The overall purpose of journalism and the media is to provide us with the information to make the best possible decisions about our lives, communities, society, government, and the world in general. The press and television or the media tends to give us general information and direct images of people and events. To a large extent they do interviews with assorted noted individuals. Currently we are going through a primary season that will determine who the leading candidates will be in the oncoming Presidential Election on the first Tuesday of November, 2016.
Are we being honestly informed about the world around us? Is this what the assorted journalists and the media are doing? Are they gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting largely unbiased information? When assorted people are interviewed are we getting honest images of them?
This process is very important in a Democratic Society where people’s decisions are based upon the news and information they have. In the oncoming 2016 Presidential Election will the general population be honestly informed or will they be propagandized? Where does the press and media stand?
In the world today we are constantly surrounded with bits and pieces of information denoting what is both in the country and in the world around us. At times such as elections we have to sort through some of this information and come to certain realizations before we can make rational decisions. This is particularly true if we are functioning in a Democracy and have to choose the best candidate in a Presidential Election.
The question then arises if we are dealing with a Presidential Election, as we do every four years in the United States, is: Are we getting proper relevant information about the prospective candidates to make informed decisions concerning the elections.
The agencies through which we gain this information are the newspapers, radio, television, ads and news, the press, the media, and the internet. The newspapers, depending upon their bias, generally give factual information and opinion, favoring one or the other candidate. While some tend to be a little to the right or to the left, in their opinion sections, they are more or less neutral in their factual information. Virtually anything can be published on the internet. Here the reader has to decide the value of what he/she is reading. In terms of the media or television, the question arises: Are these interviewers truly doing their job? Are they honestly presenting interviews or are they being used by the people they are supposedly interviewing?
I would say that it is a combination of the two which essentially means that they are both being used by the candidate to present whatever he or she want the audience to understand and by the interviewer to present as good an image as he or she can. An obvious example of the former was the Vice Presidential debate in 2008 between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. Palin clearly stated at the beginning that she would respond to questions by talking about what she felt like saying, that she would not be answering any questions asked. And that’s what she did.
Today if a politician doesn’t want to answer the question asked for whatever reason he tends to talk but what he says has no relationship to the question. The news broadcaster generally goes to another question. If he attempts to ask the question over again with a follow-up question the same thing will happen again and, this time, the interviewer will definitely go on to another question. This can happen a number of times during an interview.
What about blatant lying or prefabricating during an interview? Donald Trump seems to do this all the time. He is never challenged. Carly Fiorina had a story about fetus parts being sold by Planned Parenthood. When she was challenged on this her response was something to the effect of, Prove it didn’t happen. Presumably the interviewer was put on the spot and the issue went away. In any case she was not about to respond to the question.
Trump’s obvious prefabrications have never even been directly challenged. But then if Trump is challenged he will verbally attack the reporter as he did with Megyn Kelly during the first presidential debate, when she asked him about his treatment of women. Trump is also very careful in choosing his interviewers. He skipped one debate at Fox News because Megyn Kelly was one of the interviewers.
Are the TV interviewers doing their jobs? An interesting question in terms of news casting today.
There is a history behind what is going on in the present. Generally the same games have historically gone on but the role of the interviewer, for various reasons has changed. If we go back to the time before Richard Nixon became President of the U.S. in 1969 or earlier then we are in a period when questions were specifically answered or skipped. Specific information was given to the press generally when it was asked for. There were a group of commentators who evaluated the information the various candidates enunciated. The entire process of news gathering was more direct and more specific.
With the Nixon Presidency in 1969 conditions began to radically change. Nixon’s axe man, Vice President Spiro Agnew, began in a mildly oblique way to threaten the electronic news media, suggesting that when their Federal Communication Commission license became due for renewal the request might be rejected as the station, be it radio or television, might no longer qualify as doing a public service. To individual reporters who might come out with a somewhat negative view of the President at some time it was suggested that they might no longer be welcome at White House briefings. Gradually this pressure began to spread beyond the White House press meeting throughout the entire Republican Party. At that time there was a new price that had to be paid if one was a reporter; there were new limits to reporting. The press and media was beginning to be controlled by the administrations.
When Nixon ran for reelection in 1972 members of his staff sanctioned the Watergate Hotel break-ins at Democratic Headquarters. They also helped fund George McGovern as the Democratic candidate for the office of President, working on the assumption that if overly liberal McGovern became the Democratic candidate Nixon would have an overwhelming Republican victory.
Nixon’s Reelection Committee was correct in their assumption but in order to be sure they had a group called “the plumbers” break into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel several times to go through the Democratic documents there. On their third visit they were caught and arrested. At some point early on in the process Nixon became aware of the break-ins. Meanwhile Nixon was reelected by an overwhelming majority. For the next two years as the information gradually emerged the question became: “What did the President know? And when did he know it?” Basically the issue was: Was Nixon involved in the Break-in? And did he participate in the cover-up? The answer that came out two years into his second term was YES and he was involved in the cover up. Nixon would resign from the presidency the day before he was to be impeached.
Meanwhile, while this was going on, the Justice Department was investigating the Vice-President, Spiro Agnew. He was charged with an eighty-nine page indictment charging him with extortion, tax fraud, bribery, and conspiracy. He had accepted bribes of over $100,000 as Governor of Maryland and as a government official before that, as well as vice president. Because of the ongoing investigation over Watergate Agnew was allowed to plead “no contest” to a single charge that he had failed to report $25,000 of income, pay a fine, resign as Vice President, and leave Washington, D.C. As a note or irony ten years later in a civil suit by the State of Maryland Agnew had to pay out nearly $270,000, stemming from the bribery charge.
