A long time ago, while I was getting thoroughly indoctrinated at George Mason University, I once aspired to be a journalist. I wanted to be like Walter Cronkite and Joel Augustus Rogers; men who “told it like it was” and who treated news with the decorum and seriousness that journalism demanded. It was for this reason that I decided to switch my focus from TV production to journalism. I wanted to pursue a passion to write stories and, in the process, use my words to speak to the conscience of humanity.
Aside from being distracted by a life of fraternal parties and partaking in collegiate revelry, two distinct moments dissuaded me from a life of journalism. The first was something that stayed in my mind the minute a professor uttered this news business maxim:
“When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.”
As life would have it, a few days after this banality being drilled in my head and making me question the intentions of journalists, the second and final nail was hammered into my journalistic aspirations. An incident took place near my dorm which enticed the local news channel to come knocking at my door. My next door neighbors had a wild weekend party and a GMU student got stabbed during the fracas. In certain parts of Washington DC, someone can get bludgeoned to death by a bayonet and it would not make the news.
Alas, George Mason University is located smack dab in the middle of the most affluent part of Fairfax, Virginia. Moreover, the student was nothing like the typical victims whose blood stains the concrete pavements in South East DC daily. The scene was set for the news to hype an abnormality into a hysteria and outrage. Around lunchtime, while I was writing my essay in my dorm room, I get a knock at my door. I was greeted by a reporter with a microphone in hand and a camera man behind her.
She asked me a seemingly innocuous question but my “spidey senses” immediately went into alert mode. The reporter first asked if she had permission to interview me and if I gave consent for footage to possibly be used. After going through the formalities, she asked me two questions:
1) Do you feel safe on campus?
2) Do you think the police are not doing enough on campus?
This is what the media biz calls leading questions. Even at the age of 20, I had enough sense to realize when people are trying to play others for fools. So I did the exact opposite of what she expected; I answered with full eloquence and stated that the incident was isolated and that, in my three years I have been at George Mason, this was the first incident that rose to this level of violence. Moreover, I told her, that I have no issues with the police on campus because they can’t factor in and control every outcome.
I knew when I gave these answers that there was a better chance of me learning how to dance like Michael Jackson than there was of my interview being used on the news broadcast. But I held out hope and tuned into the news that evening to potentially catch a glimpse of myself on TV.
Lo and behold, just like I though, my interview was nowhere to be found—it was like Joseph Stalin used his eraser to expunge all traces of the dialogue I had with the reporter. In my place were two other students who fed right into the narrative and hysteria; especially one who fit right into the stereotype that the reporter was probably expecting from me. She found her bigoted conception of the exact overblown reaction we are treated to all the time, where it seems that certain “races” always react a certain way when being interviewed. Did I mention agenda setting yet?
This is when I realized for the first time that the media is full of utter duplicity. Let me explain a bit more about “agenda setting, it’s the axiom where reporters have a bias or an agenda and thus report according to those biases instead of reporting according to facts. 2017 was a classic case of this as “experts (buffoons)” from Nate Silver to Sean Hannity and all in between were passing off their ideology as facts.
This is precisely what the news does most of the time; they have the story spun in their head and then go hunting for people and narratives to fill in those stories. Since our media is nothing more than a franchise and propaganda arm of the corporations, their aim is never to edify, theirs is to enhance profits by means of sensationalism and disinformation.
This was true twenty years ago when I was a sophomore in college. This truth is now made exponentially more evident in the current zeitgeist we live in. Six corporations (read six people) have initiated a hostile takeover of mass media and in the process have co-opted the fourth estate into a mouthpiece of corporatism and oligarchy indoctrination. Journalism is dead; what we have are a bunch of vacuous personalities wearing expensive suits peddling sensationalism and outright lies for the sake of retweets and more followers.
Narcissism is now the guiding light of journalists; no longer do these hacks search for truth, they are instead seeking out sycophants as they feed ideology to their lemming-like devotees. For too long, I let my own partisan sophism blind me from this reality. Thus, I heaped praise on so-called journalists like Rachel Maddow, Charles Blow, Keith Olbermann and Laurence O’Donnell to name a few. I laugh at my old self now; as I was mocking “Republicans” for their sheep-like fealty to Fox News, I was concurrently acting the sheep every part like Dolly as I bleated along to the nattering of MSNBC and CNN and the rest of the “progressive” bunk.
But it was the same “progressive” New York Times and Washington Post who were at the forefront 14 years ago as they were leading cheers for the Iraq war during the Bush administration. Only to turn around and feign outrage and shock as our run-amok government destroyed an entire nation and committe a genocide in the name of petro profits. The same fraudulent “fourth estate” that pretended to care about civil rights and titling tax policies unfairly to the 1% have been mum for the last eight years. Their tongues have been run over by a bulldozer as Barack Obama has implemented monetary policies that gave away more than $14 trillion dollars to the same hyenas of Wall Street who bled this country in 2007.
