without money and power, propaganda is useless. No one ever hears it. And the truth is way better anyway! That’s why poor, powerless people always rely on the truth while the powerful, wealthy people opposing them fall back on propaganda for their messaging. In most cases, the truth won’t set the wealthy and powerful free, it will put them in prison and bankrupt them. That’s why they hate it.
American Journalism Is Broken!
Donald Trump didn’t break American journalism. He exposed how broken American journalism had become. Whatever backbone America’s news media gained from the relentless truth-seeking of Watergate, it squandered every bit of it by the time Ronald Reagan was finished. Whereas they saw Richard Nixon as their adversary, Reagan they saw as a grandfather figure. Nixon got their skepticism. Reagan induced them into cynicism. Some journalists refused to see Saint Ronnie as anything other than Saint Ronnie.
By the time George W’s presidency rolled around, the Republican Party had learned how to use access like a weapon. The Bush Admin wouldn’t talk to journalists who weren’t nice to them. And the nicer you were, the more access you got. The New York Times’ Judith Miller perfected the “art” of access journalism. She used her “journalism” to carry water – and out spies – for then Vice President Dick Cheney. Judith’s excuse: she could never have told the story if she hadn’t sold out.
Context matters. A lot. Cynical people are a context unto themselves. They’ve stopped thinking critically. Old tropes pass for “analysis”.
When ordinary people become cynical, our society diminishes. But, why wold ordinary people become cynical? Injustice can cause that to happen. Relentless injustice can convince people that justice can never be. That’s the tipping point where authoritarianism has crushed a society’s will to be free. They’ve convinced free people that there is no freedom.
No Happy Endings For Cynicism
That is where cynicism ultimately leads – to nowhere good. Even the cynical won’t be happy with that ending.
The sooner American journalism and journalists get the math – that cynicism + journalism = propaganda – the sooner American journalism will start to get healthy again.
Why, I bet once they remember what being skeptical was like (compared to being cynical), they’ll never want to stop being skeptical ever again. And they’ll rue the day they ever got cynical instead.