5 – The Odd Phenomenon of Journalistic Credibility (Dec 08)
Respected media wish to be responsible, and journalists want to be credible. Both adjectives, as understood by a broad audience, have undergone an Orwellian metamorphosis. Media can only be responsible if they hire credible reporters. But something monstrous has happened to the notion of credibility in recent years. It is no longer measured by the degree to which statements correspond to observable reality. In fact, assessments arrived at logically from available information and one’s understanding of the world could be ruinous for one’s credibility until some time in late 2007 if they concerned themes related to the “war on terrorism” and other policies following the September 11 attacks. Which is why journalists – mostly eager to preserve their credibility, and extremely sensitive to the slightest questioning of it – often held back on what they actually know.
Credibility is always determined by the degree to which a report, an opinion, and expectations stick to a set of basic beliefs about our political surroundings; and these basic beliefs could among a mass audience and much of the political elite from the autumn of 2001 onward hardly have been farther from the truth. While in the closing year of the George W. Bush administration, much criticism has emerged in the media, the credibility of American journalists continues to be judged by the extent to which they have their ears cocked to what editors of mainstream papers are ready to accept as reality. Today, you lower your credibility if you soberly but unrelentingly catalogue the decisions of the George W. Bush government that have brought the United States its current predicaments, you raise it by “balancing” it with the supposedly good things it has done.
But the recent experiences under the presidency of George W. Bush have merely made more acute a general failing of contemporary journalism, as it has adopted rules for itself that have found much imitation in Europe as well. Considering how much the rest of the world is informed about the parts of the world with which it is less familiar through the American filter discussed in a previous jotting, it is worth taking a closer look at the peculiarities of especially American journalism. I have done so in an essay reached by THIS LINK.