FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a proud hack-turned-flack. More than 10 years working in radio as an on-air personality and news director. More than 15 in traditional and digital public relations.
Additionally, and one of the proudest moments of my professional career, I sat on the board of the Press Club of Dallas. Now that I got that out of the way, I agree with most of you: the network news -- for lack of a more distinguishing word -- sucks.
Gone are the days of media lore. Eroded is the Mount Rushmore of journalism. Washed away are the memories of Murrow, Cronkite, Jennings, Hewitt, Shaw, and Brokaw. And all because of the tumultuous plight for the almighty dollar.
In the biz, they call those ratings.
What began as reporting the facts, telling the details, and sharing a story geared for a Pulitzer has become vocal arm wrestling, talking heads on TV in the form of the 'Brady Bunch' intro, and nothing but squawking opinions that leans completely to the left or the right.
North Korea. China. Vietnam. Russia. Cuba. And... America?! Yeah, about that.
Roll your eyes all the way in the back of your head to leer at your occipital lobe directly if you want, but this is precisely what is happening in today's White House, and it truly should be considered as it is -- an affront to a free press and our constitutional rights.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer (which, not for nothing, but doesn't a secretary work to serve the person in their title, like a secretary to the CEO) was holding a "gaggle" -- an affectionate term for a non-formal, and usually off-camera, gathering of the leering press to capture a statement -- following a White House briefing.
Only there was one wrinkled detail in the furrowed brow of the aforementioned media conduit. He neglected to invite half of the press -- the ones who have no qualms asking him questions that are not of the "softball variety."
The news outlets blocked from the press briefing included: BBC, BuzzFeed, CNN, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, New York Daily News, Politico and the Daily Mail (UK). Even the politically focused The Hill was given the boot. All real news outlets. All shunned by the beacon of our Constitution.
The cool kids invited to the presidential pep rally were: Breitbart, One America News, The Washington Times, and the usual suspects -- ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, Reuters, Bloomberg.
From the ironically titled Independent from the U.K.:
BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief, Ben Smith, also responded to his outlet being barred from the briefing: “While we strongly object to the White House’s apparent attempt to punish news outlets whose coverage it does not like, we won’t let these latest antics distract us from the work of continuing to cover this administration fairly and aggressively.”
It's that fair and aggressive behavior that led to these antics in the first place. But is it the first time? Absolutely not... and not from whom you think.
Many luminaries on the right side of things (figuratively speaking) will be quick to cite how the Obama Administration touted total transparency with the media and did nothing but show them the door -- a closed one.
There was a time when the Society of Professional Journalists led 38 major media outlets like the Pied Piper of Nielsen (media joke there) to the White House with strong accusations of "politically driven suppression of the news."
In short, Obama was doing the same thing Trump is doing now, with one exception -- one hid from the media, the other casts them out. Neither was right. Both blamed the other party. And the rest of us facepalmed so loud, it caused a ripple in the ionosphere.
Admit it, both sides of the political fence are hypocrites defending the other. Yet, this isn't close to the first time this has happened.
In fact, many consider the first media blackout to have happened in the 15th century. The culprit wasn't even running for office. It was the Catholic Church. Back in 1453 when this new-fangled thingamajig called the printing press was being developed by some German guy named Johannes Gutenberg. His idea was the mass printing of Bibles would reduce human error of... wait for it... interpretation.
Long story, short, this local community advocate named Martin Luther had something to say about the Catholic Church choking the life out of a written codex and only serving up vague opinion, so he decided to write some facts and ensure everyone saw them. These "95 Theses" created such a kerfuffle, a Civil War broke out, as did the first denomination of what was the Church.
Mass media has always been quelled by those in power because they are afraid of the masses having knowledge. From the French Revolution to the American one of the same name, uprisings occur when people are finally bold enough to fight for the information (among other things) they sorely lack.
