It's been a while since I've done one of these under the old official name of the franchise, but given the recent influx of new readers I wanted to start bringing this feature back to DXM. A couple of nights ago, Aaron Sorkin's HBO show The Newsroom began with a well-written and impassioned mea culpa delivered on-air by the show's fictional news anchor, Will McAvoy. The soliloquy was everything you'd expect out of Sorkin; specifically it presented an important subject, in this case the American news media, not how it is but how intelligent people wish it would be.
Basically, McAvoy issued an "apology" to his audience for his complicity in bringing crap into its collective living room every night and for willingly contributing to the "dumbing down" of the American electorate. He copped to his own failures and promised to try to do better. It immediately reminded me of something I wrote for this site way back in February of 2007 in which I apologized for the TV news media's coverage of the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Admittedly, I was "in the closet" at the time -- working for CNN without divulging it here -- and I continued to be a part of the problem until being unceremoniously shown the door a year later. With that in mind, I can't get on too high a horse.
But what McAvoy alluded to during his fictional statement of purpose was correct in the real world: There are literally thousands of smart, dedicated, hard-working journalists in the news media who never signed up to cover garbage; who don't want to inflate every minor controversy or random event to the point where it explodes across the airwaves and pages day after day and night after night; who know that the truth is what journalists strive for and that it and it alone represents fairness, as opposed to some phony concept of forced objectivity; who understand that adding to the noise in the echo chamber in the name of the almighty ratings dollar demeans them and their chosen profession.
There are those who still remind us never to forget 9/11, as if such a thing were possible. I would, however, also remind everyone who takes an interest in being an informed populace that in the weeks just prior to 9/11 the mainstream news media as a whole was almost singularly fixated on trying to terrify every man, woman and child in this country into believing that he or she was about to be eaten by a shark.
And great white sharks have now been spotted off Cape Cod and the West Coast.
"And Now an Apology in the Form of an Open Letter To America" (Originally Published, 2.15.07)
Dear American Public,
I have no excuse. I have no defense.
I am a member of the American news media and have been for some time. This means that on more than one occasion I have -- willingly or unwillingly -- foisted upon you the trite, the inane and the monumentally ridiculous, and done so under the auspices of my supposed right to inform and educate you as to important events which affect your lives. I have been party to the beaming into your living room of seemingly endless video loops of JonBenet Ramsey dressed as a five-year-old prostitute. I have encouraged various interchangable Ken-and-Barbiesque meat-puppets, pompous and breathless, to sincerely attempt to convince you of the hidden threat lurking in your underwear drawer. I have conspired to make you believe that you were, at any given moment, in danger of being eaten by a shark. I have actually written the words "every parent's nightmare" -- more than once, in fact. I have dispatched correspondents to Aruba in search of Natalee Holloway. I have marveled at the ingenuity behind using an episode of Dateline NBC to promote The Apprentice. I've been good friends with Rick Sanchez for sixteen years.
In short, I have betrayed you. I have betrayed your trust.
I have let you down.
Yet I've never felt compelled to humbly ask for any sort of forgiveness for my offenses. I have never felt true shame, both for myself and my chosen profession. Until now.
I'm sorry for the coverage of the death of Anna Nicole Smith.
I'm sorry that so many supposedly venerable news organizations have elevated the all-but-inevitable self-destruction of a B-list former-stripper, Playmate, hack actress, gold-digger, tabloid queen, and all-around piece of human flotsam to the lofty heights of near-Shakespearian mythology. I'm sorry that we have treated an absolutely meaningless event as if it were somehow nothing short of a cultural earthquake, sure to send reverberations and tremors throughout society until they shake the very foundation -- the very soul -- of every man, woman and child in America. I'm sorry that we have devoted hour after hour to discussing and debating such asinine subjects as the paternity of this horrid woman's baby, even being willing to proclaim, with a straight face, that its father might be the husband of Zsa Zsa Gabor. I'm sorry that we've allowed Wolf Blitzer and Diane Sawyer to look no better than Pat O'Brien and Maria Menounos. I am truly sorry that we have, even for a moment, lent a shred of credibility to the opinions of Nancy Grace.
During the past week, those charged with the awesome responsibility of relaying to you the global, cultural, political, economic and medical news which you rightly expect and demand from us, have instead willingly allowed ourselves to be taken hostage by every permutation of loathsome, opportunistic degenerate -- each claiming to be able to add yet another spoonful of pabulum to the pot we're all too happy to stir. During the past week, hundreds of American soldiers and innocent civilians have been killed in Iraq -- as our focus shifted to one minor celebrity who died just off the Florida Turnpike.
We have failed you.
We have failed ourselves.
The only possible consolation is that many of us are well aware of our own ethical bankruptcy in the continued pursuit of this absurdity. I could explain at length my own feelings in the matter, but better I allow an anonymous colleague of mine to be the eloquent, impassioned and utterly frustrated voice for the thousands currently toiling away on this story at otherwise-reputable news operations across the country:
"I'm sorry, but I did not spend tens of thousands of dollars in school to cover this bullshit. She's a celebrity for fucking the unfuckable; that's not an accomplishment. I actually announced to the newsroom this morning that I didn't go to journalism school to cover a two-bit Texas whore and that, if this was the kind of news we were covering, I could use my diploma for toilet paper. It's unbelievable. BREAKING NEWS??? I'm really sorry that the drug addict OD-ed, but that's what happens when you're an overweight drug addict."
Couldn't have said it better myself.