CARLTON FLETCHER: Media must share blame for leaders' failures

OPINION: An unbiased media is no longer the norm in 21st-century America

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

And we’ve got no class. And we’ve got no principles.

Alice Cooper

A few weeks back — it may be months now, all this election stuff has me dazed and confused — I wrote a column about how our government has failed us, how, based on their strategy of doing nothing, blaming the other side and counting on our ignorance in the next election cycle, we should do everything in our power to get the people in the White House and in Congress out of office.

I got some interesting responses to that column, but the one that stayed with me and hit closest to home was one from someone I’d grown to respect through his well-thought-out responses to stories that appeared on this newspaper’s website before the rules for such became more restrictive. His comments were usually not of the knee-jerk variety, were much more analytical than some of the regulars who essentially used their anonymity to air pet peeves and personal gripes.

Since I’m printing part of that gentleman’s email without discussing it with him, I’ll not use his name here:

“You lament, properly so, that our government can’t seem to work for the people. You blame the people for not seeking out the facts, assuring us that with effort it can be found. I have always believed that the function of a free press, and those who claim to be journalists, is to keep the people as fully and accurately informed as possible. Without the press performing honestly and without bias, we are at the mercy of those who the press prefers. I believe the American press, as a whole has failed to be impartial. The evidence is overwhelming. … A failed press is a major part in the predicament we face. Why compromise if you are confident that the press will demonize the other side into submission?”

I think anyone with an open mind can see why I respect this man’s opinions.

The media, especially the national media, spend almost as much time telling us how unbiased — how “fair and balanced” — they are as they do reporting the news. Back in the days of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow and Mike Royko and Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, there was no need for such self-justification. As my email correspondent noted, the function of the media has always been to report the news, unbiased and unfiltered.

Now, however, with Fox News, CNN and several other electronic and print media outlets making news themselves for their blatantly and overtly politically slanted coverage of news stories, a confused public finds itself basing its opinions — indeed, quoting and voting — on “facts” that are nothing more than talking points of candidates who have either sought or bought favor with a particularly partisan media outlet.

Even on the local level the public has been spoonfed news stories that paint a preferred candidate in a favorable light or offer nothing more than sound bites that give no insight into candidates’ abilities to serve their constituents. In this fast-paced, get it out first, worry about facts and accuracy later coverage, the public is left with little on which to base its support for a candidate.

I believe today’s journalists are, to some degree, victims of the times. Many may have pure intent, but most end up swallowed by the machine, afraid to stick to principle when it might cut into their readers/viewers, Web hits or Facebook “likes.” So many abandon their integrity, choosing style over substance.

I’d like to proudly proclaim that I’m above such shoddy journalistic practices, that I’ve somehow maintained my journalistic integrity and purity. I’ve consciously sought to provide equal coverage for local officials and candidates, many of whom I don’t personally like — and who don’t personally like me — and for the most part I’m satisfied with the results. But in the back of my mind, there’s this nagging question of motive and whether I allowed personal interests to cloud my coverage, even if subconsciously.

I guess that’s the dilemma for most journalists, just as it is for most politicians. In the end, no matter what high standards we seek to attain, we are all still just humans being, complete with the inherent failings that that entails.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.