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A long path to respectability

The Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism  is looking for a new director and the four finalists for the position have come to campus during the past several weeks to give their vision for the school and the future of journalism. I wish them the best of luck. They will need it.

Despite the candidates’ optimistic views, I’m pessimistic about the direction of the business. And today the media offered three more examples of the sorry state of contemporary journalism.

Rolling Stone

 A Virginia jury today found that Rolling Stone magazine and its reporter Sabrina Erdely guilty of defamation  in its portrayal of University of Virginia Dean Nicole Eramo.  The case arose from the false story “A Rape on Campus. ”

Eramo’s lawyer argued that Rolling Stone and reporter Erdely “…knew what they published about Ms. Eramo was false and defamatory.”  And that Erdely’s depiction of Eramo as the face of a university indifferent to rape victims was “actual malice.”   The jury agreed.

Fox News

Fox anchor Bret Bairer declared yesterday that Democrat Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “likely” would face indictment as a result of the FBI’s investigation of the Clinton Foundation.

Today he apologized for what he termed his “inartful” assertion.

Not surprisingly in this heated presidential campaign other media including The Washington Post,  Politico and CNN pounced on the story.

The mistake by Fox News reinforces the belief by many of the conservative network’s longtime opposition to Hillary Clinton and other political liberals.


 Meanwhile, Cable News Network (CNN) had its own embarrassing journalistic moments this week. Current Democratic National (DNC) Chair Donna Brazile, who also doubled a CNN “contributor”, was dropped by the network after it was learned she leaked questions to Hillary Clinton prior to one of the televised presidential debates.

The dust had barely settled when CNN’s Corey Lewandowski, former Donald Trump campaign manager, was photographed with The Donald’s current campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.

How low can we go

 The practice by the major networks and cable news channels of hiring former politicos and partisan wags as commentators has always been a bad idea. Whether it’s Jenna Bush or Chelsea Clinton,  who bring celebrity  but no journalism skill to NBC News,  CNN’s Donna Brazile wearing her DNC Chairwoman hat  or ABC’s George Stephanopoulos failing to reveal his $75,000 donations to the Clinton Foundation.  It simply is wrong.

No wonder we see so many ethical lapses by news organizations. It further damages media credibility when Americans’ trust in news organizations already is at an all time low.

Whenever I’m asked what I did for a living, I reply, “I was a journalism professor. But I’m not responsible for the way it’s practiced today.”

Can the media return to a time when the press believed in fairness and public service or at least made an effort to uphold that responsibility?  And the public had faith in the press?I’m dubious.

I hope the new Iowa State University journalism director can begin to fix the problem.  It won’t be easy.  There are too few journalistic flowers sprouting beside  today’s  long, painful, rock-strewn path.

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