Carl Bernstein, one half of the duo responsible for investigating and breaking the Watergate Scandal, published an article in The New Republic in 1992 titled “The Idiot Culture.” His article critiqued the current state of journalism following the Watergate scandal, most specifically criticizing the distorted coverage of American life by focusing mainly on celebrity gossip instead of what the American people truly face on a day-to-day basis.
The article also criticized other aspects of journalism such as the news business being more focused on breaking a big story while getting lost in the blur of information while serious questions that must be asked are left out.
“Reporting is not stenography,” Bernstein wrote in his article. “It is the best obtainable version of the truth.”
One would hope that 23 years later the business would be able to climb its way out of the hole. It hasn’t. I’ve spoken with colleagues about my love-hate relationship with Vice Media in the past few months. There are the articles that show Vice Media is arguably an outlet that cares more about going beyond the radius of pack journalism and seek out the news that really matters and is too often overlooked. Then there’s the article I read last month about the woman that made yogurt out of her vaginal secretions, or the articles about former students having sex with their teachers and not really enjoying it like they thought they would.
I’m just as much of the problem because I was more likely to read those entire articles and overlook things that are far more important such as news about international terrorism and our government’s failure to curtail the presence of ISIS in Iraq. The other major problem? The dishonesty of government officials.
In his article, Bernstein also spoke of the government saying some of the problems that were brought up were government officials who pointed their fingers at journalists for bringing up bigger issues, as though it were the fault of journalists and not government officials. For example, President Ronald Reagan’s comments in response to journalists uncovering the Iran-Contra affair: “What is driving me up the wall is that this wasn’t a failure until the press got a tip from that rag in Beirut and began to play it up. This whole thing boils down to a great irresponsibility on the part of the press.”
It was quite the contrary — the public deserved to know the information that was unearthed. That wrist-slapping mentality seems to be the same type of attitude the Obama administration maintains without the verbal disgust.
“This is the most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered,” said David Sanger, a New York Times national security correspondent in the 2013 Columbia Journalism Review.
The government seems to believe the fourth estate is an enemy of the state. Even if you go to a press conference oriented with the state government and ask the governor a question you’ll still get the run around if it’s truly something they’d rather not get out. The type of force journalists must put into a story in order to get a well-rounded view from both sides of the issue they’re covering comes down to a personal obligation to the public versus the compensation they’re allotted to follow those issues down the rabbit hole. Put bluntly, being a journalist is still a job and people must allow themselves to have a life outside of that work.
Those types of issues lead to content-filling articles about vaginal yogurt because let’s face it, that’s much more interesting than a politician refusing to comment truthfully about problems with passing a bill in the General Assembly or Congress once again.
The answer to these journalistic problems lies internally and externally. To boil it down, the self-involvement of the press and the failings of profiting properly off of online venues leads them to not care about the craft they are threading together or properly motivate them to continue through the rabbit hole to get a grasp on issues plaguing the U.S.