Rant Part 1
The sad ego-stroking of the LeBron James/ESPN debacle got me thinking about the sad state of journalism today. Sure, ever since Walter Cronkite left the studio nobody with operative synapses thinks that the vast majority of television “news” programs have been anything more than a nonstop orgy of veneered teeth and softball celebrity interviews punctuated by car chases. Still, a basketball player raising his imperial hand and decreeing that a one-hour program be devoted to his decision about where he would play next is disturbing enough to churn of J-school notions of ethical behavior in even me.
It also reminded me of a favorite quote from what the English baron we call Lord Byron wrote in the 19th century about the writer’s game:
Condemn’d to drudge,
the meanest of the mean
and furnish falsehoods to a magazine
George Gordon Byron nailed it. I’ve been there as a print writer and, criminy, is journalism ever fraught with ethical accommodation, willful self-delusion, and la-de-dah cynicism
Here’s an example from my own file of shame. I once interviewed a sitting Mexican president for a magazine question-and-answer piece. Well, I was supposed to. I flew to Mexico City, overnighted at the Camino Real, and the next morning was taken to Los Pinos, the Mexican White House. I was met there by El Presidente’s press secretary, who cheerfully informed me that after months of negotiations and the promise of the magazine’s cover that his boss would be unavailable.
“Um, how about tomorrow, “ I stammered, stunned.
“Sorry, no.” He paused and smiled. “I’ll do the interview for him.”
I sputtered something about this being a Q&A regarding crucial aspects of the drug situation in Mexico, foreign policy, the kind of stuff that would appear in quotes. The press secretary shrugged that Mexican shrug that conveys the idea that not much can be done. So we sat down and I turned on my tape recorder and the press secretary channeled his boss.
When I got back to the hotel, I placed a panicked call to my editor with the news. He was silent for long moments.
“Who else knows?” he asked in a voice I thought was far too level.
I said nobody but us and the president’s staff. The editor told me to come back with the tapes.
The piece ran as a Q&A a couple of months later, El Presidente beaming from the cover. The piece was so well received that parts of it were quoted extensively in the U.S. But in Mexico, the entire Q&A ran, on the front page of Mexico’s biggest daily.
Rant Part 2 will follow anon.