I stumbled upon The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel recently. In the 2007 book, Kovach, a former New York Times reporter and former editor of The Atlanta Constitution, and Rosenstiel, head of the American Press Institute, seek to identify what they see as the essential principles and practices of journalism.
Their first, and, presumably, most important element states: “Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.”
Having watched how the media handled the terrorist attack in Orlando, this is almost laughable.
An incident of obvious radical Islamic terrorism became, at the hands of mainstream journalism, merely an issue of homophobia and gun availability. Within a week, the worst modern mass shooting in this country had dropped out of the news almost completely.
This could not be accomplished had the media not enthusiastically followed cues and spin from the Obama administration. The administration refused to name “radical Islam” as the motive for the Orlando massacre, and the media, sadly, followed suit, repeating the absurd claim by Attorney General Loretta Lynch that the motive of the shooter, Omar Mateen, was simply unfathomable.
Obama and his spokespeople declared immediately that the issue was guns and gun availability. The mainstream media took that cue, too, and ran with it. The result was some of the most embarrassing, ignorant, and inaccurate journalism seen in some time.
Reporters nationwide, local and national, showed their ignorance of “automatic weapons,” “semiautomatic weapons,” “AR-15s,” “assault weapons,” “clips,” and “magazines.”
The relish with which the media followed uncritically and enthusiastically the administration’s cues conflicts starkly with two other important journalistic elements on Kovach and Rosenstiel’s list: “Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover,” and “It must serve as an independent monitor of power.”
The fawning media coverage of the anti-gun Democratic sit-in, in which Democrats tried to replicate a 1960s civil rights sit-in in support of taking away constitutional rights of citizens, ran directly counter to another Kovach-Rosenstiel element of journalism: “Its first loyalty is to citizens.”
That media bias against “the people” revealed itself a week later, in the coverage of Great Britain’s surprise vote to leave the European Union. Those on the winning side were widely characterized as uninformed, uneducated, xenophobic, racist, and worse.
It’s clear that if there are any elements of journalism left, they are merely trace elements.
Jon Ham (@rivlax) is a vice president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.