No Honor Among Thieves: The death of real Journalism.

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Now let me be clear I’m not a journalists, I’ve never written an article for anywhere and I’ve never been to journalism school but that won’t keep me from talking about the state of one of the world’s oldest professions.

Over the last few years there have been many scandals and abuses of gov’t involving politicians and lets face it politicians can be some really grimy individuals.  They are often caught with their pants down either playing with our tax dollars or they are caught literally with their pants down (Mark Sanford anyone). Often the exposure of these incidents are a result of good journalism and substantial evidence to back up the story. Like when then-congressman and current NYC mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner was caught sending private pics over his very public Twitter acct. and media caught him in his repeated lies using the pictures and doing good background research. At home here in Ontario we had the Ornge scandal, where good investigative journalism by Kevin Donovan of the Toronto Star exposed the gross waste of government money, by not only bureaucrats who were not willing to manage this operation, but by the company hired to do the work for the gov’t. These were considered acts of good political journalism and that continues (emm.. Duffy-gate) because of strong factual evidence and records to corroborate the story. But despite the good political journalism  that occurs there is a growing cancer within journalism, something that threatens the reason journalism is treated as the 5th estate of politics in this country, something that threatens to kill journalism as we know it:

Lack of Journalistic Integrity & Credibility

One of the pillars of good journalism is obtaining something to substantiate your reporting, some evidence of your assertion. Whether its the financial records of a company to back up fraud allegation or video/recorded evidence of personal instances of lying or cheating in someone’s personal life, evidence is crucial to maintaining journalistic integrity.

Imagine…

  • Watergate without the tapes & Nixon’s lies?
  • Monica Lewinsky without the blue dress and DNA?
  • The Words Sponsorship, Senate, E-Health without auditors reports?

They Likely would just be a…welcome_mat Without the evidence, these cases are not the landmarks in Political Journalism in the US and here in Canada that they are today, they would have been unsubstantiated claims that lack the integrity of hard evidence to back them up.

Why do you think people who subscribed to the notion that Obama was not born in Hawaii labelled as crazy… they lacked evidence so their claim lacked credibility.

So why do many “Journalist” seem to think that Journalistic Integrity & Credibility doesn’t matter so much in their reporting? Why is getting the exclusive, getting the scoop or in some cases pushing an agenda mean more than evidence? It almost seems like some writers, and more importantly their editors, believe that pushing the story is more important than getting the story right; “Scandal first, evidence be damned”.

That mentality might be the reason why, the largest newspaper in this country, the Toronto Star ran a story of their allegations of a video that showed the Mayor of Toronto allegedly smoking from “What looks like a Crack pipe” and that he was smoking crack cocaine (one day recently, in the afternoon, during the winter as they wrote it). A story that their own editor and writers admitted in interviews, didn’t feel confident in printing until U.S. tabloid site Gawker, had posted it on their website. That reluctance (they apparently held the story for weeks) makes one wonder; What journalistic test did they fail before that somehow passed because Gawker released the story. John Miller a former editor at the Star asked the same question.

I have no issue with how or why the Star decided to pursue the story. From the account of its reporters, they appear to have done so diligently and responsibly. But the paper’s editors obviously decided they didn’t have enough to publish… Somebody else was onto the story, and it didn’t seem to matter that “somebody else” was a website with limited resources and a questionable record for deciding what news the public should be interested in… but the long Star story was missing something even more significant — why the paper changed its mind and decided to publish.

John nails it, that question needs to be answered because journalistic integrity calls for that question to be answered, it requires that the Star follow its own editorial principles which states:

“The public interest is best served when news sources are identified by their full names. The Star should be aggressive in pressing sources to put information on the record and should seek independently to corroborate off-the-record information. “The Star does not provide anonymity to those who attack individuals or organizations or engage in speculation — the unattributed cheap shot. People under attack in the Star have the right to know their accusers.”

Its quite clear that they held this story because they knew they didn’t have enough to go on. The lack of a named source, date and location, research of the Mayor’s schedule during that noted time were all things that were predominately missing from this almost three full page “expose”.  And I’m sure that these two highly respected journalist dug as hard as they could to obtain more info, looking to corroborate their claim, especially the smoking gun, the video, but alas no dice. Yet The Star goes out and prints their allegations based on her say evidence, and for The Star to make such a serious allegation without having cleared that major tenant of proper journalism is a shame. This is not what the 5th estate is suppose to do.

When I questioned independent journalist and occasional Star contributor Denise Balkissoon about Donovan, Doolittle and the Star providing more proof about their own allegations towards the Mayor she said this:

Denise Balkissoon's response to if evidence matters in a story

Now as she stated to me she doesn’t work directly for the Toronto Star but I think her answer is a prime example of the disdain that much of the current political media core has for evidence based story telling. They forget that we need them to be as accountable with their facts as government should be accountable with our money.

The Toronto Star isn’t the only one running columns without evidence when it comes to the swirling cloud of controversy that is hanging over city hall, as the Globe and Mail ran a story this past weekend referring to the Mayor’s brother Doug Ford as a “go-to hash dealer” back in the 80’s as Doug was leaving high school. The Globes evidence of this, 10 uncorroborated accounts from people who stated that they were associates of the elder Ford. I’m a firm believer in unidentified sources when collecting evidence as long as you are able to find additional resources to back up the assertions or are explaining the other part of a story that has already been told (such as Christie Blatchford’s article regarding the Rehtaeh Parsons case). And before most of you get the impression that this is some pro-Ford, attack on the liberal media, conservative tirade understand that I often cringe at the sight of some of the “reporting” done by conservative hacks such as Hannity, Beck and even some of the Sun Media organization here in Canada, who tend to run off at the mouth with little facts to support their claim.

But How did this happen to our media?

How did we go from journalist like Walter Cronkite being the “Most Trusted Man in America”  to journalist being one of the least trusted professions in the country, right down there with the politicians they are suppose to hold accountable. Truly no honor among thieves.

Maybe its the struggle too stay relevant in a shrinking market (what with the internet explosion and social media becoming the go to source for news), maybe its over zealous editors pushing hard working journalist to sell a few more papers or get a higher rating. Whatever it is that has created this deeper darker side to journalism, a side that doesn’t care about both sides of the story, that simply shrugs off their own code of ethics for the next scoop or “Exclusive Story”, the media needs to find it, choke it out before the profession as it has been know dies because of it.

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Posted on May 27, 2013, in Media Watch, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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