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Objectivity is Dead. Journalism Must Live.

Megyn Kelly probably thought she had a blockbuster for her new Sunday night interview show on NBC. By sitting down with Alex Jones she clearly planned to use her considerable skill as a no-nonsense interviewer to show the world just who this guy is. It probably never occurred to her that by giving him a platform she was promoting his horrifically unreal nonsense and bringing it to a wider world.

It’s the kind of hubris that Shakespeare made a career out of portraying.

The backlash is massive and there is little doubt it was a mistake. But shouldn’t we shine light on these princes of darkness, the purveyors of a land a few hours past the Twilight Zone? Yes, perhaps, but it takes a certain standard of journalism to do so. The sad thing is that journalism, personified by objectivity, is quite dead. Kelly can’t revive it, either. For better or worse, this is the time for the new daughter of objectivity to take charge of the family treasure, truth, for a new age.

Megyn Kelly in her Glory Daze at Fox.

First the disclaimer. I am not a trained journalist and my only degree is in Chemical Engineering. If that causes you to stop reading now, or at least take everything I say with a grain of salt by all means do so. But I can tell you that I have always been a lectovore, a voracious consumer of journalism. It begin at a young age when I was trained in the art by the greatest school for the next generation of journalism, the pages of the Miami Herald.

If you have ever read Carl Hiaasen or any of other reporters at this paper, you know what I mean.

The problem with Alex Jones and his ilk is a simple one. They are con artists, with an emphasis on the great art necessary to fool masses of people. Like any other artist, they know the rules very well and bend them to a new purpose – not divulging the truth but twisting it into a story which not only feels good but injects those feelings into the readers like an addictive drug.

Walter Cronkite was a slave to the truth. Alex Jones is its master.

Long time ago.

Actual journalism is quite dead. With the arrival of Trump, objectivity has lost all meaning and utility. No one actually makes use of the standards which made the press a critical democratic institution through the good old days, the American Baroque Era after WWII. The passing of this standard is just one of the many ways in which looking back to make American great again is only a dangerous fantasy.

In its place we have too much information, only some of it based on truth.

Whether we like it or not, the standard for the day is “infotainment.” Nothing can possibly make way through the damp fog of our new information age without having some shiny feature which grabs attention. Info is not enough, there must always be ‘tainment.

What people really want is to be entertained.

The death of “objectivity” as a standard is not entirely terrible. The old man served its purpose, but it gave a veneer of authenticity which wasn’t always properly earned. The new standard for truth has to have something for the heart and the guts as well as purely for the head. Reporters necessarily have to be involved in the story somehow, meaning that their perspective matters.

Megyn Kelly seems to think she has the chops to do this alone. Good as she is, she is almost certainly wrong.

Given the saturation of information which we have in our lives, the watchword these days has to be Context. A simple fact, such as the 20 children shot at Sandy Hook, is not enough. The classic who, what, when, where, and why can’t answer the questions raised. There has to be more to the story.  There has to be a connection to the relevant, real world.

The real king.

Providing something like Context is where con artists like Jones come in, of course. They understand what their audience is thirsty for and give it to them. Kelly, by relying on a one-on-one interview in the old school, is going to be forced to confront that wholly made-up Context by herself. The only possible antidote for this poison can be a greater Context, the truth in a greater scope.

This cannot come from one interview.

This leaves the other part of the story, the entertainment. What Jones is missing, along with other conspiracy peddlers, is the humanity at the heart of the story. Their craft is about the viewer or reader standing up against a monstrous machine, devoid of humanity, which their audience is compelled to fear. He is, after all, primarily an entertainer – one who tells stories.

Without Compassion these stories are completely empty. What makes the monster Jones dangerous is his complete lack of Compassion for the families of Sandy Hook, or Mark Rubin, or anyone else whose tragedy has become fodder for his con. While infotainment may seem like a terrible standard to accept, as long as it has genuine Compassion at the heart of it the authenticity which can only come from a human story can make it ring true through head and heart both.

The standard of infotainment becomes something like journalism as long as it provides both Context and Compassion.

Kelly alone with Putin. Another master of this darkest art, it was always his platform.

This is where Kelly’s mission to shed a light on Jones is doomed to failure. Sitting in a room with him, alone, removes the Context which is necessary to tell the whole story. Being “hard hitting” itself doesn’t change the fact that it is still his context. And it does nothing to bring Compassion to the story of a career where the finer art of being a decent human has been completely absent.

