If you tuned in to KUSI-TV Monday morning some time after 8 a.m., you saw what you might have thought was an infomercial sponsored by the U.S. Customs Department. But if you watched long enough, it's likely that you slowly realized it was a piece of pro-Drug War public relations thinly disguised as real journalism.
There was “reporter” Rod Luck, resplendent in a U.S. Customs jacket and U.S. Customs baseball cap, “interviewing” U.S. Customs official Serge Duarte about the federal campaign to fight marijuana smuggling on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Duarte showed Luck and his camera operator all the fiendish ways people stash large amounts of pot in hidden compartments in things like trucks, wooden palettes, wooden tables and pottery. In turn, Luck gushed his approval of the U.S. Customs Department and the noble job it's doing keeping the scourge of drugs out of our fine country.
“How can we help?” asked Luck, as KUSI proudly displayed on the screen a phone number that people can call if they suspect someone is smuggling dope.
When Luck ended his “news” segment, he kicked it back to anchorman Stan Miller, who slobbered something about how we clearly need to pour more tax dollars into the Drug War at the border.
That's quality journalism, gentlemen-really, good work. We'll win that war in no time, thanks to fine Americans like you.
KUSI's goofball “story”-albeit an extreme example-illustrates how the news is not, and cannot, be objective, no matter how hard the mainstream dailies and local television affiliates try to convince you otherwise
We've said it before; we'll say it again: objectivity is a myth. Subjectivity and bias are factors in every decision a news organization makes-what stories to cover, how much ink or air time they're given, who gets interviewed, how questions are worded, etc. You can bet that in every story in this week's issue of CityBeat, the writer's opinion had something to do with how the piece turned out.
That's the difference between alternative news and mainstream news. Instead of getting bogged down trying to be objective and balanced, which we think are impossible goals, we embrace the biases we can't help but have and focus instead on accuracy and some sense of fairness to those whose opinions we don't share.
Had we done a story on the Drug War, which we believe has been perhaps this country's most disastrous federal policy of the last 30 years, it's likely that we would have tried to prove that through investigative journalism. We would have pointed to the evidence: expensive prisons swelling with non-violent offenders, diverting state funding away from programs that might help families avoid a cycle of drugs and poverty; and no discernable dent in American drug use.
In any event, there's a slim chance a reader would walk away thinking we could be supportive of an all-out war on non-violent offenders of marijuana laws.
But we wouldn't have limited the story to one source on one side of the issue while parading around like a clown in a suit normally worn by that source.
How can KUSI expect anyone to take the station's news department seriously after something like that? Then again, KUSI's “report” was typical of the sort of drivel coming out of local television news departments across the country. People who get their news from local TV must think that all that happens in the world is car chases, gun violence, the local flower show, weather and sports.
Television news budgets probably aren't where they should be, but would it be too much to ask of reporters and producers to try just a little bit harder?