By Emma Austin
Both Marvin Kalb and Joseph Hayden argue that the quality of journalism declined in the 1990s. Kalb contends that the technological revolution and the changing business context of journalism “have transformed the news business from one tied to public trust to one linked to titillation and profit.” (p.253) Hayden contends that the growing emphasis on scandal stories in the 1990s compromised journalistic standards and eroded public confidence in the media. He also contends that Presidential scandals can enhance a President’s popularity while diminishing respect for him in the long term. How does the political rise of Donald Trump confirm or contradict the perspectives that Kalb and Hayden advance?
People are imperfect, so we’ll never see journalism done unquestionably ethically focusing on all the right stories all the time. As Kalb pointed out in One Scandalous Story, which looked at Clinton’s Lewinsky scandal, competition plays a key role amongst publications. If one newspaper breaks a scandal and attracts significant readership, other papers and networks are bound to pick it up so they aren’t left in the dust. We live in a world of capitalism, and unfortunately journalists aren’t immune to the system of how it works.
During Bill Clinton’s presidency, more people were probably likely to read a story about the Lewinsky scandal than a story detailing Clinton’s economic plan. I think that’s just how people are. Although the purpose of journalism isn’t to entertain, and I don’t think reporters see it that way, readers often look to the media for entertainment, and that’s why we have to fight against sensationalism.
Kalb said, “Journalism, largely because of the lure of money and glamour, has become an attractive alternative to politics.” First of all, I’m not sure I know anyone in the School of Journalism who’s in it for the money. Kalb raised some good points, but this is not one of them. Journalism is the fourth estate, not the fourth branch. It’s not a part of the government and shouldn’t be subject to its influence regarding how and what news is reported.
The Lewinsky scandal was probably not the most pressing issue facing the country during the 1990s, but the news media covered it, even though the White House clearly didn’t want it to be covered. I think holding the president accountable morally has a place in journalism, especially when he’s caught lying to the country.
I disagree that the quality of journalism has declined. Of course, I wasn’t alive before the 1990s to really be able to compare it to what I see now, but I’d like to believe journalists are always improving what we do. Certainly, we’re in a better place than we were 100 years ago when reporters and newspapers clearly had a political agenda and mindlessly blended opinion with truth.
During the last election cycle, I saw both sides of it: news outlets getting caught up in reporting on sensational Trump clickbait, and others doing real journalism by investigating the candidates and reporting on relevant issues.
However, I do have to say it’s strange to look at press coverage of Clinton scandals and comparing it to coverage of Trump’s moral failings. Clinton had affairs and was accused of sexual harassment. That got endless news coverage and attention from the country. Trump is a serial liar, he has repeatedly showed disrespect for women and has received multiple accusations of sexual harassment and assault, his company exploits workers for profit, he repeatedly name calls and bullies people around him, he has repeatedly failed to display basic human decency, calling Mexicans rapists, mocking a disabled reporter, calling McCain a loser for being captured in Vietnam. These are just a few examples of Trump’s lack of basic human decency.
Clinton’s problem led to impeachment. Trump’s led to being elected as president. Something’s just not right there.
I’m guessing the root of the problem goes deeper than the press and might extend to the American people as a whole. We should be examining what kind of news we value as a society and not dismissing the fourth estate as unimportant. It’s necessary.