Ethics shifting in journalism

Jon Stewart hosts the 80th Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California, Sunday, February 24, 2008. (Mindy Schauer/Orange County Register/MCT)  

Down is the new up. Nazi is the new black. Jon Stewart is the new Walter Cronkite. No, really. In a Time magazine poll this summer, 44 percent of Americans voted Stewart America’s best newsman.

Yes, they voted a comedian who breaks news at the wee hour of 11 p.m. in front of an empty newsroom America’s best newsman. It’s like saying you are better off with Letterman’s monologue than the 6 p.m. news, which you are.

I’m not here to champion Stewart, as there are so many doing so already, but rather to officially pronounce objective news as we once knew it dead. The political divide in this country is so vast now, that Americans aren’t interested in objective news.

This is why Fox News is the most watched cable news station and The Huffington Post is practically the only Web site that makes money: Americans don’t want to hear the other side’s viewpoints, they want to turn on the television and be told their beliefs are right.

This is alarming for myriad reasons, but mostly because this development rewards bias in journalism – an industry that needs watering down like I need a hole in my head. As a journalism major, I’ve only heard teachers preach about eliminating bias eleven-ty bazillion times. It is absolutely paramount that news be objective. Informing readers and exploring every side of an issue is the name of the game.

The alternative is producing coverage that helps no one. Reading a David Frum or Paul Krugman column doesn’t get you anywhere. These writers actually stop readers from thinking critically by sheltering them from half of the issue or story and feeding the beast that is their set of beliefs.

The role that money plays with news outlets is also troubling. It’s hard to trust anything that’s bought and paid for. The health care fiasco is a great example of this.

The system that’s being talked about is one that will preserve private insurance companies, even though every other country with a working health care plan has a single-payer system where the government is the payer. This is happening because the players on The Hill are bought and paid for.

President Barack Obama received heavy campaign contributions from private health insurance companies. Max Baucus, a Senator from Montana and chairman of the Senate Financial Committee, received $2.8 million from the health care industry. This money was given to ensure the health care companies would see tomorrow. Now, we may not.

Newspapers have always been tied to companies and businesses because they depend on them to buy advertisements, which basically funds the entire operation. Still, this not-so-clean relationship is nothing compared to politics or even television news, which seems ready and willing to whore itself out for their conglomerate ownership at every turn.

If you ever have the chance to watch MSNBC’s Morning Joe, don’t. Shows and anchors like this make Jon Stewart’s show every night, at least some Americans get it.

News is now a broken system. It’s come to the point of sacrificing journalistic integrity and succumbing to the pressure of corporate take over as its only route to survival in tough economic times.

It’s hard out there for all of us, but the ends don’t justify the means that leave America in the relative dark with the party line talking points as the only light on the horizon.

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