The Outstater: Fake Journalism

April 17, 2016

SOME ARE OUTRAGED that our neighborhoods,our police departments and our schools are not precisely racially, socially and economically mixed. Some are not.

Some are outraged that their transgender friends feel uncomfortable entering the  bathroom of their choice. Some are not.

Some are outraged that the New England Patriots will not get the draft picks that Roger Goodell yanked after Deflategate. Some are not.

Outrage, it seems, is a selective thing these days. None of my friends share my particular outrage, for instance, at least not to the degree it has shaken their faith in the future of their country as it has mine.

It begins with a decision by the Boston Globe, which not so long ago was considered the best newspaper in the country. The editorial board there, with the tacit approval of the publisher, decided it would be a good idea to fool its readers.

This fooling took the form of a mock front page indistinguishable in layout and style from the regular page. It was filled with imaginary stories describing a dystopian future should a certain candidate be elected, a candidate whom the board viewed with disdain.

This stunt was not impromptu, please know, as teenagers might decide to call the corner grocery store and ask if it had Sir Walter Raleigh in a can. Rather, the decision was made over many weeks by arguably the finest journalistic minds on the Eastern Seaboard.

My outrage skips over the obvious and lesser insults of the matter, i.e., abusing the trust of a readership, setting vague campaign promises in the context of hypothetical future events, breaking journalism’s longstanding taboo against satire, etc. My outrage is more historic.

“Life is one world, and life seen in the newspapers is another,” observed the great G. K. Chesterton at the turn of the century. In determining real live, what the future has in store for us in these dangerous times, we are again on our own.

For American journalism, at that moment that the Globe publisher decided that silly means justified political ends, broke through the bottom. The newspaper no longer fits even the most base of journalism’s historical patterns.

Dr. Marvin Olasky identified those patterns in his book, “Central Ideas in American Journalism.” Of Olasky’s three journalism models, the most degraded he called the Oppression Story, a high-minded version of muckraking:

“In the Oppression Story, problems arise not from personal corruption but from external influences, and the role of journalists is to put a spotlight on those influences. The hope is that if man’s environment is changed, man himself changes, and poverty, war, and so on, are no more.”

Reading that, I realize that the Globe’s fake front page was not all that fake. It was not that different in its premises and fabrication than what I read on any given day on the front page of my Indianapolis Star.

But back to my particular outrage. It stems from a conviction that our set of exceptional freedoms cannot exist without honest and serious arbiters of political opinion, that is, independently owned and personally accountable mass mediums organized as newspapers, radio stations, blogs or whatever distribution system is economically preferred.

The Globe’s stunt left us with The Onion as our model. We have slipped back into Chesterton’s world where the news must be read as fiction, snide commentary and inside jokes all crafted by the casual prejudices of wannabe politicians in journalism guise.

Some are outraged by that. Some are not.

— Craig Ladwig



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