Tuesday, February 19, 2013

National Apology Day

The other night, Rachel Maddow devoted her show to reporting on a book every voting citizen should read:  Hubris - The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the the Iraq War.   David Corn and Michael Isikoff do a superb job of disaster-response journalism.   And that's the problem.

It's not until the disaster hits that reporters start asking questions that should have been asked long before the disaster.   This country had a war in Iraq for one primary reason:  journalism failed. The press played cheerleader.

We need to add a national holiday, National Apology Day.  It's the day the press apologizes to the American public for failing to do its job.

Our financial crisis is another example.   The press played cheerleader.  What do you think will be the consequences of dismantling the financial controls put in place following the Great Depression?  Is there any reason to believe eliminating those controls will somehow cause the financial industry to act responsibly and in the best interest of society?  What do you think will be the consequences of making it perfectly legal to securitize tens of thousands of liars loans? Where was the press asking the questions that needed to be asked?

Remember the hearings held on the Gulf Oil Spill?  Congressman Ed Markey grilled BP executives on the company's emergency response plans, response plans that called for saving walruses.   Just imagine if reporters, recognizing there are two major industries in the the Gulf - oil and tourism - had asked a basic question:  what happens if there's a spill?   Reporters doing what reporters are supposed to do would have found those emergency response plans.  They would have reported that BP was planning to save a species that has not been present in the Gulf for three million years.  Reporters would have had a great story, one that could have prevented a disaster and Congress would have done necessary oversight.

Remember the Presidential Debates?   Not a single question about climate change.  Insurance companies believe in science; so should journalists.

Remember Jim Tressel, the football coach who arrived at Ohio State with a history of NCAA violations at his previous job at YSU?   There was no more obvious story for any sports reporter.   What would Tressel's first annual performance review show?   You guessed it.  He was in violation again.   Did the local reporters, excuse me - I mean cheerleaders - report that?  Of course not.   When Tressel resigned, his performance evaluations showed multiple violations.  Those evaluations, all of which are public record, had never been disturbed by a reporter.   Ohio State told me nobody had ever requested them, a fact confirmed by the editor of the Columbus Dispatch. When I questioned the paper's lack of reporting,  editor Ben Marrison wrote to me:  "Our research indicates none of the approximately 600 journalists credentialed to cover Ohio State football requested Jim Tressel's evaluations.   In hindsight, I wish the Dispatch would have, as they would have led to some good stories."  Duh!

On National Apology Day, Ben Marrison can join the heads of CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX the NEW YORK TIMES and the WASHINGTON POST.  From college scandals to financial security to national security, when journalism fails, bad things happen.


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