This will be Jones’ story because it will apply his standard, stripped of real Context and all hint of Compassion.

You can hit people like this all you want with hard questions, but they will always turn them back on you. Kelly, after all, sold out to the MSM long ago – so naturally the big machine has paid her to try to squelch Jones. This only proves how heroic he is and how scared they are that his “truth” will get out there.

As noble as it seems to want to shine a light into this darkness it’s far darker than credible people understand.

Without the human connection, the story is meaningless.

This is why we need a new standard. We have to insist on Context and we have to insist on Compassion. Everything that happens in our news has people in it somewhere, and it is always going to be their story first and foremost. How they intersect is the Context. How their hearts drove them into the connection is the Compassion.

It’s not the same old objectivity, for sure, but in the right hands it can and should be more powerful.

Megyn Kelly wants to make a name for herself doing good work, I am sure. She isn’t stupid and she does seem to have at least some sense of decency. But she is in way over her head. In the world of infotainment which she has found gainful employment in she needs a much firmer foundation on which to stand before she is going to be at all relevant.

Context and Compassion are what the world is hungry for. They need to be the new standards.

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9 thoughts on “Objectivity is Dead. Journalism Must Live.

    • Let’s see how she does. I predict that no one can take him on successfully in a setting devoid of context. Only the Sandy Hook parents can take him down.

  1. I know Megyn Kelly and the heads of NBC are defending their decision, but I believe this is nothing more than a heartless publicity stunt to kick her new show off the ground. Even worse, it’s a slap in the face to the Sandy Hook parents who Jones and his insane followers have accused of fabricating their children’s deaths. It’s absolutely sickening, and it’s certainly not journalism.

    • I agree it isn’t journalism because it will not enlighten. She also is going to be sucked into the next chapter of his story, which is a huge journalism no-no.

    • Only we, the consumers, can make it about more than our money. I hope I can provide tools for evaluating quality so that the free market can work more effectively.

  2. I think, Erik, you were right re only a Sandy Hook parent could confront him. I am very concerned about the increasingly fuzzy line between news and entertainment…actually, within the current circus-like atmosphere, the line is all but gone.

    Whether we are at the beginning of a contentious 4 or 8 years between the White House and the news media or a cataclysmic turning point in American history remains to be seen.

    But, in the face of such adversity, honest news gatherers—be they liberal, conservative, one person hunched over a laptop or an international conglomerate in a skyscraper—must defend themselves as an institution with its own formal and informal checks and balances on other American institutions, most notably government and business.

    To do this effectively, the news media needs unite with a large-scale outreach campaign to re-establish the credibility it desperately needs from American citizens and that the citizens need from the news media. Journalists must show the administration, the American people and the rest of the world that they will pursue the truth and will not be intimidated or quiet. While campaigns and slogans from individual media are positive steps, a larger, united campaign would be much more effective. It should focus on several goals.

    Primarily, explain why the First Amendment and freedom of the press are essential in a thriving democracy. Themes should include: government transparency, accessibility and accountability; real news versus fake news; critical thinking; freedom from intimidation; and other related issues. The campaign should use traditional mass media (television, newspapers, radio, billboards, bus boards, direct mail, etc.) and social media with a consistent logo, style and messages. The message should be straightforward and bold (e.g. “TRUTH IS OUR DUTY” or “PRESS FOR THE TRUTH” [if available]).

    Today’s professional journalists have solid educations; understand their subject matter; seek out multiple, reliable sources; fact check; accept oversight from experienced supervisors and will correct mistakes. Furthermore, freedom of the press is worthless if not tied inextricably to an ethical and moral obligation to be accurate and truthful.

    Are journalists perfect? Of course not. And people need to remember that journalist almost always pay a price for their mistakes and misrepresentations.

    So, secondly, the industry should identify reporters and news organizations that adhere to a code of ethics and professional standards as outlined by several news associations and organizations, displaying such designations just as other professionals do (e.g. CPAs).

    Thirdly, journalists need to share with the public a basic, agreed-upon industry-wide “fact-check” system displaying the accuracy of stories. It should focus on national, state and local officials and, importantly, the news media itself.

    Overall, though, the nation is best served a steady flow of accurate news stories that are fair to everyone yet fearful of no one.

    Freedom of the press was wisely included in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. That freedom must not change because the very Constitution which enables it also relies on it for its continued existence.

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