Everywhere you turn, people are telling you that traditional TV news reports with anchors have been gradually fading away because nobody watches TV news anymore. In a highly digitized world, more and more people, particularly the millennials, have been cutting their cords and turning to the internet and social media as their sources of daily news. We boomers might be staunch supporters of TV news still, but even we have our doubts.
First and foremost, can we trust journalists anymore? I, for one, have begun to lose faith in them. Journalists are supposed to report the truth, analyse issues objectively and serve as watchdogs on government and businesses, enabling us to make informed decisions on the issues of our time. But in the past 12 months, scandal after scandal has occurred in both the U.S. and Canadian news landscapes and we’ve suddenly come to realize that journalists have become celebrities in their own rights and, like celebrities, they have indulged in their own narcissism. In fact, they have become so narcissistic that they can no longer tell the difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehoods, and they no longer have the professional ethics to be the watchdogs on anything!
And these scandals evolved around journalists who were very successful in their own rights – NBC‘s Brian Williams, ABC‘s George Stephanopoulos, Fox News‘s Bill O’Reilly, CBC‘s Jian Ghomeshi, Amanda Lang, Evan Solomon and Global TV‘s Leslie Roberts. These were seven of the most successful and most trusted TV/radio broadcasters of our times who were fired or suspended and fell from the apex of their prime career to eternal shame and embarrassment, if not oblivion.
Let’s try not to further discuss Ghomeshi for now, because his criminal charges are now being played out in courts and we cannot assume that all journalists are potential sexual deviants like this one-time radio host.
Ten-year news veteran Brian Williams of NBC made a number of inaccurate statements about his own role and experiences while covering events in the field. Just before he fell from power as a result of his false embellishments of his role in covering an Irag war story, Williams was the most trusted nightly news anchor in America. After suspending him for six months, NBC has recently demoted him to cable by reassigning him to breaking news coverage at NBCUniversal‘s cable news outfit, MSNBC, beginning August.
Last month, ABC‘s Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos apologized to viewers for donating US$75,000 to the Clinton Foundation and failing to disclose it earlier. Even though ABC has not announced any plans to discipline him, both Stephanopoulos’s and ABC‘s credibility have been tarnished.
Similar to Brian Williams, Fox News‘s Bill O’Reilly has come under fire for allegedly fabricating a number of stories regarding his reporting in the Falklands War, El Salvador and Florida, surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Recently, O’Reilly has also made up a story about a trip to Northern Ireland in 1984, during which he said he witnessed terrorists bomb Irish citizens. Unlike Williams, O’Reilly never admitted that he was wrong and, instead, blamed these accusations as an attack by the liberal media. The fact that Fox News stood by their man indicated that Fox is only interested in representing the elderly whites who make up the majority of the viewers of The O’Reilly Factor. These angry white men are not interested in hearing the truth – they rejoice in seeing O’Reilly fighting, criticizing and being angry all the time.
When we look closer to home, all three disgraced Canadian journalists were in trouble because they apparently did not understand what conflict of interest means. Former Global TV News Anchor and Executive Editor Leslie Roberts was first suspended and later resigned from the network after a Toronto Star investigation found he is secretly the part owner of a small public relations firm BuzzPR whose clients – lawyers, small businesses and others – appeared on his show. According to The Toronto Star, Roberts helped clients with pitches and media training and has tweeted positive comments about some of the clients to his 20,000 followers on Twitter.
In January this year, CBC‘s TV host Amanda Lang was found to have tried to influence a story about RBC by convincing colleagues during a conference call that the RBC outsourcing story was not significant news and should be dropped. The media website Canadaland published a report revealing that Lang was in a “serious relationship” with an RBC board member at the time the story ran. On January 22, CBC announced that it has banned on-air talent from accepting paid speaking engagements. Later that day, Lang conceded in a piece in The Globe and Mail that she should have made on-air disclosures about her connection to RBC and stated that she agreed with the speaking engagement ban. Even though Lang is not fired or suspended, could we trust her on-air reports and analyses anymore?
But, to me, the biggest blow came with the recent firing of CBC‘s TV host Evan Solomon. Once again, it was a Toronto Star report which claimed that he took commissions from the art sales to people he knew through his television work, without disclosing to the buyers that he was being paid. Solomon entered a business arrangement with Bruce Bailey to arrange art sales and take a 10 percent commission. Two of the buyers included Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and former Chairman of Blackberry Jim Balsillie. Both Carney and Balsillie have previously appeared on Solomon’s TV show Power and Politics. Carney refused to comment while Balsillie said that he did not know Solomon was involved in the transactions.
Not only was Solomon one of the most respected younger TV journalists, but it was also widely conjectured that he would be replacing Peter Mansbridge as the chief correspondent for CBC News and anchor of The National.
As journalists or former journalists who clearly understood their roles as watchdogs for the public, how is it even possible that these professional news anchors violated the public trust by telling lies and succumbing to personal desires and greed? The only reason I can come up with is that news anchors and reporters have been indulging in too much celebrity culture. Their fame has led to their narcissism and these seven people all believed that they were above the law and were invincible. Some of them are still reporting; others might be able to make a comeback after an apology, a disciplinary action or a trial. But the problem still remains: can we trust them anymore or should we believe in resilience?