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Moench & Nourse: Journalism war being lost to the bad guys

Published October 12, 2013 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Far from the spotlight, a war is going on that eclipses in importance any of those getting all the attention: the U.S. vs. Al Qaida, Boehner vs. Reid, the Koch brothers vs. climate scientists, Ted Cruz vs. humility.

We're speaking of the war between corporate media and real journalism. And the good guys are losing badly.

For most people, both their knowledge and misperceptions of the world are a product of what, when and how corporate media choose to tell them, or not tell them.

Rupert Murdoch's "error and balanced," "we distort, you decide" media empire reaches 4.7 billion people, three-fourths of the global population, a domination that even George Orwell could never have imagined. In 1983, 90 percent of America's media were owned by 50 companies. Now it's down to just six.

Murdoch and five other white males essentially control the news/knowledge industry. But monopollzing the flow of information is only half of the disease, monetizing it is other half.

Last month hedge fund managers who own the Tribune, and run it purely for profit, ordered life-saving "surgery" for the Tribune, and 20 percent of the staff was excised. This was not just a "haircut."

You can imagine how well a patient would do if a surgeon decided to help you lose weight by removing 20 percent of your organs, sewing you up, and declaring everything's fine.

"With clothes on no one will see the incision, now get back to work."

Competent, professional and objective journalists are the life blood of democracy and an enlightened society, both of which just got eviscerated in Utah.

The decision about what and how much information is delivered to you is increasingly made by people whose only real priority is to maximize shareholder value, not what is the most important information you need to know. Thus, TV news increasingly features what is cheap to produce and what yields the biggest bang for the buck: the lurid, the sensational, and fluffy human interest stories.

You will never hear any of Utah's smiling TV weathercasters mention the climate crisis, even though it is clearly the weather "elephant in the room," because that doesn't sell well to viewers who are repelled by bad news.

Every night there is cheerful banter between attractive anchors, but stories that are complex, nuanced, require critical thinking or take longer than 60 seconds to explain, are seldom attempted.

As for print media, The Tribune admits its future is in stories of local interest, if only because, in the eyes of the hedge fund managers, that's what gives them their best chance at financial viability. The Deseret News has turned even more to a family values and theological agenda.

When journalism fails on the national stage, deception of the masses is enabled, and widespread tragedy ensues. The venerable New York Times allowing itself to be manipulated by puppetmaster Dick Cheney was pivotal in this country being duped into a trumped-up, illegitimate war in Iraq.

Failure of journalism allowed ginned-up talking points like "death panels" to deceive much of the country about the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The global warming crisis, which is nothing less than the issue of the survival of mankind, never makes it to the front page of any newspaper, including the Tribune and the New York Times, and never receives more than a minute fraction of the coverage afforded the Kardashians' current dress sizes.

To the extent journalism fails or disappears on the local stage, ignorance fills the void. You can expect legislators and state officials to go unchallenged, corruption left unexposed and common sense to lose its voice.

Online bloggers are replacing journalists as sources of information, but in doing so, opinion is replacing truth, ideology is replacing science, and agenda is replacing objectivity. Failing journalism opens the door for more Mike Lees to replace more Robert Bennetts. Count on government shutdowns to be followed by society breakdowns, and eventually a planet meltdown.

Journalism is the citizenry's primary means of protecting the public trust against special-interest politics, ideological extremes and warped public policy. With all the "wars" we have currently going on, we couldn't have picked a more important battle to lose.

Dr. Brian Moench is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. Dick Nourse is a retired journalist and KSL TV news anchor.






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