Charlie Faulk was patient. As the first managing editor to shepherd me, he had to be. He’s gone now — 27 years — but America and American journalism are in sore need of his gentle good humor and wisdom.
As journalists go, Faulk was no crusader. He wasn’t afraid of anybody, but if a fight could be avoided, he’d avoid it. It fell to him to calm down a whole generation of us who, with college degrees in hand and Watergate on the brain, knew the world needed to change and knew we were just the people to change it.
Faulk — everyone called him Faulk — didn’t have a lot of sayings. Two (edited) were, “The higher you go up the ladder, the more your (posterior) shows” and “Give a (person) enough rope, and he’ll hang himself.”
It wasn’t that Faulk was against the Woodwards and Bernsteins of the world, but he did have a bone to pick with the term “investigative reporting.” To him it meant some reporter or team of reporters decided what needed proving and set out to gather evidence to prove whatever it was they had decided needed to be proved.
He didn’t think that’s how journalism should work.
As evidenced by the sayings, he believed that those unfit to serve in certain jobs, political or otherwise, would “out” themselves.
Never — ever — should reporters voluntarily or involuntarily become entangled beyond telling the truth, as best they could, and trusting that the public — all in good time — would have enough sense to affix the labels of hero or villain as they saw fit — and all in good time.
Faulk would have a lot of problems with corporate mass media and its marketing methods, especially to the extent that reporters’ relationships to newsmakers are made to matter. They don’t. Journalists and official powers that be are naturally at odds because our role in the scheme of things is to ask why. Reporters have been bawled out for not telling stories the way the way officials wanted them told for centuries. But today, instead of letting the criticism roll off, Big Media has gained audience by creating an ongoing soap opera.
As part of this, many Americans, at least those enamored by the drama, have allowed themselves to become painted into the corner of corners.
People have come to believe that left and right are the same as right and wrong. In the same way that a favorite sports team is almost worshipped, we stick with “our guy.”
The media play favorites and entice viewers to pledge fealty to a person on the left or a person on the right with little to no consideration of right or wrong.
And that’s not good.
Today’s reality did not arise overnight. From a day when few publications even used bylines on reporters’ stories we have come to a time when reporters have agents who book them. The more provocative the reporter is willing to be, the better the bookings. The more provocative the “show,” the greater the audience.
There are many who hope this trend will peak because, speaking frankly, what was sublime has become ridiculous and a national embarrassment.
America now has a president who is OK when reading a script, but otherwise has no moral bearing, seems to wake up every day in a new world, has no coherent plan for anything and has an ego that must constantly be fed either through self-delusion or by those who rally to his side. He’s their guy, see, and, well, other politicians lie, too.
Ask your mom if that’s a good reason.
It’s fair to say that those who voted for Donald Trump did so because they saw a nation on the path to self-destruction and believed he would reverse course or at least apply the brakes.
His first six months have shown very limited ability to lead a conversation on any topic. Far too self-absorbed. All about him. Some media fuel his defenders by attempting to take him out. Other media rally his fans to dig in to cheer for a person who has gone all the way up the ladder and his (posterior) is showing more and more.
America has had conservative presidents. America has had liberal presidents. America has had moderate presidents. But Americans, on the whole, have progressed by retaining a basic insistence on decency, honesty. Americans want what’s right and fair, even when we differ on the details.
The nation’s rope has been played out just about as far as sanity allows.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.