Dienstag, Februar 27, 2007

Why You Shouldn't Believe Journalists...

There are those who venerate certain journalists, like Edward R. Murrows and Ernie Pyle.

There is even a decent analysis here that covers why journalists are considered to be heroes:

People have always been curious about the flaws and eccentricities of their neighbors. In the fifteenth century, the earliest journalists, the professional news-ballad writers, quickly figured out what the public wanted to hear and buy: verses about executions, battles, coronations, crimes, violence, scandal, witches, oddities and magic. This was tabloid journalism in its infancy. The rhyming newswriters originated the image of the newsmongering journalist who gives the public what it wants no matter how ugly or coarse the story and its presentation may be.

On the big screen, the image of the journalist was magnified and put in noisy motion. Newspaper stories were filled with adventure, mystery and romance. They were tough urban modern talkies. The journalists were immediately defined on-screen by brashness and cunning.

By the early 1920s, audiences already knew that reporters were involved in some kind of story, no matter how bizarre or melodromatic. They accepted this as a matter of course.

The reporter as detective is probably one of the more popular categories, since both the journalist and the detective are curious inquirers trying to solve a mystery, whether it be a crime or a complex untold story.

The undisputed journalist hero is the war correspondent... During the 1940s, the war correspondent became a national folk hero. ... Some war correspondents were a variation on the oldest stereotype in newspaper films - the crime reporter. ... The war reporter is the perfect hero, whose daily work involved patriotism, danger, violence and drama. The war correspondant is where the action is, and a whole nation holds its breath while they risk their lives overseas to get the story back to the home front.

There is no denying that people like Murrows and Pyle were heros in this sense: they were out there, did the walk and deserved their fame.

But now we find out that there are frauds out there as well. George Polk, for instance. Here is someone who shaped not merely the beginnings of modern American journalism, but also has a prize named after him. Who remains venerated as a hero.

But was and is a fraud. He embellished his career and lied about it: he wasn't who he claimed to be, and indeed never could have been. His actual, real military career was above average, but that wasn't good enough: he made himself into the top ace of the Pacific Theatre of the time (11 kills) and that made him a war hero.

But no one in the field of journalism bothered to actually fact-check someone like this: it took until this month, almost 60 years later, for someone to find out the man was a fraud.

What is interesting is that Seymour Hersh won not one, but two George Polk Awards.

And it is also interesting that Al Gore was a military war correspondent.

Goes a long way to explaining why Gore thinks he invented the internet and thinks that global warming is real: the need for a heel to be a hero.

Which just goes to underscore the point: you shouldn't believe journalists. If they can't even get the facts right - George Polk built his reputation on being a war hero that he wasn't - about their heros, why should anyone - anyone - believe that they can get their facts right on anything more complex than the wedding list of two lawyers on Long Island?

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