Just in case you’ve been trapped under a rock this past week, here’s what you missed: Climate change deniers have no explanation for why it’s 70 degrees, in February, in New York. Hand wringing over the White House Correspondents’ Dinner was trending big time until the Oscars happened. Oh, and the media got kicked out of a meeting held by our government which was intended to be a meeting for the government to talk to the media.
All in all, a rather quiet end to what seems like the longest shortest month on record, wouldn’t you say?
If we can start this story in the middle, let’s look at what’s being overlooked as Trump steps up his attacks on the news media: the impact on the people.
This is the thing: The people, we the people, are coming in a tremendously distant second to the media’s moaning about how it’s being mistreated by the current commander in chief. And that’s a bigly shame, because what all of us, the same we the people, hear when the media complains is little more than this: ‘Wah! Wah! Wah! The president’s a meanie.’
‘Wah! Wah! Wah! How can they not want to be near me? I’m on TV, for gosh sakes!’
‘Wah! Wah! Wah! I need information so I can continue to boss America around with my perceptive insights into situations I don’t really understand.’
Near the beginning of the month, 36 percent of the America people thought the media was too tough on the newbie president. That was according to a nationwide Gallop poll.
Well, there’s been a lot of whining and hysterics and mean Tweets going back and forth since then, and where have we landed? With more of America rooting not for, but against, the press. That’s right, now a majority of Americans feel Trump is the one under attack, as a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey shows 51 percent of America sez lighten up, you ink-stained wretches and talking heads.
The lesson here? The more the media whines, the less we the people care.
It’s sad, but true, and more than a little ego bruising for those in a career that allows them to throw stones at others, but never at themselves.
Maybe this indifference to the media’s feelings is because people outside of the news industry don’t really understand the situation, or the pressures, to be able to relate to the situation. Maybe it’s because everybody has bad days at work, but they get over it by eating too many Fritos while binge watching Netflix, instead of using mass media to showcase their personal nervous breakdowns.
Or maybe it’s because when the public complains to the media, the media hears … pretty much exactly the same whining. (Cue the sad piano music here.)
Now things are getting interesting.
If you’ve ever made a complaint to the media about a news story, you know how hard it is to be heard. The standard routine pretty much goes like this…
Real person: I have a complaint about your news story.
Media person: You don’t really have a complaint; you simply don’t understand my brilliance.
Real person: Well, the story you did about the major snowstorm yesterday…
Media person: Stories about yesterday have been verified and fact checked and we stand behind them.
Real person: But the snowstorm didn’t happen…
Media person: The story is now part of the archives and archival information may not be changed.
As you can see, it would take quite a bit of time to walk said Media person through all 12 steps before Media person has the type of epiphany needed to enable an actual conversation with Real person.
The theoretical situation described above is loosely based on a personal experience, one of many I’ve enjoyed in dealing with the news media for more than 20 years. However, unlike a real person, I forwarded the ‘archival information may not be changed’ excuse to Media person’s boss, who promptly fixed the error. Now, I could’ve done that from the get-go, but think of all the nonsensical stories I’d miss out on. Life would be no fun at all.
Media types don’t take criticism well, because they live insular lives and seldom know the damage they’ve caused in real peoples’ lives with what they would consider innocent mistakes or errors of no significance. And when a real person does try to let them know, they get their backs up and act, well, pretty much like the way you’ve seen them act for the last few weeks.
It’s a perplexed public they leave in their wake.
A local newspaper reader called one sunny afternoon, to ask if it was, in fact, a ‘violation of the First Amendment to edit the work of a freelancer.’
My response was a very polished, very professional, ‘Huh?’
Long story short: She had called a local newspaper to complain about what she thought was a news story — it wasn’t a news story, but a column, and actually, quite a horrid attempt at satire — and the editor, instead of taking the time to listen to the complaint and educate the poor woman on what she was reading, shut her down with a bogus excuse.
Dear news media, if you ever had to deal with you, you’d understand why 51 percent of the American people think you’re being treated as you deserve.
Of course, not every member of the media acts this way. Many are uber professionals, highly respected and incredibly talented. It’s just that this is an industry where any one may be a journalist, in a country reliant on journalism as its bedrock. No degree is required, no license, no certification. Think about this: At your place of business, how many people work there? Now, of that number, think about how many are actually good at their jobs.
What makes you think it’s any different within the news industry?
The irony is, it’s the crop of the best-in-breed professionals who are taking it on the chin right now. The others are busy enjoying free coffee at their local press clubs.
So maybe it’s time the news media earn its papers. Have some sort of certification process, with ongoing continuing education credits needed to remain certified.
It’s not a horrible idea, but it doesn’t make much sense to insist the media be better trained when our people, we the people, have no idea what we’re reading, watching or listening to, does it?
And, as hard and unforgiving as the media is on the public, the public doesn’t get to escape from this conversation scot-free.
After all, thanks to a local school board with no respect for transparency, Long Island may lay claim for having played a major role in the New York Freedom of Information Act Law. (Funny how things haven’t changed all that much, as the Town of Hempstead was recently sued for trying to create its own FOIL rules, and a Newsday reporter was denied access to public files in the Town of Oyster Bay in 2016.)
Ah, tradition does die hard, doesn’t it?
Of course, we’re not simply FOIL offenders around here. It’s not uncommon for little local governments to try to toss the news media out of open meetings, permanently. The last known suspect on this list was the Village of Islandia, which introduced a resolution that specified — wait for it — it wanted to ban media coverage so public officials would not be subject to public embarrassment. (Interestingly, somehow, someway, the media caught wind of this issue before the vote was set to take place.)
Government types, whether they be in your backyard or walking around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue sans bathrobe, can’t stop the press from doing its job — a job, by the way, actually mentioned in the Constitution of the United States, just in case anyone’s forgotten that little bit of information from fourth grade social studies class.
But what’s happening now is an unprecedented attempt at stopping the news media in its tracks, at the highest level.
While you may want to say to the media, ‘Hey, let the Donald do some work and stay out of his comb over for a spell,’ the ramifications are this: Once the national press is curtailed in its job and limited in its coverage, expect the local press to be treated accordingly. Expect to not know where your tax dollars are going, or if your water’s safe. Expect your local officials to quickly grow accustomed to not being held accountable, because your federal and state officials have paved the way.
After that, expect to see your rights to freedom of speech and expression diminished. For better and for worse, the media and the people are inextricably linked. What happens to the news media simply happens to the news media first.
Then, it happens to you.