People -- be they right, wrong, or indifferent -- do value knowledge. And while, as Nelson Mandela once penned, "education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world," the lack of knowledge is a weapon others use to keep the world the same.
While many Americans can develop a strong case of cirrhosis of the liver while watching President Trump say "fake news" 19 times during every press conference and public appearance, Donald didn't invent the term in a dank, gold-encrusted corner of Trump Tower.
A while back, Facebook was forced to dramatically change its algorithm because of the proliferation of biased news on people's timelines. In fact, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the Techonomy conference something that may have inspired Trump:
“Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, of which it’s a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea … I do think there is a certain profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason someone could have voted the way they did is they saw some fake news.”
While Zuckerberg and Trump are two good sources for fake citing of sources, neither are responsible for what has to be the most hated phrase of 2017. That most likely happened some 2,061 years ago.
You may recall a fetching young man with a fashionable hairdo (ergo 1990s) named Julius Caesar. There he is, addressing the Senate when a barbaric horde self-entitled as "The Liberators" led by Caesar's bestie interrupted everything to stab Rome's first emperor 23 times. A slight brouhaha began after that between two guys wanting Caesar's now empty throne -- Mark Antony, general of the Roman Empire and Octavian, adopted son of the deceased.
Why bring this up? Octavian knew what his people coveted more than anything -- information.
Regretfully, he lied his fine, tailored linen male skirt into a torch. (Yes, his pants on fire.) He had short, crass quips engraved on coins calling Antony a philanderer with this exotic Cleopatra chick, a drunk, and even questioned his intelligence. People believed the information and even Octavian's name change that gave an aura of power -- Augustus -- and he became the next Roman emperor.
Yes, fake news is otherwise known as propaganda. And if that word sounds familiar, ask this watercolor artist with a bad attitude and a snappy, upper-lip patch from Germany how that goes. Oh, by the way, Hitler refused to allow the press know anything because he insisted his portrayal of current events was what the people needed to know.
Coming Full Circle
"Fake news" is no stranger to the American people or any people for that matter. Neither is prejudice, lying to get ahead, bias, misled opinion, and dimwits believing whatever they read instead of doing the research themselves.
While nightly cable news is nothing more than roided-up talk shows with bloviating personalities these days, at times we do hear news. That is journalism. Sift through the muck. Set aside the mire. Find the facts and learn the truth. Again, this is journalism.
However, the people have always had a bias themselves -- they enjoy having access to information. The people do not find comfort in the media being exiled, nor does the media really appreciate being exiled from the people (otherwise known as viewers, listeners, readers, subscribers... you know, the folk who pay the bills).
And that brings us all the way back to Sean Spicer's classy and horrendously bad move. People didn't like it then. They don't like it now. The only difference between then and now is the actual practice of journalism. Octavian lied and it worked. Congress lies and it works for them. And why? The press -- no one believes what the other side is saying.
If you have your certain proclivity, you only allow a certain opinion of news through your filter. That's only because news is a talk show, fact is obscured by opinion, and distrust is as common as a gallon of hair spray on a news anchor's desk.
There was a time, albeit not too terribly long ago, when news was unbiased and opinion was never allowed. Those days are regretfully over and so are the times of working for just the sheer satisfaction of providing the people information (at the national level). No one is scared of another revolution, which is why Trump cries "fake news" in front of every microphone and Spicer is turning 50 percent of them off.
Distrust in the news is higher than ever before because the sharing of impartial information is at the lowest than ever before. Maybe that's why everyone -- including the President -- enjoys Twitter so much? There is no filter for fake news or the real stuff. It's information in real time, just the way Cronkite, Murrow, and the rest of journalism's Mount Rushmore intended it.
In 1970, Gil Scott-Heron was right. "The Revolution will not be televised." It won't. We have a difficult time trusting Congress, the press, and anyone else we encounter due to bias. A note to the current administration and the leering press, the more you keep babbling about fake news and blocking those whose deliver the real stuff -- the next revolution will be tweeted.