Much of the country’s punditry is debating the Trump administration’s decision to revoke the press credentials and White House access for CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta. Cries of censorship, banana republic-style vindictiveness, and yet more comparisons to the Nazis are in abundance.
This has set off another of the media’s rallying cries. That is, President Trump’s labeling of the news media as the “enemy of the people.” Nothing seems to anger my colleagues more than that accusation, and that’s not surprising.
But here’s the thing, are we sure it isn’t true?
I have a confession that most people who know me won’t find very shocking. In my two-and-a-half decades as a TV news producer, I’ve felt like the enemy of the people on too many nights to count.
Here’s why: the American news media is oozing with three distinct biases that serve as a regular attack on the public at large. The first and most powerful bias is the media’s propensity to promote negative stories. I first learned this during my six long years in local TV news where the “if it bleeds it leads” philosophy was drilled into my head early and often. Crimes, fires and hyped up scare tactics before every snow flurry or rainstorm were the norm for the news programs I produced in the 1990s. I felt dirty every time I broadcast a mug shot, perp walk or video of a crime scene that I knew likely fed into a racial and geographic stereotypes still too rife in America today. Sometimes I succeeded in diverting the focus to other kinds of stories. Usually, I failed.
Anyone who watches local TV news in America for even three nights and doesn’t think it serves as an enemy of decent society is really not paying attention.
But local news is an easy target. The national news media also isn’t equipped or inclined to focus on the more positive news that’s just as abundant in America. Yes, it’s true that frightening and negative stories usually get more ratings and clicks than happier or more encouraging stories. If the reason that the news media focuses on bad news is because it sees it as a more lucrative enterprise, then so be it. However, it can’t do that and also pretend it’s not acting as a potential enemy of the people every time it does so.
The second serious bias in American journalism is geography. Despite the explosion of news sources over the past 25 years because of the internet, a greater percentage of professional journalists are based in New York City and Washington, D.C. than ever before. It is a result of simple economics. Newsroom employment fell nearly 40 percent between 1994 and 2014. More news organizations are run by conglomerates that pool their resources and never set out from New York City to see what is happening at their “sister” network in Fort Wayne, Ind. It also leaves much of rural and Midwestern America out of the picture. Ignoring that large swath of the public is a form of hostility that at least makes the news media unwitting enemies of the people in those areas.
The third news media bias is political, and the mainstream media’s liberal bias has been dissected thousands of times over the years. By not seeking a more fair and balanced approach rather than activism, most of the news media are acting as enemies of the American people who deserve more honesty.
More and more of today’s journalists are seeking to be more like liberal activists than reporters. An example of this is NYU Journalism Department Chairman Jay Rosen, who says being an activist and being a journalist need not be mutually exclusive.
That wouldn’t be so terrible if journalists actually knew enough about the “truths” they’re telling the public. Degrees or licenses are not required to be an American journalist, (nor should they be), which is why we often have reporters telling us about “Israeli atrocities” committed in places those same journalists couldn’t find on map a week earlier.
If only the marketplace, as in readers and viewers like you, demanded true expertise from all our journalists and gave our time and money only to those outlets who employed knowledgeable professionals.
The good news is no matter who gets their credentials pulled or whose work appears on our TV and iPhone screens, we still have that power. Until more of us use it, too many of the Jim Acostas and Neil Munros of the world will dominate the media and continue to attack our society’s vital access to information. The question is, when will the rest of us use our rights to censor those bad aspects and bad actors in the news media who don’t deserve our attention in the first place?
Jake Novak has been a TV news producer and editorial columnist for more than 25 years, with expertise in political, economic, religious, and cultural issues. He has produced shows at CNBC, CNN, FOX, and several local stations across the country. Novak is a graduate of the Yeshivah of Flatbush, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University, and a master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny and watch out for future columns on 5TJT.com.