LOS ANGELES (APUPI) June 20, 2004
Standing in front of the Los Angeles Times building on Spring Street and surrounded by aides, President Bush put forth a new and long-overdue proposal today, to the cheers of thousands of long-suffering readers of that paper, to start to repair the tragic situation with the American journalism system. He called it “No Reporter Left Behind.”
“For too many years have we seen the sad evidence accumulating that our nation’s media outlets and journalism schools simply aren’t achieving what they must for our nation to maintain its first-place ranking in freedom of speech and a properly informed public,” he declared. “Compared to journalists of a few decades ago, today’s reporters show an increasing inability to comprehend simple English or basic statistics, to exercise logic, or to even recognize that they’re Americans.”
“Now, many accuse the media of bias against my administration, but I don’t believe that. I’m here to change the tone in Washington and the nation, and I refuse to engage in such accusations. I’m sure that journalists are well meaning. As a compassionate conservative, it’s clear to me that they simply haven’t been given the education and training that they so desperately need, and we need to help them and their hardworking editors.”
The president went on to illustrate the growing problem.
“Certainly, we’re all familiar with the examples of journalistic incompetence that seem to be increasing almost daily.”
“Even after a great number of speeches and explanations, many reporters still don’t seem to understand why we are at war, or are able to even comprehend the fact that we are at war. There’s a concept in logical argument, called a ‘straw man,’ in which the debater sets up a weak argument that was never made, but pretends that his opponent did, and then knocks it down, pretending to have somehow won the argument.”
“The press, many of whom seem to suffer from attention-deficit disorder, seem to have trouble focusing on my stated reasons for this war, instead being easily distracted by these kinds of strawman arguments.”
“For instance, many of the slower journalists continue to mistakenly claim that, because we haven’t yet found stockpiles of WMD in Iraq, the threat from Saddam wasn’t imminent, and that the war therefore wasn’t justified. This despite the fact that I never used imminence as a justification for the war, and in fact clearly said that the threat wasn’t imminent, but that we couldn’t wait until it was.”
“They then claim that I somehow implied that the threat was imminent, even though I explicitly denied it. They clearly lack the ability to comprehend not just written English, but spoken English as well.”
“Had these slow journalists been held back until they understood logic and basic reading and listening comprehension, instead of simply being promoted up to some other assignment, some of the mistakes of the past few days might have been avoided. For example, just last week, this newspaper and many others reported that the 911 Commission had shown that there were no ties between Saddam and Al Qaeda, and that, again, this had somehow taken away a justification for liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam’s tyranny.”
“The facts, of course, are that the 911 commission only stated that there was no involvement of Saddam with 911, and the commission members themselves have said that there’s little distance between our position and theirs. This is, of course, irrelevant to justification for removing Saddam, since we have never claimed that Saddam was involved with 911, and in fact we’ve taken pains to make clear that we had no evidence to that effect, and we’ve never used that as a justification for removal.”
“These are just a couple examples of a much larger and broader problem.”
“We’ve all seen the damage that policies of social promotion do to promising young people like Jayson Blair, who was simply passed along from assignment to assignment without having to demonstrate the ability to meet the most basic standards of ethics.”
“We’ve seen too, the damage caused to journalists by award inflation, in which they get gold stars, or Oscars, or Runyons and Pulitzers for sub-par work. It gives them a false sense of achievement, and inhibits their ability to truly progress. We do them no favors by falsely boosting their self esteem, to the point that they are given honors of which they can’t even comprehend the significance.”
“We can no longer afford to sweep such tragic incompetencies under the carpet. This ongoing deterioration of reportage is having seriously debilitating effects on our nation’s health, on its economy, and its national security. In many important, and frightening, ways, our reporters are our future. If a foreign power had somehow foisted upon us such a system of news reporting, in the same way that we’ve somehow done it to ourselves voluntarily, we would justly consider it an act of war.”
Turning around and pointing at the building behind him, he intoned, “On this day, I stand here in front of one of the foremost symbols of that failure, a poster child for shoddy journalism, to announce a major new federal program to start to address this looming crisis. For details, I’d like to introduce Rod Paige, my Secretary of Education.”
Secretary Paige stepped up to the microphone, and after thanking the president, laid out a new proposal of federal assistance to journalism outlets and schools of journalism.
“The president’s new program is two-pronged. We all recognize that early education is key so, modeling Head Start, we’re developing a curriculum for the schools of journalism to emphasize the basics–math, science, logic. In order to encourage the use of our curriculum, we will be issuing federal grants to these institutions, up to ten percent of their annual budget, as long as the student’s test scores show improvement.”
“In addition, we are going to set up a mentoring program with local bloggers, so that these aspiring reporters can learn how to do research and fact check.”
“The second prong of our proposal is to provide grants to media organizations as well. Like the grants for the journalism schools, this will be a ten percent solution, through which, in exchange for providing them with a trifling amount of money, we will dictate reporting standards from Washington. Some of this funding will be earmarked to provide adequate dosages of Ritalin in the water systems, to help the journalists stay focused on the actual justifications for the war, and minimize distractions by red herrings.”
“We’ve had a pilot program for years with PBS and NPR, but it clearly needs to be restructured before we expand it to other press organizations. There have been no strings attached to the taxpayers’ funds, or accountability. This appalling situation has to end.”
In response to a question from the audience as to why a media organization or journalism school would be willing to sacrifice its autonomy for a small amount of its operating budget, he replied, “It’s a mystery, but it seems to work quite well for the public school system, and many of these people are products of that system, so we expect to quickly get most of them on board.”
Reaction to the proposal from the media itself was mixed.
Many members of the press in attendance seemed elated at the thought that their plight had been recognized, and that the government was finally going to help them. All had seen, and many had participated in the many documentaries about the growing problem. They, like much of the public, had viewed the sad images of rooms full of reporters scratching their heads over global warming theories, and the Bill of Rights, struggling to accomplish such seemingly simple tasks as distinguishing an automatic from a semi-automatic weapon.
Others, though, were skeptical. “It’s not a problem that can be solved by just throwing money at it,” said one editor. Another woman in attendance, a professor at the USC School of Journalism, expressed concern that budding reporters would be “taught to the test,” and unable to properly focus on critical areas such as Lacanian metacontexts of transgressive gender oppression.
No reporters from the LA Times seemed to be present, having all been assigned to dig up fresh dirt on Governor Schwarzenegger. In response to a question from the LA Daily News as to whether he thought that this seeming attack on California’s largest newspaper might cause them to further increase their support for Senator Kerry and damage his electoral prospects in the fall, the president replied, “I don’t know. You might want to ask Governor Davis about that.”
(Copyright 2004 by Rand Simberg)