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July 5, 2008 Click here to mail this page to a friend.
Ignoring Clint Eastwood's advice in "Dirty Harry" that opinions, like certain body parts, are best kept to yourself.
Are Wordsmiths Creating The News?
From 2005: The Today Show was caught enhancing the news when two men walk right by a reporter ''canoeing in deep flooding''.word·smith
1. an expert in the use of words.
2. a person, as a journalist or novelist, whose vocation is writing.
[Origin: 1895–1900; word + smith]

Fifty years ago or so, I took a journalism class and remember the instructor cautioning students to "report the news, but do not become part of it", and "don't create news, report it". And, that's the way it used to be, but not so much anymore. Spend a few minutes watching network or cable news and you'll see what I mean. Leading news may be a story where no news exists, "Did Laura Bush smoke pot in college?" "Why isn't Obama wearing a flag lapel pin? Stay tuned."

Replacing correct terms and phrases in news articles with more powerful or misleading ones has taken over. For example, if a woman was knocked-down in a crosswalk by a car that just happens to be a sport utility vehicle, the headline will scream "WOMAN HIT BY SUV". They never say "woman hit by 4-door sedan". But, the SUV is considered by many to be a gas guzzling example of our excesses, and therefore much more evil than a regular automobile. If someone is shot with a deer rifle, the headline becomes more interesting if the word "assault" is substituted into the sentence. Being shot with an assault rifle makes this shooting, accidental or otherwise, spectacular.

Some stations delight in teasing the public with a breaking news story, trading journalism for promotion of a later newscast. Between sitcoms, the news anchor will jump in with a 10 second promo, proclaiming "Residents of a small Minnesota town had a big surprise tonight, details in one hour". In days gone-by, the reporter would have broken in to tell us a liquid propane tank in a small town had just blown-up.

Local television has become famous for launching "investigative reporting" of local businesses, ruining several in the process. During "Sweeps Week" ratings might increase if an undercover investigation of restaurant restrooms is shown on the 11 pm news, helped along by promos every 15 minutes all evening long, "Are the restrooms at your favorite restaurant SAFE?? Find out on Live-Action News tonight." While some real problems are often uncovered, for other establishments the results are often inconclusive and over-blown, causing serious economic problems for the hapless restaurant owners. Ratings for that station may have gone up that night, but at what cost?

Early newspapers in America were run by political parties, swaying news to fit their purpose, and that editorial bias is still here on the editorial page. While a paper may endorse one candidate or another, the news content is generally impartial, with some exceptions. Cable and satellite news can be very much one way or the other, the prime example may be Rupert Murdock's Fox News Network. When Bill Clinton was president, CNN was often referred to as the "Clinton News Network" because of the favorable reporting in that direction.

There have always been good reporters. Edward R. Murrow kept us informed about World War II from London, and later helped bring-down tyrannical Senator Joseph McCarthy, exposing him to the American people for what he was. Walter Cronkite's reporting on the Vietnam War helped bring that conflict to an end. Washington Post reporters Bernstein and Woodward wrote a story about the break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel, linking it to the White House. This, combined with Walter Cronkite's coverage on the evening news, made the entire nation aware of the scandal.

We have good reporters today, writing hard-hitting stories, but you don't see as much of it in the popular media, where the news seems to be dumbed-down for the masses.

The cable and dish services know what channel you are on. Watch the CBS Evening News tonight and help Katie Couric.Most major news anchors no longer get involved in working-up the news stories, except for an occasional special project, and are really news readers, some becoming more famous than those they are reporting on, living or dying based on the ratings. The private lives of these new celebrities become fodder for other wordsmiths, with supermarket tabloids exposing every indiscretion or personal problem. The sagging ratings of the CBS Evening News has become a news story everywhere, except on CBS.

Big news has become big entertainment.

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