Nattering Nabobs of Negativism Alive and Well

By Alden L. Benton

More than four decades ago then Vice President Spiro T. Agnew lashed out at the press calling them nattering nabobs of negativism in a speech penned by William Safire.  The phrase was correct then and it is correct now.

When I was a journalism student things like the truth, balance, and neutrality were the rule.  Reporters were supposed to keep their personal opinions out of their news stories.  We were to inform and instruct with the 5 Ws and the H: Who, what, when, where, why, and how.  No more, no less.  I call it Joe Friday journalism for it was Sergeant Joe Friday in Dragnet that always said, “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”

Somewhere along the way things changed.  Now we are deluged with analysis and opinion masquerading as news.  It is called advocacy journalism and, more often than not, it abandons the truth by the side of the road.

I am not talking about bias per se, but deception.  Modern journalism slants and biases “facts” to make them mean what the reporter wants them to mean.  That is deception, in fact, it is lying.

Yesterday, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released data from a survey of news articles about the presidential candidates and the president from January 30 through February 5, 2012.

The data show the nattering nabobs of negativism are indeed alive and well.  Forty-one per cent of the coverage of Newt Gingrich was negative.  Only 24 per cent was positive.  The remaining 35 per cent is labeled neutral or descriptive.

The Pew study shows the coverage of Mitt Romney split 38 per cent negative to 29 per cent positive, leaving 33 per cent neutral or descriptive. 

Rick Santorum’s coverage is slightly better with 22 per cent negative, 29 per cent positive, and 49 per cent neutral or descriptive.  Ron Paul’s press coverage is only 14 per cent negative, 29 per cent positive, and 57 per cent neutral or descriptive.

Even the president, the darling of the media elite, suffers from negative coverage.  President Obama’s media coverage was 44 per cent negative, worse than any of his potential Republican challengers, and a mere nine per cent positive, leaving 47 per cent neutral or descriptive.

From the beginning of our Republic, an informed and educated electorate was deemed essential to the furtherance of liberty.  The founders felt so strongly that the press was the key to liberty that they enshrined the rights of the press right beside the other first rights engraved in the First Amendment.

If the numbers shown in the Pew study can be generalized, the role of the press to inform and instruct the people has been abdicated and once the free flow of knowledge and information ceases, liberty will cease to exist.

“No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and Virtue is preserved.  On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.”  ~ Samuel Adams


© 2012 Alden L. Benton/Independence Creek Enterprises.  All rights reserved.

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One response to “Nattering Nabobs of Negativism Alive and Well

  1. In a perfect world, in a vacuum maybe, journalists would leave their biases at home, take the time to interview witnesses and sources, compare and analyze all the information they collect and then produce a clear, factual account of what occurred.
    But journalists are human and humans have biases that result in selective sensory input and as a result, produce selective journalism. And that’s alright: Armed with the knowledge that individual reporters bring at least a little slant to any story, all a consumer has to do is seek out several reports from different sources to ensure they have enough information to draw a knowledgeable conclusion of their own.
    RIGHT!!! Who has the time to do that?
    But personal bias makes for a thin broth, one that’s easily seen through. The problem is journalism is thickened with some murky stuff – capitalism. Journalists are human and have some basic needs. They write to make a living: that means, of course, that they write what they can sell to news outlets. News outlets buy what sells. They then sell advertising based on the circulation, viewership or number of listeners they can claim. Consumers tend to consume what they are familiar with and find agreeable (Marketing 101).
    I won’t pretend to know how William Randolph Hearst felt about Spain or for that matter how much he cared about the lives of American soldiers. But I do feel certain that he knew “Spain Sinks Maine” and “Remember the Maine” along with updates from the front sold papers and, more importantly, advertising.
    (See “Effects of the Press on Spanish-American Relations in 1898” at http://users.humboldt.edu/jcbaker/spanwar.shtml.)

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