Balance? We Don’t Need no Stinking Balance. We Need Truth

Our political system is now a kaleidoscope of normalized destructive lies because of misguided editorial decisions to seek balance vs truth.

Balance? We Don’t Need no Stinking Balance. We Need Truth
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

 Would you really use the same scale to measure bullshit and gold?

I hesitated to blame my former colleagues, the esteemed members of the Fourth Estate for the deterioration and manipulation of facts in today’s news reporting, but any news organization that would consider hiring an election denier who was willing to overthrow a fair election is clearly part of the problem. They all are. Our political system is now a kaleidoscope of normalized destructive lies because of misguided editorial decisions to seek balance vs truth.

Was NBC serious or was it a bad dream?

I remember this:

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair, and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.

The Society declares these four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.

• Seek Truth and Report It
• Minimize Harm
• Act Independently
• Be Accountable and Transparent

I got into the business in the late 1970s, paying dues at small-town TV stations, learning a craft that seemed easier in a college textbook than in a real newsroom. We had to find truth, present it with sources, and fight the clock to get it on the air. If we didn’t know our source, some producer yelled, “find it,” or your story was dropped and didn’t see the light of day.

I’m not sure the word, attribution still exists because I haven’t heard it used in decades. The result of all this fast food news has made it a breeding ground for the unethical and the source of confusion to the voting public. When media members don’t require supported facts, the result is an information shit show of unfounded accusations, taglines, and lies.

Few institutions are more important to a democratic society than a free and independent media. Such freedom requires the public, elected officials, and civic organizations to support truth, fairness, and balance in reporting and to insist that media outlets honor the principles that empower them. (this use of balance comes with truth and fairness) - Nicholas Johnson, former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission

When I entered the world of television news decades ago, the charge was to seek facts, not feelings. If we knew information was false, we had an obligation to the audience to identify it as such or not report it. It was the reason we refused to report claims by those harshly known as the tin foil hat callers. We were not obligated to present their side of visitors from Mars scanning their bodies.

One evening at KHOU TV in Houston, an inebriated caller asked if he could do the weather that night. The producer asked if he was a meteorologist, he replied, “What’s that?” Call over, there was no obligation to offer him air time for his “side.” I planted a tongue in my cheek using that (real-life) example, but you get the point.

Unlike a town hall meeting, protest, or political rally, television news is supposed to have a higher calling; to wade through the bullshit and find the facts.

In the 1970s, producers, executive producers, and news directors were former AP, UPI or network reporters heading toward retirement. They came to small-town TV stations and terrorized those of us who were on our first jobs, fresh from the soft spaces of a college classroom where stories were due in two days vs two hours in the real world.

Those old guys fascinated and horrified me. For one, they could smoke the same cigar for a week. They also had bullshit meters that worked overtime. They could smell a lie before it entered the studio.

I remember covering the story of some treatment plant. (Too long ago to remember details). I worked hard and thought it was a good piece. When it was edited and the news director reviewed it, he said, “Great piece . . .. if you’re doing PR for the company. Start over.” I did. Sadly, that piece would’ve made it on air today.

At a time when images of Murrow still haunted newsrooms, it was clear we were under no obligation to present everyone’s version of truth. We had the harder, higher calling of checking sources and facts to discern if we were being given a PR job or the truth. It made deadlines fiercer and the job harder. But it also provided the entire news organization with a bullshit meter that guarded the public against most of the intentional lies created to control them for one reason or another. That’s what advertising was for.

To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful. -Edward R. Murrow

NBC hit the motherload of dysfunction when whomever decided it was a good idea to hire an election denier—-against all proof of no election fraud—as a political commentator. If it weren’t so pathetic a decision it would be funny. What was the thinking: we’re so balanced, we hire liars? Right…

My Black Girl Mind tells a different story; an in-house election denier within NBC wanted to give voice to the lies. But, does the in-house denier understand the full agenda of the trump crowd? It’s not a free press for damn sure. It’s not a free anything, but free reign for a handful of their cult leaders to cheat the public, steal money and resources, and undermine a system that gives voice to people unlike them. That means overthrowing the media, as well. They ain’t nothin’ holy in that. And if you’d buy a Bible from that con, I have a bridge in San Francisco you can put a down payment on.

New rule for journalists: Stop working on balance. It is quicksand. There’s no balancing lies against truth. And learn to identify and disqualify snake oil sales from real news. I’d rather see a worthless car chase over an interview with a red-hat-wearing, altered-reality pimp.

For the sake of God and country, please don’t hire those who are today’s more dangerous version of the tin foil hat crowd. Most of them have shown us that they’re intentional liars bent on overthrowing the U.S. as we know it.

And for God’s sake raise your standards.

Myra Jolivet is a storyteller. First a TV news anchor and reporter. Then came PR work and consulting. That's where she is today - banging her head against the wall - trying to help CEOs and political candidates tell their stories well. Myra writes a series of murder mysteries She was a kid with an imaginary friend. That says it all.