Passive Voice Journalism

If the issue surfaces.All on its own.

NBC Universal, which has paid $4 billion dollars for the rights to cover the Olympics from 2014 through 2020, has also been squirmy. Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin’s letter(pdf) asking them to include news of Russia’s human rights violations alongside their standard Olympics coverage has elicited a hasty if mealy-mouthed response from the network saying that it will “provide coverage of Russia’s anti-gay laws if the controversial measures surface as an issue during the upcoming Winter Olympics”.

First of all, FOUR BILLION DOLLARS. Yet there’s no money in journalism anymore. I guess when you get done shelling out for Costas’s hookers and blow, you’re pretty cash-strapped, but COME ON.

Second and most important, BUFFALO CHICKEN JESUS. You know how things “surface as an issue?” People discuss them on fucking American television. Things “surface as an issue” when people get underneath them and goddamn PUSH THEM UP.

When I talk about what’s wrong with journalism, and about political bias and how we think passion is the devil and advocacy is a disease and why so many people turned to the Interwebs during the Bush years and why Kids Today like the Daily Show, I talk about exactly this: The total unwillingness to admit to the ability to set an agenda. As if the news just happens, all the time, and we’re just there to point cameras at it and chatter.

As if news isn’t news because some reporter, some courageous anchor, some enterprising editor, took an issue and said look, let’s make sure everybody IN THE GODDAMN FUCKING WORLD knows what is happening here. As if that isn’t journalism as much as taking pictures when the bomb goes off. As if it’s not possible to see where the bombs are going to go off, and get there first. As if you don’t have a choice as to which bombs to put on your screens, and which to ignore.

As if you don’t make that choice, and the million smaller choices that are just the same, every single day in news meeting. As if what you care about has nothing to do with this at all. Some of the greatest stories of our time happened because somebody said, let’s look over here for a while.

Part of the unwillingness to set an agenda, of course, is in that if you admit you set an agenda, you have to take responsibility for the agenda you’re already setting. For the steady diet of Trial of the Century of the Week, “debates” between two mouthpieces whose every utterance is scripted in advance, focus on the most trivial aspect of any policy issue, and stupid pet stories. If you admit that you can determine that, you have to admit that you did, and this is what you picked. Part of me can’t blame a network for not wanting to own that outright.

But most of this is just pure goddamn cynical cowardice and a love of the status quo. Which is the true bias in journalism today, absent any political affiliation whatsoever: The pretense that things are how they are, and that’s unchangeable, and to say otherwise is naive or arrogant.

Both of which I’ll take in a hot MOTHERFUCKING SECOND over sitting behind a goddamn fatass desk waiting for issues to “surface.”