Rolling Stone and journalism by meme

It’s getting hard to keep track of it all. From the over-the-top coverage by CNN of the Ferguson, Mo., affair, to Rolling Stone‘s imploding UVA rape story, to the likely demise of The New Republic, it’s the media themselves who have lately been the story.

And not a good one. Recalling the recent CNN panel that raised their hands in “solidarity” with the Ferguson protesters, Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner awarded CNN four out of five “screams” for endorsing this discredited narrative.

{mosads}Meanwhile, the Rolling Stone story, about which the magazine says it is in the process of “re-reporting,” has been denounced by just about everyone, including Lizzie Crocker at The Daily Beast, who wrote a piece under the headline “What the U-VA Rape Case Tells Us About a Victim Culture Gone Mad,” and Jeff Jacoby of The Boston Globe, who wryly observed that the “journalistic priesthood holds to a different standard, one that elevates the higher truth of an overarching ‘narrative’ … above the mundane details of fact.”

In the same piece, Jacoby makes reference to a recent speech given by Univision’s Jorge Ramos, on the occasion of his receiving an award from the Committee to Protect Journalists. Uttering a line that ought to have caused great concern to the organization giving him the award, Ramos said: “The best of journalism happens when we, purposely, stop pretending that we are neutral and recognize that we have a moral obligation to tell truth to power.”

It’s not clear which is the more disturbing part of that sentence — its call for “point of view journalism” or the suggestion that reporters are merely “pretending” to be neutral. In all fairness, Ramos is a better reporter than media critic, but if his advice were universally heeded, there would be less need for a Committee to Protect Journalists than for a Committee to Protect the Public From Journalists.

And then there’s the mess at The New Republic, occasioned by the firing of the magazine’s editor and subsequent mass resignations. In one piece in The New Yorker, the author lays the blame squarely on the young owner of The New Republic, Chris Hughes, and makes this startling statement: “It’s true that journalism is in crisis, but the crisis has nothing to do with the work journalists actually do.”

Really? If that’s the case, then how to explain the steep decline, as measured by numerous polling organizations, in the public’s view of the news media, print and electronic alike? Could it be that the public perceives, and disapproves of, the rampant misuse of narratives and memes (a “war on women”/green is good/inequality is bad) as the basis of what constitutes news, and the way to report it?

There’s nothing wrong with memes per se, but if that is all one needs to know, how are we to measure the efficacy of laws and regulations, such as environmental or poverty programs? Is it correct, as some feminists have argued in the wake of the unraveling of the Rolling Stone story, that particular facts don’t matter when measured against the alleged increase in campus rapes?

Sad to say, many in the media have adopted wholesale many such narratives, such that today “identity politics” and a “victim culture,” subsets of a rampant and toxic political correctness, often seem to overwhelm the reporting of such matters as fiscal and monetary policy, war and peace, or the shared needs and problems of America’s struggling middle class.

It’s not a pretty picture, and it’s not clear that there’s even a will to make it better. But make no mistake, even as the legacy media have a severe business problem occasioned by the growth of the Internet and digital media generally, they also have a journalism problem with huge numbers of the news-consuming public that, if not addressed, will undermine their future efforts, no matter what the delivery platform.

Maines is president of the Media Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes free speech, sound communications policy and journalistic excellence. The opinions expressed are those of Maines alone.

Tags Chris Hughes Jorge Ramos Journalism meme narrative Rolling Stone The New Republic

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