Propaganda not the same as news

November 10, 2010


It is seldom a good thing when the news becomes the news.

We’ve seen that twice in recent weeks. First there was ABC News’ ill-fated flirtation with blogger Andrew Breitbart.

In the face of heavy criticism, ABC backed off its decision to make Breitbart part of its election night coverage. How prominent a role he was to have played is a point of contention between the two parties; ABC has said it canceled the plan because Breitbart kept exaggerating the role he’d been asked to play.

(Breitbart exaggerating? Wow. What are the odds?)

Of course, the size of his role wasn’t the problem. Rather, it is that Breitbart is neither a journalist nor an analyst, but an activist and provocateur best known for his involvement in two video hit jobs (Shirley Sherrod and ACORN) that turned out to be riddled with misleading and flat-out false claims. So it is shocking any news organization worthy of the name would allow him within a hundred feet of its coverage.

As for the second contretemps: Last week, MSNBC suspended Keith Olbermann for two days after it was revealed he had given $7,200 to three political candidates “without getting permission” from his superiors, per MSNBC policy.


In the first place: Two days isn’t a suspension, it’s a long weekend. In the second place: really? So it would have been OK for him to give money had he gotten approval first?

Allow me to quote from my employer’s ethics handbook: “Staff members should not personally and publicly endorse political candidates or take part in political campaigns. We should not make contributions to political candidates or political parties, directly or indirectly, or run for office.”

Here’s the funny thing: I had never read that passage before looking it up to quote. I didn’t need to. I knew it was there. How could it “not” be there for any news organization that is serious about protecting its most vital asset? Meaning, obviously, its credibility.

I make no apologies if that sounds old school. It seems to me that in the rush to new school, to reinventing journalism according to the frothy dictates of the infotainment era, some of us (ABC, MSNBC and, most assuredly, Fox, where donations to politicians are a matter of course) have forsaken some fundamentals.

Chief among them the requirement that a journalist do nothing that puts him — or “appears” to put him — in the pocket of those on whom he reports.

The issue is not objectivity. The standard that word implies is impossible and undesirable. Who’d trust a reporter who was “objective,” betrayed no feeling, in the face of a child rape or terrorist attack? News is a series of judgment calls: what story to cover, how big to play it, what angle to take, and a functioning humanity is required to make those calls properly.

While that precludes objectivity, it doesn’t preclude — in fact, it “demands” — disinterest, demands that you have no tangible stake in a given outcome. An emotional or intellectual stake, yes; again, that’s inseparable from being human.

But a journalist who has a financial stake like Olbermann, or stakes an entire career on achieving a certain political outcome by any means necessary like Breitbart, forfeits any expectation of being taken seriously by serious people — and yes, that applies even to a pundit.

Granted, there is a history back to colonial times of journalists functioning as the propaganda arm of this political party or that. In that sense, Olbermann, Breitbart and Fox are nothing new.

But there is a critical difference between propaganda and news — or even propaganda and opinion. When you want the former, you now know where to go. But when you just want to know what’s going on in the world, it might be best to look somewhere else.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com


toe_cutter 7 years, 6 months ago

This article "gives me a chill down my leg".

CNN is the only true news network.

meggers 7 years, 6 months ago

Actually, CSPAN is the only true news network. CNN sensationalizes along with the rest of them.

booyalab 7 years, 6 months ago

"gives me a chill down my leg"?

Sounds like a bad case of propaganditis

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years, 6 months ago

I would listen to CNN long before even channeling past some of the other right wing crazies out there. Bill O'Reilly used to say on his radio show that he was neither right or left. What a damned liar. He is second chair trumpet to Limbaugh.

devobrun 7 years, 6 months ago

I was waiting for a punch line. And when it came, I was disappointed.

"But when you just want to know what’s going on in the world, it might be best to look somewhere else."

Somewhere else? Is that it, Leonard? Somewhere else? What a letdown.
Where the heck is "somewhere else"? Nothing in the bulk of your article gives us a clue. No organization, method, or list of qualifications with which to evaluate journalists as to their unbiased, but human journalism credentials.

In a day when prizes are given out by committees (like Pulitzer) journalists are compelled to please the committees. Win a prize and pontificate forever. Sounds like a career and monetary impetus to me. The NYT has had some trouble in recent times with reporters who made things up.

