A quick lesson from Journalism 101:
Experts are the individuals who have the most facts, usually gathered across multiple degrees and a long career. They are not the ones whose sole qualifications are smooth looks, a smooth voice, and, if possible, a sense of humor. The Fourth Estate demands expertise. “Fair and Balanced” is an amateur attempt at a quick Brand. It makes no sense. Real news is often not fair. Real news covers the facts, the verifiable facts, the indisputable facts no matter where they lead, and if they only lead in one direction then we all head that way. That is journalism. That is fair. Fairness is found in the research to unearth the absolute facts, not in the reporting. And balance has nothing to do with results. Thoroughness in research is where the balance exists.
I teach research methods. We discuss the best sources and how to eliminate the false ones, how to validate the authority of the source, and how to insure a phony source isn’t presenting itself as an authority. This is a challenge in a world where verification before publication is nearly non-existent.
Then we discuss the significance of knowing how to do this. I tell them it isn’t just for when someone in their future says, “Quick, write me a well-documented research paper with excellent sources.” That probably won’t happen again after college. It’s so when they’re finding the right company to work for, the best investment for their income, and the best advice on health and medical issues, they know they’re not being misguided by incomplete information.
It also helps when listening to pundits pontificate about what’s best for our country, our families, and our children. I don’t want advice from my neighbor who “also had that condition” on what medicines to give a family member. I prefer a, you know, what do you call it? Oh right, a doctor.
And yet, honestly, most people are doing just that: taking advice from people who are more qualified to grow vegetables than they are to suggest who should run our country. These fools have thrown a damp blanket over true journalism, which insists upon validation of all sources. In essence, the most popular disc jockeys in the country, they call themselves commentators, are making everything up as they go.
Sean Hannity is a conservative talk show host who discusses political topics and influences millions. His education? He dropped out of NYU and Adelphi. It was his radio experience that enabled his charismatic presence to cover for his lack of expertise in anything he discusses. In the world of Mass Communications, he is not a journalist, though he plays one on TV.
Rush Limbaugh is another conservative talk show host discussing political topics and influencing millions more than Hannity. His Education? He dropped out of Southeast Missouri State University. His radio experience enabled his smooth voice and sharp wit to cover for his lack of expertise in anything he discusses.
These two have absolutely no background or degrees in journalism and how to verify information properly, or political science, or any experience in either politics or journalism beyond being disc jockeys with opinions.
We simply don’t need another DJ.
Here is a disturbing example: Mike Savage has written multiple best-selling political books supporting his commentary as a syndicated talk show host, though his three degrees are in botany, medical anthropology, and nutrition. He is not a journalist, not a political scientist, and not funny.
Thom Hartmann, as well, is one the most successful progressive talk show hosts as well as a business mogul, but his degree in Electrical Engineering from Michigan State didn’t qualify him for the multiple best-selling books he has written about politics. That came from his popularity in a completely unrelated field, broadcasting. Hartmann, like the others, used his popularity to present himself as an expert on politics, instead of the true experts who become popular because of their authority on a subject.
And these same DJs are the same people who lead the masses in knocking Main-Stream-Media. Let’s have a gander at a couple of the more popular commentators these other frauds have attacked: Chris Cuomo is a lawyer who is the brother and son of NY State Governors. Megyn Kelly, most famous for being ridiculed by President-elect DJ Trump, has a political science degree from Syracuse and a law degree from Albany. Come on. If you want to know what might have the worst effect on your future when congress changes laws, who do you consult? A botanist? Two college dropouts with no experience in either law or politics but managed to stretch a college DJ gig into a career because they have good voices? Or a lawyer with a political science degree; another lawyer whose family has been in the governor’s house for decades?
To teach at a university, you must have a terminal degree in the field you teach. I teach writing, as such my undergraduate degree in journalism, as well as my second graduate degree in creative writing directly informs my instruction.
This is a no-brainer. My brother-in-law, for instance, is a well accomplished tenured historian at Temple University and author of multiple definitive volumes in history, but he can’t teach chemistry. No one no one no one at all, no one at all, anywhere—no one—questions this. And education is not the only occupation which requires employees be learned in the areas they work. The oil industry hires scientists in their research and development divisions, corporations mostly rely upon those with an MBA to handle their financial plans and investments, and very few marketing directors have a degree in criminology.
But unfortunately, what you need to be qualified for a particular job is no longer clear. If you’re going to manage a health club, should you be an expert in fitness? Management? Business? Nutrition? Any one of them would be effective but only one of them would not be sufficient. This is why people often work in teams, staffs, faculty.
Can you imagine an entire staff at any business or office where none of the staff has direct experience in the field? Inconceivable. Can you imagine what would happen if the people consulted for the most important decisions were not experts in research and investigation but instead radio personalities or billionaires with experience in a completely unrelated business?
You get the picture.
So how do we understand the dangerous trend in recent years to dis an individual’s outstanding qualifications for something more appealing, more Reality Television-like? Facts never used to be so pliable; truth came after excruciating research and triple-checked sources. Informed individuals stood down when that research showed them wrong. Trust was a given.
The same criteria used by many people in this country to choose a president would not get them a passing grade on a research paper in a freshman composition course. Misinformation is childish. Incomplete information is embarrassing.
And inexperienced, uneducated, unqualified commentators are not journalists, they’re not advisors and they’re not looking out for our best interests. They’re simply dangerous.