WEDNESDAY, APRIL 14, 2021
We'll go with two out of five: It's a fascinating headline. It sits atop Margaret Sullivan's column in today's Washington Post:
Bad news for journalists: The public doesn’t share our values...
Sullivan is the "media columnist" at the Post. In today's column, she says the public doesn't share the press corps' values.
Sullivan's column is built around a survey by the American Press Institute. The API defined the press corps' five "core values," then surveyed the public about them.
Uh-oh! We the people don't like those core values! This is how bad it is:
SULLIVAN (4/14/21): The results indicated that only one of five core values touted by journalists also shares the support of a majority of Americans—the idea that more facts get us closer to the truth. About 7 people in 10 support this.
Gack! Only one of the five core values received majority support from the public. And that core value was only supported by 70 percent of us rubes!
In her column, Sullivan says there may be a way to win more support for these basic core values. In a typical manifestation, she never wonders if there could be something wrong with the core values themselves, rather than with the public's views.
With that, we offer a dirty little secret—we're not sure that we support those five core values either! In the end, we may support only two of the five. Here they are, in the way Sullivan lists and defines them in her column:
The press corps' five core values:
Oversight. We’re the watchdogs keeping an eye on government officials and other powerful people and institutions.
Transparency. We believe it’s best to put information out in the open, not keep it hidden.
Factuality. It’s crucial to provide as much accurate information as possible to get to the truth.
Spotlighting wrongdoing. We think society’s problems are best solved by exposing them to public criticism.
Giving a voice to the voiceless. It’s our job to advocate for those lacking power or social standing.
There they are—the five core values. We strongly support "Transparency" and "Factuality." Given the way the modern press works, we're not sure about the other three on that list.
For starters, we strongly agree! "We believe it’s best to put [relevant[ information out in the open."
We also strongly agree with this: "It’s crucial to provide as much accurate [and relevant] information as possible."
We strongly agree with those values. But precisely because we agree with those values, we're not real sure about the other three on the list.
We say that for this reason:
Consider the first of the five core values: "We’re the watchdogs keeping an eye on government officials and other powerful people and institutions."
Given the way the modern press works, it's dangerous to let them think that they play an important "watchdog" role in the way our society functions.
As soon as you let them start thinking that way, they start putting their thumbs on the scale, often as a tightly-scripted group. As their stampede picks up steam, they start picking and choosing the information they're willing to expose to the public.
We have the same basic reaction to the "Giving a voice to the voiceless" value. That's what our unimpressive mainstream journalists think they're doing, at the present time, with respect to all sorts of questions of gender and race.
But as soon as you let them start thinking that way, they start disappearing certain facts and embellishing and dreaming up others. We've been amazed by some of the ways we've seen basic facts disappeared by major journalists just in the past few days.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our journalist just aren't super-sharp. They're strongly inclined to run in packs. They tend to swell themselves up with pride about their Remarkably High Moral Values, which are often of the highly performative kind.
As soon as they start thinking that they're major reformers, they start withholding certain facts and dreaming up quite a few others. They reject all efforts at correction. They can't be held in check.
These are not highly competent people. Top anthropologists continue to claim that, on the basis of wiring, this is the best they can do.