Are you suggesting that You are that journalistic source that is above reproach? Sounds self-serving. The article takes some journalists to task for malfeasance. So what, what is new. Give me an article that tells us how to find people who are not swayed by fame and power and money. Now that would be a new one.

whats_going_on 7 years, 6 months ago

if he had told us where the "somewhere else" is, he would have been yelled at for endorsing one news organization that may or may not have a bias or partake in propaganda. I think thats for the reader to decide.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 6 months ago

Pitts needs to educate himself on how much propaganda was routinely shoveled out on the nightly "news" by Cronkite, Schorr, Rather, Jennings et al. for decades, and why that was responsible for the success of Fox News Channel as the one location where viewers could see and hear what CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN didn't want them to.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 6 months ago

Moyers is one of the best journalists of the last 30-40 years.

And that's why you don't like him.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 6 months ago

Moyers is an evil person, despised by many with whom he has worked. Read up on it sometime.

devobrun 7 years, 6 months ago

What is the metric, Bozo? What is the criteria, the measurement, the agency that does the measurement. What is meant by "one of the best journalists of.........."?

That is the whole point of the argument against Leonard Pitts' opinion. He pontificates and can't come up with a rational metric.

Maybe he is "one of the....." . Tell me a rational reason to believe it., Give me an argument with as much measurement, deduction, or other reasoned verbage that would support your assertion.

You can't argue against "one of the best.....". Unless you engage in the good ole.....yes he is...no he isn't...yes he is... tripe.

There is no metric to decide who is a journalist and who isn't. There is nothing unbiased that Pitts can refer to.. You like his idea that there is some king of journalistic norm. Perhaps even, some journalistic ideal. Perfection in journalism? Pitts begs the question.

He is wrong. All are biased. There is no gold standard. It is yet another created reality. I say: Read the words and make your own conclusion. Past that, be skeptical.

And you Bozo? So you question authority? Even if it comes from the people who make you feel good? The anti-Bush crowd, the support evolution crowd, the anti-capitalist crowd? Am I hitting any ideologies for ya, Bozo?

Don't forget that on these blogs I am regularly misrepresented as a Christian. Don't forget that yourworstnightmare and others regularly think of me as right-wing ideologue because I challenge the left-wing ideology.

No Bozo, I think that Pitts and many left-wing types (including Moyers) are hypocrites. They think that by being open to all things (except traditional religion) that they are new and wonderful.

Ha. They are just selling the latest elitist and pejorative and top-down management of your life. And you buy it, you spineless ignoramus.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 6 months ago

Be honest, cato. Your complaint with these reporters isn't that they occasionally tipped off that they had a viewpoint, but that you don't agree with it.

The reason you like Fox isn't because they provide much in the way of good journalism (they don't,) but because they project a viewpoint you like.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 6 months ago

Fox isn't the only place to find criticism of Obama and the Democrats.

If you want to hear such criticism, done by real journalists, watch Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! Sure, the program has a distinctly left viewpoint, but if Fox (and nearly every other rightwing so-called journalist) wants to learn how to do real journalism with a viewpoint, they'd do well to watch that program.

But, of course, none of these real journalists is making 7-figure salaries provided for the sole purpose of being controversial and propagandistic.

BrianR 7 years, 6 months ago

"Fox is the only place to find out about the ne'er-do-welliness of Obama/Pelosi/Reid and the socialist czars The Anointed One appointed and the constant barrage of lies and propaganda aimed at the right from the corrupt establishment liberal media..."

Of course it is, because none of those things exist in reality.

whats_going_on 7 years, 6 months ago

no, it is not. You just think it is because you like how they portray these certain people. If it was PROVEN, without a possible doubt, that Fox lied about something regarding the President, I would bet money that you still wouldn't believe it.

You are like my grandmother. Once, when asked if she would still hate Obama, and believe he can't do anything right, after he (hypothetically) pulled a child from a burning building himself, with no assistance, saving his/her life, she said YES.


cato_the_elder 7 years, 6 months ago

The so-called "reporters" I named weren't reporters at all. Day in and day out, they shaped and twisted their version of the "news" as they saw fit, with a predetermined goal of making leftists out of as many of their viewers as possible. Many of us knew this and never watched them, prevented from doing anything about it except by refusing to be enablers of their blatant bias. When Fox News came along and began telling both sides of the story, it was an absolute breath of fresh air for Americans living in a center-right country. I don't need to tell you how Fox has completely kicked the butts of all of its competitors in the ratings - much to the chagrin of all petty leftists both here and abroad.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 6 months ago

Defenseless, do you watch Fox News Channel?

cato_the_elder 7 years, 6 months ago

"Grow up?" All I did was ask you whether you watched the Fox News Channel. In reality, like most leftists, you have watched Fox News very little, if any, but have been told that it is bad, by people who bitterly resent the fact that the liberal electronic media are no longer the only game in town as they were for at least four decades. Why don't you grow up and start to think for yourself?

newmedia 7 years, 6 months ago

Hang in there Leo. Maybe someday you will actually wake up with a smile on your face...

ronwell_dobbs 7 years, 6 months ago

I think a better angle for Pitts to tackle would be the specific notion of asserting on these outlets claims that are undeniably, provably false. $2B trip to India, anyone?

