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The Media is Its Own Worst Enemy

I was so angry at myself and the craft I serve yesterday that I did what Keith Olbermann does, take the rest of the day off.

My sin was rushing to judgment in the firing of Shirley Sherrod, the black USDA official in Georgia based on a video from a website I don’t trust and this conspiratorial account on another website about the now defunct Journolist blog, a group of liberal journalists and academic advocates.

On the Sherrod story, I should have known better. It didn’t pass the smell test. My instincts were correct, however. It developed into the most heralded news story of the day.

But not what Sherrod said in the video, which in full context was an enlightening story of racial redemption. The video, taken in March, was a speech to an NAACP gathering where she talked about an incident with a white farmer 20 years earlier when she was employed by a non-profit rural farm enterprise.

Based on the censored video, Sherrod was fired by a deputy chief in USDA she said under pressure from the White House and then censured by the director of the NAACP.

As the full story played out, the USDA has refused to back down and the NAACP has retracted its condemnation, claiming it was “snookered.”

The Shirley Sherrod story is about race as the video censors intended, a vehicle to use race as a weapon to embarrass a political party and an incumbent Democratic president. Sherrod is an innocent pawn in this theatrical farce.

It is a story of how careers, if not lives, can be destroyed by the evil, self-serving whims of advocates on both sides of the political spectrum.

It was with equal disgust to read the extent a group of liberal journalists and academic airheads through their association with Journolist wanted to “protect” candidate Barack Obama from the right-wing attacks showing his pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a racial and unpatriotic zealot, again in highly censored video clips.

The loudest voices in this group suggested they fabricate racial bias smears against conservatives Fred Barnes and Bush political operative Karl Rove.

Here again, race is used as the trump weapon to prey upon an uniformed electorate knowingly harboring hidden racial feelings, regardless of which direction they leaned.

What the Journolist report reminded me was editorial meetings we held at the San Diego Evening Tribune on how to approach an upcoming political campaign. If anyone suggested we make up slurs about a particular candidate, he would have been fired on the spot.

You can’t fire websites. But you need not read them either, or, at best, take them at face value.

The problem with media in all its forms is that it is its own worst enemy. It cannot gain a public trust with lies and distortions yet that has been the way it is done. The first newspapers were launched to promote a political position and to hell with the truth unless it serves their own cause.

It remains that way today. Each media outlet promotes its own version of the “news.” Readers and viewers are attracted to these niche resources for they are assured their vision of what is right and just is constantly reinforced. Too many are too lazy to learn divergent expressions for that might distort their preconceived notions how the world spins.

I recently read a comment to a blog post where the author asserted he didn’t believe anything until five independent sources confirmed it.  Few, if any others, go to such extremes.
It is this dark side of the media that disgusts me. A thick skin, a good movie or ballgame, a night on the town, spending quality time with my son or exchanging emails with a trusted friend, a good night’s sleep, works for me.

I know the rules. I just don’t always follow them. My error in judgment yesterday was succumbing to the mythical beast: An attempt to be first. A gentle reminder to myself. There is no such thing as a “scoop.”

I awaken each morning, damn the torpedoes, and stumble, bumble and fumble through the myriad of news stories and opinions.

But never do I want to be a party of getting an innocent person fired nor participate in a conspiracy to fabricate slurs about a perceived enemy.

It is not my nature but an inherent fallacy in my craft.

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