Some years ago I read a small weekly newspaper in Billings, Montana called the “Outpost.” It is since gone, its proprietor, David Crisp, retired. He turns up now and again here and there, an accomplished writer.
The reason I bring this up was because he one time praised another reporter (perhaps on passing) by saying that even as he knew him very well, he did not know his political beliefs. In American parlance, this is probably reduced to whether he was Democrat or Republican. Crisp was saying that the greatest attribute of a serious news reporter is objectivity.
All due respect to Mr. Crisp, a man of letters … what nonsense. Objectivity is the credo of journalism. It must be carved in marble on the entrance way at the Columbia School.
Here is the problem with it: We live in a land where almost every important decision is made in secret. I know, we get to vote and all of that, but that is just distraction, something to keep us occupied. Public opinion has no impact on public policy. But we also live in a land where, for those in power to stay in power, the public has to believe it is in charge. Otherwise, we might just become rebellious. (I doubt it.)
Part of this system of control by illusion is having what appears to be a viable news industry.I notice on TV and in movies, reporters are always portrayed as dogged, indefatigable and in-your-face inquisitive.
In truth, those in the news business cannot be of overly inquisitive or suspicious of people in power. They have to be kept on a leash.
How, then, can we train them to dumb down, to lose curiosity, and still be proud professionals? Here is part of the method beyond mere natural selection: We hammer it into their skulls in journalism school that their job is to be objective, to fairly represent all (usually “both”) sides of an issue, write a story and move on. If a reporter starts sneaking around in the shadows and asking pertinent questions, there will quickly be a call to a publisher who will tell the editor to tell the reporter to knock it off. Generally it will be couched in jargon, as in “You’re losing professionalism, becoming emotionally involved. You’re not being objective.”
Here is a quote I wrote down years ago, from Nicholas Johnson, former FCC Commissioner:
A reporter …first comes up with an investigative story idea, writes it up, and submits it to the editor and is told that the story is not going to run. He wonders why, but the next time he is cautious enough to check with the editor first. He is told by the editor that it would be better not to write that story. The third time he thinks of an investigative story but he doesn’t bother the editor with it because he knows it’s silly. The fourth time he doesn’t even think of the idea anymore.
After repeat episodes of unauthorized curiosity, the reporters will either be fired or consigned to a section of the business so boring as to force him or her to move to a new line of work. That’s why our best reporters are freelancers.
Here’s another, from the late Howard Zinn:
There was never, for me, as a teacher or writer, an obsession with “objectivity”, which I considered neither possible nor desirable. I understood early that what is presented as “history” or as “news” is inevitably a selection out of an infinite amount of information, and that what is selected depends on what the selector thinks is important.
This all came to mind as a chapter of my life closed a couple of weeks ago. Ronald Tipton, the man who DNA and circumstantial evidence says raped my eight-year-old daughter in 1987, was officially let go by our justice system. The United States Supreme Court ruled that due to statute of limitations, he cannot be tried. He walks free.
It is a perverse system of justice that imprisons an innocent man for fifteen years and lets a guilty man go, but that is the story at its end. The final nine have ruled.
To be blunt, I was in an unhappy marriage anyway, a turned teetotaler married to a heavy drinker. On that night in 1987, I was stone-cold sober and sleeping alone in our basement bedroom. My then-wife was very drunk. Consequently, I was the only sentient adult in the house.
My daughter went public with her story in 2017, approaching a reporter who probably sensed a Pulitzer in the works. There was a three-part series in which my ex was featured prominently wearing her kindly mommy mask. Those articles were a blind side to me. I was not called or consulted. The entire history of that night was rewritten to my ex-wife’s benefit. My daughter told the reporter not to contact me. That should have raised antennae, but you know how it is … Pulitzer!
Lee Enterprises also printed a story (prior to the emergence of Tipton in 2014) to the effect that I, the father, had raped my own daughter. That was advanced by Mike McGrath, then Attorney General of Montana, and in all fairness, a man of integrity. I have his letter of apology on file. His words, uttered during a contentious deposition, were never meant to be made public. They were leaked. At that time my daughter had not gone public, so that my name was not spelled out, but many, many people knew it referred to me. There was not a thing I could do. But how, pray tell, does such a story get aired without me even given a chance to deny?
And how did such a rumor get its start? I have my suspicions.
Here is the larger point: During the time since the emergence of Tipton, I have never been contacted by a detective, public attorney, or news reporter. I am the single best witness to the crime beyond my daughter, and have been written out of the narrative. That is really, really bad journalism. I have contacted the reporters who wrote the stories, asking them why I am left out, telling them bluntly to interview me, hit me with their best shots, no advance warnings. I have nothing to hide. Crickets.
In part that is the power of my ex-wife, who most likely subtly coaxed my daughter into going public as a way of getting her bullshit story out before a Tipton trial.
Another part is the power structure in that small town, Billings, Montana. The wrongfully accused and imprisoned man, Jim Bromgard, lost fifteen years of his life. It was not simply a mistake. He was framed. He was powerless, a troubled kid anyway, and police needed to solve a horrible crime. So they hung it on Jim. It was not all of them, for sure. Only those in the police department and county attorney’s office with juice could have forced that bizarre trial. Bromgard was given a drunk for an attorney and a man appeared on the stand who convinced the jury (and me) via hair samples that the odds heavily favored Jim being the culprit. It was nonsense, bad science, but it carried the day. They decided to sacrifice the kid to mollify the public.
Jim was awarded $3.5 million for malicious prosecution. God bless him .
This is all of it, and in total it is, my friends, a story. It will never see light of day beyond this blog. That is how real journalism works. Telling that story, seeking out my viewpoint, ratting on the rats who framed Jim, would not be objective. It could get someone fired.