Real Journalism Versus “Professional Journalism”

If Jon Stewart walked out of his studio with his camera crew, went to where establishment figures were speaking, and threw tough questions at them, you’d get something like We Are Change.

The We Are Change reporters have asked the tough questions – a la Stewart (well, minus the comedy) – to former presidents, secretaries of defense, leading Neocons and Iraq war architects, and many other establishment figures.

So their interviews are syndicated nationally and they’ve all received Pulitzer prizes, right?

Not exactly . . .

We Are Change founder Luke Rudkowski was arrested for trying to ask New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg about his refusal to pay for the health care of 9/11 first responders.

The charges? “Impersonating a member of the press” and trespassing.

Professional Journalism

Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, created the concept of “professional journalism”. What is professional journalism, you may ask?

Renowned veteran journalist John Pilger summarizes it as follows:

Edward Bernays, the so-called father of public relations, wrote about an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. He was referring to journalism, the media. That was almost 80 years ago, not long after corporate journalism was invented. It is a history few journalist talk about or know about, and it began with the arrival of corporate advertising. As the new corporations began taking over the press, something called “professional journalism” was invented. To attract big advertisers, the new corporate press had to appear respectable, pillars of the establishment-objective, impartial, balanced. The first schools of journalism were set up, and a mythology of liberal neutrality was spun around the professional journalist. The right to freedom of expression was associated with the new media and with the great corporations, and the whole thing was, as Robert McChesney put it so well, “entirely bogus”.

For what the public did not know was that in order to be professional, journalists had to ensure that news and opinion were dominated by official sources, and that has not changed. Go through the New York Times on any day, and check the sources of the main political stories-domestic and foreign-you’ll find they’re dominated by government and other established interests. That is the essence of professional journalism. I am not suggesting that independent journalism was or is excluded, but it is more likely to be an honorable exception. Think of the role Judith Miller played in the New York Times in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Yes, her work became a scandal, but only after it played a powerful role in promoting an invasion based on lies. Yet, Miller’s parroting of official sources and vested interests was not all that different from the work of many famous Times reporters, such as the celebrated W.H. Lawrence, who helped cover up the true effects of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August, 1945. “No Radioactivity in Hiroshima Ruin,” was the headline on his report, and it was false.

Consider how the power of this invisible government has grown. In 1983 the principle global media was owned by 50 corporations, most of them American. In 2002 this had fallen to just 9 corporations. Today it is probably about 5. Rupert Murdoch has predicted that there will be just three global media giants, and his company will be one of them. This concentration of power is not exclusive of course to the United States. The BBC has announced it is expanding its broadcasts to the United States, because it believes Americans want principled, objective, neutral journalism for which the BBC is famous. They have launched BBC America. You may have seen the advertising.

The BBC began in 1922, just before the corporate press began in America. Its founder was Lord John Reith, who believed that impartiality and objectivity were the essence of professionalism. In the same year the British establishment was under siege. The unions had called a general strike and the Tories were terrified that a revolution was on the way. The new BBC came to their rescue. In high secrecy, Lord Reith wrote anti-union speeches for the Tory Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and broadcast them to the nation, while refusing to allow the labor leaders to put their side until the strike was over.

So, a pattern was set. Impartiality was a principle certainly: a principle to be suspended whenever the establishment was under threat. And that principle has been upheld ever since.

And as Newseek’s Evan Thomas admits in a new article:

By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are. Safeguarding the status quo, protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing and reassuring….

“If you are of the establishment persuasion (and I am). . . .”

Virtually all mainstream reporters are “establishment” journalists like Thomas. This is just another way of saying “professional” journalists in the sense Bernays used that term.

(This does not mean that everyone who makes their living through journalism is a sell-out. Some people do make some or all of their income as journalists and alternative news site operators, but aren’t afraid to question those in power.)

The Significance of Rudkowski’s Arrest

The media organization which sponsors Rudkowski is, a website which has many times the readership of small town “establishment” or “professional” newspapers. Indeed, given the popularity of Infowars and its sister sites, and, the Infowars news network probably has more readers than all but the largest traditional newspapers.

So the issue cannot be one of size or audience.

Moreover, bloggers are journalists, and are entitled to press credentials.

Indeed, in Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. 444 (1938), U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Hughes defined the press as, “every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.”

The real question is whether real journalists will have access to those in power, and so be able to exercise the stereotypical role of the “Fourth Estate” in asking hard-hitting questions to our leaders in government.

Rudkowski’s arrest – like Amy Goodman’s arrest at the RNC convention for documenting violence against protestors – is an attempt to crack down on real attempts to question the powers-that-be and to document their actions.

If “professional” journalists with a “vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are” are the only ones allowed to speak with those holding the reigns of governmental power, then freedom of the press is dead in America. And if freedom of the press is dead, so is democracy.

