Citizen Journalism--The Last Bastion of Skepticism
In a virtuosic display of journalism on April 25th, Bill Moyers aired a 90-minute special on PBS titled, "Buying the War," in which the Main Stream Media was gutted with an awesome, well-controlled, thoroughly documented fury.
Moyers didn't pull any punches. Body slamming outlets up and down the line from bastions of respectability like the New York Times to tragically influential idiots like Bill O'Reilly, one thing quickly became clear.
MSM has become so large, unwieldy, and focused on dollar signs that it has lost its ability to effectively question those in positions of power. It is a sad fact of our times that any political administration with a comfortably compromised moral code and a decent PR team can manipulate the news with more skill than Geppetto breathing life into Pinocchio.
In the precinct 1976 film, “Network,” the hard charging female TV executive Diane Christiansen had a line that is entirely relevant in light of the failures that have been exacerbated by the MSM at present, “The American people are turning sullen. They've been clobbered on all sides by Vietnam, Watergate, the inflation, the depression; they've turned off, shot up, and they've fucked themselves limp, and nothing helps."
Again and again, highly respectable journalists mea culpaed and apologized. The mantra throughout was, "We weren't skeptical enough."
The reasons were myriad: Patriotism police hounded and threatened any news outlet with the 'temerity,' to criticise the administration in the wake of September 11th. There was a general unwillingness to cross a war-time president. The current administration possessed an unheralded, jaw-dropping ability to manipulate the media without stirring up any criticism, and drive news cycles with dogmatic phrases like, "mushroom cloud," and "aluminum tubes," nevermind those reporters in the trenches over at Knight Ridder--Walcott, Landay and Strobel--who ripped the case for war to shreds years before our ill-fated invasion.
A frank and brutal truth struck home while watching Moyers tap dance on the headstone of intrepid reportage within the confines of corporate media: Citizen journalists, all of us, have a responsibility to ruthless skepticism since it was left in the dust by its former torch bearers. It is clear that there has been a breakdown in the ability of the press to put leaders in the spotlight when they fail until it is too late, unless it’s over something as asinine as sexual relations with an intern, and this is a kind of unconscionable softball journalism we should all be ashamed to condone.
As said by the Knight Ridder Bureau Chief John Walcott, "Going to war is the biggest decision a country can make," and we, so caught up in patriotic fervor, botched the coverage miserably by not providing the public with a critical counterpoint.
Precisely when we needed a strong, fearless journalistic corps the most, the press turned into administration parrots.
I'll make no highfalutin claims that MSM is obsolete, or that citizen journalism will put the big dogs out of business. In truth, I think some form of network journalism will always exist, and when it works, it works beautifully.
But it's not working, and now with the Internet as never before, with the power of blogs and involved citizens who care passionately about journalism, we have the tools to fix it.
MSM all but foams at the mouth on this topic and castigates us as a type of off-the-cuff vigilante. It would like the news consuming public to believe that, at the end of the day, we are little more than untrained gnats feasting on the corpse of stories that have been long buried in the news cycle cemetery. That we don't have the resources or 'training,' to do what they do.
If that's the case I say let us feast. We should hold it as our sacred duty to question where others are fearful, to dig up the past, to crack the vaults of bad coverage with no remorse and call the system on its failures.
We should treat the MSM as we would treat an arm of the government and turn the title, "Fourth Estate," into an ear marker of criminal duplicity instead of the slyly self-congratulatory pat on the back it has become. And perhaps it will shame them into reform.
Here is the beauty of citizen journalism and the free-for-all of web-based criticism: It has unlimited power to hold the system accountable. It's turning the news into a democratic institution.
In five minutes it is possible to raise a red flag and call bullshit. In less than 24-hours a piece of citizen journalism can gain a wider readership than a New York Times article. And if that New York Times article is blatantly shilling for war, or oil subsidies, or anything else that doesn't make sense for that matter, citizen journalists have the ability, and obligation, to call the the reporter, the outlet, and the article to task.
We should hold this as a trust and responsibility. Not to simply break stories or scoop major outlets—which is undoubtedly satisfying—but to treat those outlets with the same kind of take-no-prisoners skepticism they abandoned in favor of the bottom line long ago.
Remember: You do have the power to change the world. All it takes is a keyboard, an inquiring mind, and a fierce independence from those pushing weak agendas with nonsensical rhetoric. It’s at your fingertips, right now. Waiting to be used.
So use it.