Journalist-Historian Paul Johnson on the Media’s Seven Deadly Sins

By Jack Limpert

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 9.31.29 AM

“Journalists cannot perform their duties well without being moral individuals.”

Paul Johnson, the British journalist and historian, has long been interested in the United States and in 1995, while in Washington researching his book, A History of the American People, he talked with The Washingtonian about what was wrong with the U.S media and how to fix it.

Here’s some of what he found wrong:

First, distortion by tendentious selection and unscrupulous editing, by deliberate suppression of nuances and qualifications, by exaggeration and hyperbole, by misplace enthusiasms, unjustified criticism, and misuse of evidence. Journalists should be subject to Karl Popper’s rule for scientists seeking truth: Look not just for evidence that proves your thesis, but with the same eagerness for evidence that disproves it.

Worshiping false images. In TV journalism, the image often dictates the news story. Once words are used to justify the image, the tail wags the dog. An imageless story, whatever its importance, thus becomes a non-event.

Theft of privacy. Every mortal has an inalienable right to considerable privacy. Private lives, even of the famous, should not be open to inspection by the public as a right.

Murder of character. Since Watergate, the search for scandal has become an American disease. It debilitates your republic and inhibits good people from serving it. The media are a loaded gun. Those pulling the trigger should search their conscience to insure they have the right target.

Sex exploitation. It has never been so systematically, unscrupulously, and shamefully flaunted as a selling point.

Soiling, even poisoning, children’s minds by what they see, hear, and read.  Jesus of Nazareth directed his most blood-curdling threats against those who corrupt the young.

The abuse of enormous power. This is the “Citizen Kane syndrome.” It comes when William Randolph Hearst succeeds in starting a war—or when the Washington Post exploits the Watergate scandal. Americans controlling editorial policies consider themselves the final repository of the nation’s honor, much the way Army generals feel in some Latin American countries.
Asked what to do about these seven deadly sins, he said, “Assure that those wielding power—publishers, TV bosses, editors, producers, writers, executives—recognize their vast power and realize their duties in a moral way. They cannot perform their duties well without being moral individuals.”

On Monday, I’ll post Johnson’s Ten Commandments to make a more moral media.

Speak Your Mind