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The Death of the Fourth Estate

“Even if your mother says she loves you, check it out,” my professor preached. “Believe nothing you hear or read without verification.”

When I earned my journalism degree from the University of Florida, Mike Foley chiseled those two sentences in my brain.

Non-journalists are also beginning to question print and broadcast news. According to a recent Gallup survey, only 40 percent of Americans believe what they read in newspapers.

After scanning today’s tabloids, one only wonders why the percentage is that high.

In the ‘50s Walter Cronkite said that opinion journalism was as different from objective journalism as the Bible was from Playboy Magazine. Yet today, “broadcast journalists” such as Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and others routinely assault their listeners with a more insidious outrage — affirmation journalism.

These hired guns tell listeners whatever they want to hear, or more accurately, what their bosses want their audiences to hear. News stations sell advertising, and their objective is to accumulate viewers, not disseminate pertinent information.

Because controversy sells, stations are no longer content with merely slanting their broadcasts. Now, in order to rile-up their audiences, “newscasters” flat-out lie.

Whether you’re left or right wing, “news” is skewered, biased or twisted to suit the objectives of the medium’s owner. And if someone owns a television, radio station or a newspaper, he’s rich. So viewers, listeners, or readers are subjected to a steady stream of a wealthy man’s slant.

Oligarchs hire “newscasters” for ratings not competence — witness the abundance of the blonde hair, blue-eyed variety on right-wing stations.

Because our uninformed electorate craves the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought, today’s affirmation and checkbook journalists thrive and flourish.

The days of Bill Paley long gone, today’s media moguls prefer theatre to truth.

Americans are subjected to a steady stream of what Miley wears, or what record Peyton breaks and not the information they need to make informed decisions.

A true journalist must be fiercely independent. He must analyze or unearth vital information, and while doing so, seek the whole truth.

Americans today rarely witness that kind of reporting because real news doesn’t sell, and it also presents the journalist with a dilemma.

Does the broadcaster work for the public or the man who signs his paycheck?

If current “newscasters” disagree with their bosses, they lose their forums, so they will do or say as they’re told. If a broadcaster has a National audience, chances are he has already sold out.

In today’s America If Diogenes searched for honest journalism, his lamp would run out of oil because if information is truly the currency of democracy, our Republic has been bankrupt since Reagan deregulated news ownership.

One of the main election issues facing American voters is Citizen’s United – the unregulated and unreported money that floods both political parties — yet all the networks combined spent less than one minute in six months discussing the issue of money in politics.

Digest that extraordinary number a moment – less than a minute.

Now, ask yourself why?

America doesn’t have elections. We have auctions. Ninety seven percent of the time, whatever candidate spends the most money wins.

Economic power translates into political influence, and because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to bestow life status upon corporations, in some Orwellian-Frankensteinian nightmare, plutocrats now control all three branches of our government.

How does unlimited, anonymous money pouring into our lawmaker’s coffers help our Republic? It doesn’t, and even the least informed of our electorate knows it.

Eighty percent of Americans want Citizens United overturned.

It won’t happen.

The oligarchs prefer laws that sell to the highest bidder.

The wealthiest Americans not only own our government but the fourth estate as well. Poor people don’t own news stations.

Our Supreme Corporate Court effectively neutered what little say we peasants had left at the ballot box.

Our Republic cries for reforms like punishing the banksters, raising the minimum wage and rebuilding our almost extinct middle class.

But the ballot box won’t bring these changes, until voters understand that avalanches of useless information are hoodwinking them. The public concentrates on hambones of diversion while wealthy burglars rifle their pockets. The more time spent in the imaginary worlds of Hollywood, sports and video games, the less time a citizen has to realize he’s being robbed.

America has 8000 channels telling us what five rich men want us to hear and a tiny handful of independent channels and papers that nobody has ever heard of. The latest midterms proved that the 30 percent who voted listened to this biased information and then did as they were told.

Make no mistake, whether; liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, all information is bias.

This article is bias.

I think it’s important, so it’s bias.

Because retractions can be printed in small print on the inner pages of newspapers the following day, the emphasis has gone from getting it right to getting it first. In the theatrical rating system that passes for network news, mendacity has replaced incompetence.

Question everything you see in print. Verify everything you read or hear. If today’s journalism is truly the first draft of history, then Hemingway’s old adage rings true.

“The first draft of everything is shit.”

When a network news station has to tell us that it’s, “fair and balanced,” it’s like the guy who ends every sentence with, “I’m not stupid.”

He may not be, but he certainly has his suspicions.

Billy O’Connor was born in County Cork Ireland and grew up on the Bronx streets. After Vietnam, Billy was a Teamster, a pub and restaurant owner, and a N.Y.C. firefighter for 23 years. At 63-years of age, Billy earned his journalism degree from U.F. and has written two highly praised weekly columns, two screenplays and numerous political pieces.  “Confessions of a Bronx Bookie” is his much-anticipated first novel.  You can buy a signed copy or reach Billy at: www.BronxBilly.com. Confessions will be published traditionally next year and on Amazon and Kindle before Christmas.    

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