The New York Times has long had a motto: “All the News that’s Fit to Print.” In this time when increasingly the line between news and entertainment is obscured, supposed “facts” are fabricated, candidates blatantly lie, adversaries engage in a pattern of disinformation, a confused and angry public falls back on listening and believing someone they trust even if the recipient of that trust is untrustworthy.
Exhibit A is Bill O’Reilly, the recently fired Fox News commentator who engaged for a long period in illegal sexual predatory behavior with regard to the women who worked for and with him.
He walked away with a $25 million settlement.
His show’s ratings did not suffer a whit. He was ousted by the results of an independent investigation conducted by a law firm hired by Rupert Murdock. Presumably, Murdock acted because the firm discovered a much longer history and pattern of sordid abuse. That, coupled with advertisers leaving in droves, brought about his downfall.
O’Reilly is a perfect example of someone the gullible public has posited trust in for long time. For these folks the source of news tends to be others who share their beliefs and reinforce their prejudices. O’Reilly reinforced their fear-driven view of the world.
Even a news gathering organization like CNN (Cable News Network) that proclaims in its advertising to be “the most trusted news source” in the world falls short of the full transparency they demand of all others.
How do they and others in the cable news business fall short? They more often than not will pay, sometimes a truly princely sum, for the video of breaking news. Savvy folks with hand held telephone cameras often happen to be at the scene of a police shooting or some other tragedy. They know they have an “exclusive,” as does the news editor sitting at the news assignment desk in Atlanta, New York or D.C.
He or she gets a call from the owner of the exclusive who has quickly compiled the list of phone numbers of major video news companies and literally starts dialing for dollars. The deal is usually reached rapidly and on the air it goes.
Of course there almost never is a disclaimer that has CNN or Fox or MSNBC saying they paid for the footage and how much they paid. Quite simply, the public should be informed when a news organization has paid for video, or has paid the witness to appear on their network.
It would be a good step towards restoring some credibility for tarnished news gathering firms.
Another step would be for the folks at CNN and their competitors to publish the list of non-full time contributors, especially the so-called expert analysts. Regular guests on various programs where “more expertise” is required (such as a military operation) don’t give away that expertise for free. They are paid on a per appearance basis or have an “exclusive” contract that ties them to the news organization.
CNN uses retired Army General Spider Marks for example, and former NATO Commander Wesley Clark as expert commentators. People like former advisor (to President Obama) David Axelrod, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum more likely than not are paid to opine. If a news gathering organization is big on transparency should not it walk the talk?
Sure there are guests who appear who aren’t paid – folks who know they can leverage an appearance into their advertising to differentiate them from their competitors. Probably it may even be a majority of those “talking heads.”
Try to find out whether CNN even has a written policy on this subject, or whether the news editor has a budget he or she can quickly commit to use to buy compelling video. Try to find out if they publish somewhere a list of subcontractors and what they are paid. More likely than not all one can ferret out may be an aggregate number and it will be accompanied by a statement that it is a private business matter.
Furthermore, they’ll say some gobbly-gook about standard business practice.
But it isn’t. Neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times pays one red cent to anyone for the news it prints. They intuitively understand that if a story has received money for outing there’s a natural tendency to play the story long after the legs may have dropped off.
The Times can still claim that it true to its motto. The video cable news networks sadly can only say they are bringing to their viewers the “best news that money can buy.”