Journalism Wants the Status Quo More Than the Truth

Something an editor told me once, when we were digging into a story about public malfeasance:

“It is always worse than you think it is.”

At the time, the story we were in the middle of, I thought it was pretty bad.

“Always. It’s always worse.”

He was right. Every story’s an iceberg; for every single sharp thing you see there are a thousand others below the surface waiting to gouge holes in your boat.

I thought of that when I read this thread today, about Trump and Russia, though to be honest it could be about Trump and just about any other thing:

A lot of people will say “biased” instead of “hesitant” and some of that’s true, but mostly it’s “lazy,” instead of “hesitant.”

See, if there are two parties, and they’re both equally righteous but just disagree about the role of government, then when you’re doing A Politics Story you call them both, and you get Both Sides, and you’re done. You’ve done your job, and you get to go home. It’s not about political bias, it’s about ass-covering. Have you seen journalism lately? There are six reporters left and three of them cover People and the other three cover Stuff, while their 57 corporate imagineer synergizers write memos about feeding content into a fucking funnel. Things are not good, so if there’s an easy way to get out of every week alive, generally people are gonna take it.

We’ve Offended Everyone So We Are Good, which kind of worked as long as you genuinely had two parties who disagreed about the fundamental role of government. We haven’t had that since about 1964, however, but it was getting worse slowly. If you were the kind of white, middle-class, generally male kid who went to journalism school, you saw things getting worse slowly, until 2016 when everything got a lot worse very fast.

And by that point the laziness had become paralysis, on almost every journalistic front. You know depressive avoidance behaviors, how sometimes you don’t do the dishes and you spend three days walking past the pile of dishes and it just keeps getting bigger and you feel worse and worse and less and less capable of doing the dishes and why are you such garbage why can’t you do the dishes and you spend hours more worrying about the dishes than it would take to do them? Like that, but a whole industry. A whole country, unable to wrap its mind around what it had elected.

Every story out now is the result of one or two or six people overcoming that just-keep-walking impulse and doing the damn dishes. Taking the fiction that makes it possible to go home at 5 and have a drink and exist in the world absolutely apart until every ugly machination on the part of the GOP is exposed and raw and of COURSE it’s all just too outrageous, that’s how things usually are under their skins. What made journos skeptical wasn’t reluctance to believe the breathtaking scope of Trump’s venality. What drove their skepticism was a sober assessment of the amount of work it would take to prove it, weighed against a desire to get away on the weekends.

When you get right down to it, journalism as an industry wanted the status quo more than it wanted the truth. That’s not a condemnation; all our systems are made up of people and people are what inertia eats. It makes it all the more laudable that there are journalists who are able to overcome the desire to sink into the couch for the next four years binge-watching Call the Midwife, because this is gonna get worse than we can even imagine.

It always does.

A.

One thought on “Journalism Wants the Status Quo More Than the Truth

  1. justsomeguy05 says:

    You said journalism, but I believe you meant “journalism”. Most of corporate employed journalists, are not.

    Like

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