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  • Execellent post.can’t remember who said it but ‘when the autopsy is performed on democracy, ‘the press’ would be listed under cause of death…

  • According to Wikipedia: “In Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. 444 (1938), Chief Justice Hughes defined the press as, “every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.”This means that bloggers too, are press if they are disseminating information or opinion, which is what a blog is. So Rudowski’s arrest is unlawful and there is legal precedence to support that position.

  • “Rudkowski’s arrest – like Amy Goodman’s arrest at the RNC convention for documenting violence against protestors – is an attempt to crack down on real attempts to question the powers-that-be and to document their actions,” concludes the George Washington Blog.The problem with this statement is that Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! is wholly funded by the Rockafeller Foundation and her arrest was a staged dog and pony show.Luke’s arrest, however, was real attempt at silencing a legitamate reporter and a blatent violation of rights.

    • Diane Crouse

      Thanks for pointing that out Jeff, I was thinking that it was amiss, I wanted to say something about it but started to read before writing and caught your post. I believe you are correct on this.

  • Comparing a comedian to someone worried about the 9-11 victims is the move of a coward. It isnt funny that nobody will take responsibility for the tens of thousands dying RIGHT now. 3000+ on day one, now its probably at 20,000 and that isnt a problem for Bloomberg? I beg to differ. Those are still 9-11 victims.

  • Great article as usual! However (and Infowars had this wrong as well in one of their articles), Luke’s last name is Rudkowski, not Rudowski. Keep up the good work. Long live real independent media!

  • I worked on newspapers for 44 years. There is no such thing as an objective reporter or editor. We all filter our reporting and editing through our worldview.

    • Oline Wright

      This is true you can try to be objective but ultimately you are more likely to find what you look for and if you don’t look you generally don’t find it.

  • The funny thing about the establishment journalists is that they think they’re being responsible and feel proud for their work. See Matthews. See George on ABC This Week. They see the real press as the voice of the rabble. You can see their contempt on their faces.

  • I am more and more impressed with your writing here at Washington blog. After 5 years of surfing the alternative online news, it’s nice that I can still discover some good talent. Just this year I have discovered you, aangirfan, and les visible. The 3 of you are on my daily bookmark. Great article and insight by the way.

  • That may be David, but some folks have a better view of the big picture-rather than a narrow one. I’ll take the big picture-it’s far more objective.

  • “The Press” did not exist at the time of the founding fathers, it was a creation of the early 1900s. The freedom of the press was for anyone that could run or operate a printing press, write pamphlets, investigate. Citizens of all stripes were the press, your journals and blogs are equally part of the press, your opinions, and anything you should choose to write.The objective was to prevent a government-sponsored ‘press’, which I can only argue that the current press corps is. It has its own agenda.

  • Great Blog. I am in total agreement with you. Journalism is now so controlled in this country it is no longer ‘free’.Visit our blog…Twenty-First Century Revolution

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  • F**k political democracy; it’s mob rule.The only form of democracy that is compatible with a free society is an individual consumer’s vote with his pocketbook. The dying MSM know this first-hand.

  • Cloaked in a little mummery, with an official looking badge and stamp, along with loads of red tape, and even one office full of supporters, you can make just about anyone go along with anything.

    Such spectacles spotlight the ruin of our society, where facts, justice, and principle hold no sway, and the assertion of AUTHORITY rules the day.

  • Michael White

    The author uses the terms “objectivity” and “professional” and then describes an approach to journalism that is exactly the opposite of both — slating the news to protect establishment interests.

    Based on long experience as a reporter and editor, I would argue that failures of journalism have more with human nature and the power of groupthink than with corporate manipulation.

    Objectivity, and this is simply mine own take on the word, means a willingness to examine all of the facts, and then report them without shading to support one’s own opinion. This is very difficult and as a result, it rarely occurs.

    To the argument that news organizations control coverage to please advertisers, well, right now there aren’t very many out there to please. The more telling point: collectively journalists are a pretty homogenous bunch, largely of a liberal bent. And generally, they are far too kind to politicians with like interests. A glaring example is the lack of critical advanced reporting on the details of the American Care Act and the rollout of its website. The press apparently were a clueless about its flaws as the politicians who voted for it. But that doesn’t relate to the theme of corporate or political manipulation. It has more to do with a reluctance of reporters, editors and their managers to look skeptically at those things that fit neatly into their world view.

  • Diane Crouse

    This is an excellent article but, I do want to point out that one thing. Words matter they can have very important or implied meanings. The press uses words to insight reactions or to manipulate their meaning in order to promote their agenda or the agenda of the government they want. The left have done the same with words to distort the truth about our form of Government. We are not a Democracy, this word gets repeated all of the time and has been pushed into the public mainstream for so long that people just accept it as fact. We are a Republic and I point this out because there is a difference and it is a real and important difference.