Nixon appointed Senator Gerald Ford as his new Vice President. President Ford would end America’s involvement into the Viet Nam War and pardon former President Nixon for any crimes he had or may have committed
It is important to remember that when Richard Nixon became President in 1969 one of his major goals was to get the United States out of Viet Nam “with honor.” Former President Lyndon B. Johnson had vigorously increased the extent of the war to force the Vietnamese to capitulate to America. He did not succeed. Richard Nixon had promised to end the war if elected. He would do this by upgrading the war effort to the point where the U.S. could have an honorable settlement.
The Viet Nam War had been reported practically battle by battle. Cameramen went along with the military daily and filmed practically every battle. This, then, was shown that night on national television in the U.S. as the nightly news. The effect of this was to engender a massive protest movement throughout the country. The population did not enjoy watching American soldiers or Vietnamese nightly being machine-gunned or blown to bits.
To demonstrate that we were winning the U.S. military came up with the concept of the daily “body count,” the number of American’s killed that day versus the number of Vietnamese militants who died. Their number was always far greater than our number of dead. In fact if one totaled the count it would seem that soon there would be no Vietnamese left to fight the war.
It was President Gerald Ford who ended this war in 1975 and we did not leave “with honor.” Interestingly today there is a Hanoi Hilton and Vietnam is an inexpensive vacation country that welcomes American citizens. The press would never again be allowed to report a military operation in the same way it did in Viet Nam.
In 1976 the Republican, Gerald Ford, ran against the Democrat, Jimmy Carter, for the office of President and lost. Jimmy Carter became President of the United States in 1976. He would serve one term. His relations with the press and media eased up but a note of caution remained in their reporting.
During Carter’s tenure there would be a revolution in Iran and the autocratic Shah, a longtime ally of the United States, would be replaced by the religious far right leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. Presumably a group of students raided the U.S. Council and made the American Embassy employees prisoners. The U.S. military mounted a helicopter mission to rescue them which failed. 52 hostages were held from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981. They were released just hours after Ronald Reagan became president.
With the assent of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States the press and media underwent a new metamorphosis. Reagan, our 40th President and his staff managed the media largely for eight years to their advantage.
He was called the Teflon President. As a former actor he never stopped acting. He has been called the most ideal, congenial President in modern history, continually telling his audience, the American Public, what they wanted to hear, always in positive terms. Even, at the end of his presidency when he was telling the public on a television broadcast about his guilt in the Iran-Contra Affair, a breach of law that could have gotten him impeached and sent to prison, he was able to do it in such a way that it didn’t seem to be his fault.
While the media was warry of him they also fell under his influence and allowed him to manage the news. Even though he was to the right of the majority of the American people he was able to get massive tax cuts for the wealthy. An average member of the middle class might from 1981 on save $200 on their income taxes while someone in the upper echelon might save $20,000 or more in income taxes. While he did this he was able to significantly cut social programs to the needy. Reagan actually espoused welfare for the rich.
He was the first President to raise the National Debt over a trillion dollars and then with his massive military spending and tax cuts, more than doubled that amount.
Through his overspending he did end the Cold War. He and his administration were convinced that militarily the Soviet Union was far ahead of the United States and that we had to catch-up to them. In doing this he inadvertently bankrupted them as they tried to keep up with us. This brought about the end of the Cold War.
It was after his administration that reality set in with the press and many of them, after the fact, reevaluated him on an extremely negative basis. But that was after the fact. Some of his staff went to prison for the Iran-Contra affair but Reagan, in whose name it was brought about, was essentially untouched by it.
Reagan was followed by his Vice President, George H. W. Bush, as the 41st President for one term with a Democratic Congress. He was guilty in bringing about a war with Iraq, Operation Desert Storm, by inept diplomacy, which also cost numerous lives on both sides but also raised the National Debt additional trillions of dollars. Saddam Hussein, the ruler of Iraq would unsuccessfully attempt to have Bush assassinated. His son would later punish him.
With Bill Clinton there was much drama involving some of his proclivities. The press was not threatened, instead they were treated to various colorful stories about the man and to his attempted impeachment.
George W. Bush, the son of former President George H.W. Bush became the 43d President. His presidency is marked by the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001. It was then that the War on Terror earnestly began in the United States and was used by the Bush Administration to get a myriad of laws passed. “9/11” became a key term and was freely used from then on by the administration to get their way on many issues. The press was largely patriotic and went along with most of what the government wanted.
The second Bush was followed by Barack Obama. Currently there are no threats to the press. But with the oncoming 2016 Election and the belligerence among the Republican candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz we are coming into another era of risk to the press and media.
The very nature of live reporting seems to have changed. Candidates, with a very straight face, blatantly lie or prefabricate in front of the camera or in speeches at rallies. But they are never challenged on this. It’s as though the press or media are afraid of the people they are interviewing. Donald Trump is particularly noted for this. If he doesn’t like the question he will verbally and vindictively challenge the reporter. Ted Cruz tends to pick his interviewers as well as reinterpret the questions asked. Reporting has become a heady occupation. Somehow the original purpose of the reporter seems lost or confused. The public seems left to make their decisions on an emotional basis.