Remember how the Op Ed hacks at the New York Times and the Washington Post were up in arms over immoral wars and were ranting about the military-industrial complex not too long ago? Their rant inverted into rave reviews of the puppet in chief who has gone on to start more immoral wars than the dim-witted Bush and repugnant Cheney could have dreamed of. A slick talking neo-coon selected by the oligarchs to obfuscate the policies that bleed us; right there was the corporate media who were quick to use the suffering of “black folk” as a human shield to protect dear leader Barack from criticism.
These things I write of are not trivial; a comical notion of a “free press” has been loosened upon us in order to bury the truth under a mountain of outrage and sensationalism. Our government, which is nothing more than an asset of the corporate agenda, is no longer accountable. Republicans and Democrats pretend like they are fighting each other; all of it is nothing more than manufactured drama in ways that would make the movie the Truman Show look quaint. There is no check on power because the power of our government is now beholden to the checks and donations of the affluent.
This is the sad state of affairs of the main stream mass media; all of them are simultaneously incarcerated by their ego and by their corporate benefactors. Fame and money thus are their masters; the virtue of seeking truth and speaking truth to power trite and annulled by a profession hijacked by a bunch of cackling jackals who are nothing more than partisan hacks and sponsored demagogues. Yes, I’m talking about all of them, the entire profession which has morphed into a hybrid of Tokyo Rose and Baghdad Bob—blatantly conveying deception and passing it off as news.
We need to wake up as a people and stop being led by the nose by these boobs. We entered World War I in no small part because the public was stirred into agitation by the sinking of the RMS Lusitania—which was sensationalized into a propaganda campaign by yellow press journalists. The same was true of the lead up to World War II as the media was literally turned into PR arm of our government and reporters had to clear their stories through the DoD’s Office of War Information and the citizenry was never informed of how keenly the Roosevelt administration was in the know of Japan’s intentions leading up to Pearl Harbor.
War after war the US has been involved in required a pretext, a casus belli, in order to rally public opinion and manipulate emotions to get behind a profit driven war effort. The news carried the water for the Lyndon Baines Johnson administration as journalists falsely reported on the Gulf of Tonkin incident which became the pretext to get us into the Vietnam War. War is great business for corporations and a cash cow for the main stream media.
Government, corporations and mass media is thus literally a ménage à trois where war is their sex toy and we—the people—are their mattress. Be careful, they are at it again for they are ginning up another casus belli in search for yet another conflict. Expect this time the conflict could be the end of us all because the war they are seemingly pushing is one with Russia. The entirety of the Washington Post’s front page is dedicated to antagonizing Russia and pushing a conflict with Putin.
During the Cold War, the US and USSR were always engaged in battles either through proxy wars or through brinkmanship. Without knowing it, the planet was always on a blades edge as we were one mistake away from a nuclear Holocaust. But time and time again, irrespective of chicken hawks who kept flirting with our extinction, saner heads always prevailed and common sense won the day.
Saner heads have given way to carnival barkers and con artists who are using the label of journalist to push us to the brink of war. It was bad enough when these same frauds were attending White House Correspondence Dinners and giving cover to larcenists and thieves in DC while taking selfies with the same politicians they were supposed to be keeping in check. Duplicity has morphed into maleficence as these reporters—who are really recorders—are parroting government talking points to push us closer to a global genocide.
Do not fall for it, if the press and mass media refuse to speak truth to power and instead are intent on perpetuating it; we, the citizens, must pick up the mantle and seek truth as the fourth estate is steady destroying it. We must be citizen journalists and tell the established media whores to kindly beg off. Let us empower each other and enlighten others; in the process, let us use social media to speak truth to power instead of echoing the lies of these bought and sold reporters.
So I am going to be that journalist after all, it is not a degree or a title that makes one a journalist. Journalism, at its core, is the never ending quest to seek out the truth and to speak against power. We don’t have to be accepted by the craven New York Times, Washington Times, Fox News and the rest of the perfidious outlets who are using news and sensationalism to fracture us as they count their opulence.
Let us—the people—step into the breach and hold power accountable or power will lead to us to our nullification. I am doing my part; this is the mission of the Ghion Journal, to use my gift to speak against injustice and to seek truth in the face of corporate prevarications.
Feel free to use social media to its fullest potential and send this article to various journalists and pundits by including their names in your tweet mentions and Facebook tags. Maybe we can shame these folk into doing their jobs instead of acting like lackey parrots.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.