At least Cronkite, et al would be expected, nary forced, to issue retractions and apologies if they made such boneheaded mistakes.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 6 months ago

The story was anything but bogus. In true Rovian fashion, the story was made about Rather just long enough to get through the election, but the evidence (that which wasn't destroyed by Bush's minions when he was governor, anyway) is pretty clear that he went AWOL.

notajayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

"The story was anything but bogus."

Falsified documents that were 'discovered' after the death of the person who supposedly wrote them? No, nothing bogus about that.

Have another glass of BDS kool-aid, boohoozo.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 6 months ago

The whole thing was a set-up, almost certainly the brainchild of Karl Rove. Provide a few bogus documents (even though they were based on Bush's actual record) and focus all the attention on that, not Bush's record. Worked like a charm.

But for anyone looking honestly at Bush's records (the ones that weren't destroyed while Bush was governor) in the National Guard there can only be one conclusion-- Bush was AWOL.

But when it comes to your sacred cows, I know you have no capacity for honesty, nota.

whats_going_on 7 years, 6 months ago

Did you realize that Pitts is even calling out the left for this behavior, or did you skip over that part.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 6 months ago

It's really too bad that the right-wing has forgotten how to do legitimate journalism with a point of view. Bill Buckley may have been the last of that now extinct breed. His successors are nothing more than propagandists.

And, sadly, I think the wingnuts on this board indicate that that's all the rightwingers in this country want to hear.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 6 months ago

"I suppose the liberal Democrat propaganda machines msnbc, cbs, nbc, npr, and ABC are "legitimate journalism" sites?"

None of these news organizations is perfect. They all go a bit too much for what's the most sensational news of the day (often picked up from the rightwing wackosphere,) and too much reliance on the inside-the-beltway (Republican and Democrat) viewpoints.

But none of that means anything to you. You want reinforcement of your beliefs. Not news. Not reasoned analysis. Just propaganda, and that's what Rush, Beck, O'Reilly give you, ad nauseum.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 6 months ago


It would appear that you don't really know what that means. But it's a word you should learn-- it's core to the Fox viewpoint.

beaujackson 7 years, 6 months ago

The real truths will be known in 100 years.


Darrell Lea 7 years, 6 months ago

If you truly want to find a workaround for U.S. propaganda, it's best to find a source of information that's not based in the U.S.A. The BBC and AFP are both credible sources of information, IMO.

"I suppose the liberal Democrat propaganda machines msnbc, cbs, nbc, npr, and ABC are "legitimate journalism" sites?"..."That is why they are dead as journalists and Fox News is destroying them when it comes to viewership."

Dissemination of fact is not the equivalent of the pop music charts. Just because a news outlet is "destroying them" in the ratings department doesn't lend any additional credence to the veracity of their reporting. I am barraged with the Top Twenty every time I go to the gym, which is also where I get to see Fox News. Regarding pop tunes, the vast majority of it seems to be corporate crap designed to sell pimple cream to teenagers. On the other hand, Fox News seems to be there to sell fear, anger and overpriced gold to grown-ups.

Bob Dylan said it best back in 1965.


toe_cutter 7 years, 6 months ago

As far as gold being overpriced, I bought a boatload of it two years ago at about $700 and some change because FOX news was actually reporting the true state of the union while MSM was busy waving their pom-poms for the current idiot-in-chief.

At $1400 per ounce yesterday the same old crowd says "Gold Bubble". The same old crowd must be watching MSM where they don't talk about the reality that is QE2 and the planned destruction of the dollar by that liberal god and the hero of the working class now sitting in the oval office. Gold is going to $2500 per ounce in the next year and you can take that to the bank. Actually don't take it to the bank because the banks will fail en-mass because the great society has bankrupted us.

I don't think FOX is selling fear and anger as much as they are reflecting the sentiment of 3/4 of the country. The other 1/4 are watching MSNBC and actually getting mad about current policy not being left enough (WTF). In the mean time the MSM labels any conservative as a "radical".

