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Pressing Issues

Journalists Know Better Than to Publish Copaganda

The news out of Uvalde is worse with each passing day—and just the latest example of legacy media's failure to be critical of law enforcement.

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Almost all the news out of Uvalde, Texas, following the massacre at Robb Elementary was shocking, horrific, unimaginable. Perhaps the only unsurprising fact that has emerged is that law enforcement lied from the start about everything they did, and everything they didn’t do.

Anybody who’s covered night cops in a media market the size of a trailer park knows that your average local police department, at its best, is inept at communication, and the most charitable interpretation of their actions is “disorganized.” Paperwork gets lost. What somebody told somebody else gets forgotten or misinterpreted. Police, being people, lie to cover up mistakes, protect their reputations, shield their friends from consequences.

Yet our corporate press spent the first 24 hours of their coverage of the Robb Elementary School massacre airing every official pronouncement about the staggering badassery of the local cops in staging an Agincourt battle at the school. They broadcasted these claims uncriticized, unedited, handing a nationwide megaphone to municipal officials who shouldn’t be trusted to tell citizens the water is safe to drink.

When it became clear that every story recounted by the police chief, local GOP lawmakers, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at press conferences was absolute fiction— that cops had not only NOT prevented the killings but tackled and handcuffed innocent parents begging them to help—those same reporters expressed childlike shock.

They LIED to us! How COULD they? What IS the world coming to?

Whether you are freshly graduated from journalism school—hell, if you’ve so much as thought about applying to journalism school—your first instinct should be to assume that anyone wearing a badge or speaking at a podium is at least partially full of shit, and the tenor of your coverage should reflect that.

When officials lie to you—when, not if—your response should not be to ask in high dudgeon How dare they? The real question is: Why did you ever think you could believe them? You’re not supposed to believe them. Your entire job, your purpose on Earth, your reason for existing, is that they cannot be trusted and you have to verify. Otherwise why provide coverage at all?

The journalism around Uvalde has only gotten worse with each passing day since the massacre, with reporters continuing to air the words of GOP sources who’d already shown they couldn’t be trusted, allowing those lawmakers’ voices to drown out those of the parents and classmates of dead children. Hearings featuring wrenching testimony from survivors were characterized in a formula so familiar it’s starting to sound like a parrot screeching BOTH SIDES, BOTH SIDES.

Also up for a “one side says this, another says that” debate was the idea of showing people graphic photos of the children’s remains, in order to somehow shock or convince them, as if a public strongly in favor of gun control was the problem here.

Democrats—the only party remotely interested in solving any of our current national crises, however inexpertly they may go about it—were immediately pressured to get Republicans on board for “bipartisan” measures. Republicans faced no such pressure for their 20 years of intransigence on the issue of firearms, in the face of slaughter after slaughter.

Worse, subsequent coverage name-checked “Congress” and “legislators” as being unwilling or unable to address gun safety, without once mentioning that if Congress consisted of only Democratic legislators, assault weapons would have been ripped out of everyone’s hands yesterday.

The ongoing refusal to name the problem at the heart of America’s supposed gridlock on guns—Republicans—makes these stories nonsensical at best. Who is served by this kind of journalism? Who has a greater understanding of what is happening in and to America as a result of a story about “partisan intransigence” that makes no mention of one party’s repeated attempts to compromise and the other’s constant refusal to bend?

It’s as if, when levying blame for a forest fire, journalists divvied it equally between arsonists for spraying gasoline from a garden hose, and the fire brigade for wearing mismatched uniforms. And then the nation’s opinion columnists wondered aloud why the fire raged on, unchecked.

As infuriating as this imagined middle ground is, so too is the emerging “debate” over whether schools should be more like maximum security prisons. Corporate journalism’s love for jargon rarely serves readers well, as we’ve talked about before in this space, and on this issue it’s actively harmful to any sort of progress. 

Should schools be “hardened”? Should there be more locks, more bulletproof backpacks, more steel doors and armed teachers and metal detectors, and should every first-grade classroom be prepared to charge a machine gun nest before recess? Should we seed the soccer fields with land mines to prevent a gunman’s approach?

Should we consider seriously any ideas promoted by GOP politicians who’ll suggest anything and everything except getting rid of the weapon used in almost every mass shooting in the past 20 years?

There are very few jobs in journalism that allow for coverage of events and policies at the national level. They don’t need to be done by people who are astonished that officials lie. They don’t need to be done by people who find it uncomfortable to question authority in the midst of an ongoing crisis.

They don’t need to be done by people who find it acceptable to be brushed back from crime scenes, locked out of public meetings and lectured about civility by pro-gun politicians who refuse to answer a single question honestly.

Those journalism jobs don’t need to be done by people whose idea of speaking truth to power is simply using whatever words their sources use, from parroting talking points about arming teachers to using nonsensical language about making all students enter through a single door in every school in America.

Those journalism jobs shouldn’t involve airing live remarks by whatever lawmaker steps up to the mic, if that lawmaker’s big idea is simply for the entire country to pray. (Leaving aside the general idea of separating church and state, it’s simply monstrous to suggest that God somehow lets little children get gunned down at their desks in order to boost His follower count.)

Those journalism jobs SHOULD involve giving earnest thought and proper weight to whose voices are elevated in a time of crisis: those of the victims of violence, or those whose livelihoods depend on perpetrating and exacerbating it.

If those in the corporate press, so shocked by a lie from a local mayor or police chief, aren’t up to the bare minimum task of applying basic skepticism to pronouncements from on high, they should get out of their chairs and give up their spots to people who want to do journalism instead of whatever we’ve been witnessing for the past two weeks.

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