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Indian Country and the Lessons of McCarthyism

Lazy Journalists are the Darlings of the Corporations

by BRENDA NORRELL

Lazy journalists are great friends of the corporations. They are known as "armchair journalists" because they sit in comfort and rewrite press releases from politicians and corporations. To spice it up a bit, they dial a few numbers, get a few comments and call it a news story.

They are the "darlings of the energy companies," as Buffy Sainte Marie says.

AP reporter Felicia Fonseca is a real darling of the energy companies. If you check Google breaking news this morning, you’ll see the number of newspapers carrying her article stating that Hopis and Navajos say environmentalists are not welcome.

However, on Google news, there are no articles from Fonseca quoting Alph Secakuku, Sipaulovi council representative from Second Mesa, pointing out that Hopi are true environmentalists, regardless of the current political coup in the Hopi Tribal Council.

Navajo President Joe Shirley, Jr., showing his true colors once again, joined the refrain by saying environmentalists were not welcome on the Navajo Nation either.

This comes as no surprise, since the modernday Navajo environmentalists have always been fought by the elected Navajo political leaders whose salaries and expense accounts come from energy royalties. While signing leases for coal mines and power plants, Navajo politicians also speak of the Beauty Way and harmony with all created things.

Navajo Leroy Jackson’s life was threatened by Navajo politicians before he was found dead in 1993. Jackson was cofounder of Dine’ Citizens Against the Ruining the Environment and halted clearcut logging of the old growth pines in the Chuska and Tsaile mountains. (I was a stringer for AP at the time, during the 18 years that I lived on the Navajo Nation. The threat was made to me.)

I wonder now if AP’s reporter Fonseca lives on the Navajo Nation, or even stays there long enough to know what she is writing about. Lazy journalists love the surface scum that floats to the top in life. They just skim it off and call it news.

In small newsrooms across America, armchair journalists like to sit in their easy chairs and rewrite corporate press releases and the articles of other journalists, ones actually on the scene, if it fits into their agenda.

I watched the sitting journalists, in the desks next to mine at newspapers over the years. They would go out and buy newspapers, then rewrite the work of others. This thinly disguised plagiarism is easy to spot, because the journalists simply are not there.

On Indian land, it is easy to spot armchair journalists. They are the ones who don’t show up. The visiting experts, if they come at all, speed back across the border, from the café or tribal newspaper office, before nightfall.

AP is notorious for not being there. Now, with the crash of the economy, large newspapers in Arizona, such as Arizona Republic and Arizona Daily Star, are usually a "no show" on Indian lands in northern Arizona. Their reporters don’t quote the people who live on the land, because in most cases, they don’t even know them. They don’t ever talk to them.

Editors are pretty happy with armchair journalists, because they don’t have to worry about them begging for travel expenses to actually go out and cover a news story. Editors don’t have to worry about armchair journalists working overtime. They don’t have to worry about anyone threatening to file a lawsuit because the reporter actually reported something groundbreaking. Armchair journalists are usually pretty friendly. They don’t have much to complain about. They rewrite something, make a few calls, and pick up their paychecks.

Above all, they are always happy to write what the editor tells them to write, just the way the editor says it happened.

You might be surprised at the sheer volume written by armchair journalists. While the Internet has made it easy for armchair journalists to churn out fat and empty word globs, fortunately the dollars dried up and discouraged the mass marketing of pathetic rewrites.

As dollars for journalists vanish and the numbers of reporters decline, another creepy phenomenon is occurring. Surviving reporters are expected to be experts on everything. They are expected to write about every issue as if they know what they are talking about.

Another interesting phenomenon in the newsroom is the old refrain: "Get the other side of the story." When a reporter writes an article quoting only politicians or corporations, an editor doesn’t say, "Get the other side of the story," or "Get the grassroots side of the story."  Yet, when a reporter writes from the point of view of the people, the grassroots people, editors say, "Get the other side of the story."  Too often, this means publishing the lies of politicians and corporations. It is censorship, silencing the voices of the people. These editors, too, are the darlings of the energy companies, because their paper publishes what the corporation or politicians say, with little regard for truth. Corporations and elected politicians are considered credible, while the people on the street, or the people on the land, are not considered credible. It is stale snobbery. More often than not, being a print or radio journalist who is actually out there on a news story means financial disaster these days.  We’re not just talking low pay; we’re talking complete and total financial disaster.

Nevertheless, there is another way to look at it. It is like during the McCarthy era, when the witch-hunts were on, when hysteria and misinformation reigned. We look back now and cheer those who stood firm, found a way to produce their craft when they lost everything, finances, careers and even loved ones. There were writers who never gave up. They moved to Mexico and changed their names, but they did not give up.

Perhaps that is how the future will judge us, whether we give up when we lose everything, whether we sell out for a paycheck.

BRENDA NORRELL has been a news reporter covering Indian country and Mexico for 27 years, serving as a staff reporter for Navajo Times, Lakota Journal and Indian Country Today. She served as a stringer for AP for five years and USA Today for seven years, covering the Navajo Nation and federal courts. She was censored and terminated by Indian Country Today in 2006 and created Censored News. She is a contributor to CounterPunch.

Statement by Alph Secakuku: http://bsnorrell.blogspot.com/2009/09/secakuku-hopi-are-stewards-of-land.html