We are freakin doomed.

ModerateOne 7 years, 6 months ago

"We are freakin doomed."

toe please say hi to Henny Penny and Cockey Lockey and Ducky Lucky and Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey and Foxy Loxy.

booyalab 7 years, 6 months ago

Labeling different biases as propaganda is the journalistic equivalent of calling Microsoft a monopoly. And for those of you who think Microsoft is a monopoly, it would be like saying Apple has a monopoly on mp3 players. (and for those who think the IPod is the only mp3 player, it's not....hmm, this was more complicated than I thought it would be)

jayhawklawrence 7 years, 6 months ago

It is obvious that the quality of news reporting has been eroding for years and it may have a lot to do with tighter budgets and cost cutting. It is a lot easier to just repeat what you see over the internet then to keep a quality staff of investigative journalists who have both the talent and the skill set to go out and find out the truth.

There has to be a change in the way we educate our Journalists. We need more conscientious young people who can make positive changes in our society.

Engineers today are learning about sustainability and it's importance in the way we design our products and systems of the future. It is hard to follow your conscience when you know doing so may threaten your job but a new generation with a better understanding of the environment is gradually taking over.

Business people need more training in sociology and ethics. Education should be more than about making profits. We need a better society.

Those who report the news need hope too I suppose. Maybe they need us to demand the truth more than we do and then maybe things will change for the better when their bosses start to hear complaints from Mr. Customer. They seem to have trouble policing themselves or even recognizing and admitting to their mistakes.

The result of the current news debacle is that we have a lot of people who are just brainwashed by the rhetoric they hear and they don't ever question what they hear.

In this state, you are little better than a trained pet being taught to bark or to sit for a piece of food.

Betty Bartholomew 7 years, 6 months ago

It seems odd to me that an employer can dictate your personal contributions to a campaign. While I understand the perceived impropriety of journalists contributing to campaigns, does it really make them any less objective than if they're not contributing? I mean, if they support a candidate, they're just as likely to softball the reporting whether they've contributed money to the campaign or not.

And can they honestly be accused of being in a pocket if they're giving rather than taking money? If the journalist is not receiving money or favors in exchange for softballing, I don't see where the issue lies.

Next thing you know, news outlets will be trying to prevent their employees from voting.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 6 months ago

Olby used to brag that he didn't vote because that would show bias.

Shardwurm 7 years, 6 months ago

The debate about why the Dems got massacred in the elections reminds me of a quote from the movie Coming to America:

Clarence: Joe Louis was 75 years old when they fought! Morris: I don't know how old he was, but he got his *** whooped.

marky12 7 years, 6 months ago

Yeah, everybody. You're right. Turning this into a game of pointing fingers at political parties probably IS the best way to handle this issue. It's probably better to deny the faults of our own party and simply bash the other for theirs than to actually have an intelligent dialogue about the direction our news media has taken with humility on both sides. The fact that members of both parties are so quick to throw some mud probably has nothing to do with why our media has become biased in the first place.

George_Braziller 7 years, 6 months ago

Finally an intelligent post that actually gets to the core issue.

Darrell Lea 7 years, 6 months ago

NBC = GE MSNBC = GE ABC = Walt Disney Company CBS = Westinghouse/Viacom CNN = Time Warner Fox News = News Corporation

If you are depending on broadcast media for information you are consuming the bias of whatever corporation is providing the information. The responsibility of a corporation is first and foremost to its shareholders and its board of directors. "News" is merely something to fill the space between advertisements.

lucky_guy 7 years, 6 months ago

I must pause for a moment and wonder why abc, nbc, cbs, are still considered "liberal media". Obviously you guys are so glued to Fox that you must have broken your remotes. Just watch Morning Joe on MSNBC and everything else on that station till 5pm. In the last two years I have been keeping a "nonscientific" tally of Republican/Tea Party talkers on TV versus Democrat/Liberal talkers and guests. Meaning who I saw on the dozen or so TV's at LAC when I was exercising. Non scientifically speaking the Repub/Tea baggers out number Dems about 6 to one. Sarah P gets more air than anyone else. Case in point there was a majority of Dems in the congress for the last 4 years but you would never know it by who was on the TUBE. Sadly, FOX's message of hate and" stupidity rules" has won and won big. The much feared "liberal" agenda is nowhere to be found on TV. Nobody speaks with a progressive voice . At least not where anyone can hear it. Maybe 10pm on channel 137 or something where no one can see them.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.