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22 Nov, 2019 08:05

Ideology trumps facts? Journalists have lost their moral compass, study reveals

Ideology trumps facts? Journalists have lost their moral compass, study reveals

Professional journalists are losing touch with the moral code that once galvanized the profession, a new study shows. But what truth-slinger wouldn’t be having an existential crisis in an industry where facts no longer matter? ​

Ideology, speed, and novelty have nudged veracity and honor out of the way at the ethical core of the journalist’s trade. Journalists have become so estranged from the morality that once imbued them with a sense of purpose that the black hole where their profession’s honor used to be was actually measured in a recent study published in Journalism Practice. Working journalists “primed” to think of themselves in their professional role scored no higher on moral reasoning tests than when thinking of themselves as ordinary citizens, collapsing a sizable spread found in a similar study 13 years ago.

​Given the abysmal state of journalistic ethics on display in 2019’s sordid 24-hour news cycle, it’s no surprise journalists no longer surpass all but doctors and priests in moral acuity.

But it’s more than just the rush to be “first” and amass clicks that has torn the heart out of the profession. Truth itself is sidelined to suit the interests of the business interests which own nearly all mainstream outlets. There is no more speaking truth to power, and certainly no more afflicting the comfortable – even once-reputable outlets like the New York Times submit sensitive stories to intelligence agencies for approval.  Adversarial reporting lives – but only certain adversaries are permitted.

​Two of the world’s most prestigious news agencies pulled a story highlighting the plight of 100,000 helpless migrant children in US custody, imprisoned under the heartless border policies of President Donald Trump, earlier this week after the United Nations pointed out one small error. The heartbreaking number actually referred to children in custody in 2015, under then-president Barack Obama. The story was memory-holed by AFP and Reuters, though not before minimizing the accidentally scathing indictment of Obama’s border policies by pointing out belatedly the figure was cumulative.

Also on rt.com Wrong narrative? AFP & Reuters scrub story about 100,000 detained migrant children after UN says it happened on Obama’s watch

​Ideology trumps facts, the agencies confirmed when they opted to ‘disappear’ their stories rather than issue retractions or corrections. It isn’t the first time journalists desperate to get in a good tug of the heartstrings with their ‘orange-man-bad’ headlines have mislabeled an Obama phenomenon as Trump’s creation. Obama built the very “cages” Trump has been slammed for filling with children, and kicked so many families out of the country he was dubbed the “Deporter in Chief.” Fact-checking has become an afterthought, while ideological fealty is a requirement.

​As the amount of disinfo churned out of major American newsrooms grows, so does hysteria about so-called “fake news,” traced more often than not to the fashionable foe of the moment (Russia or the American right). Independent journalists who try to put facts first to combat ‘fact creep’ are attacked by their fellows

Ideologically motivated journalists sold “Russian collusion” to their audiences for three years in stories padded with tantalizing tidbits from almost exclusively anonymous “sources.” Even when their fevered imaginations spit out utterly absurd stories, like collusion-cultist Luke Harding’s claim that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange while the latter was holed up at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, they are praised as team players. The New York Times and the Washington Post got to keep their Pulitzer for Russiagate reporting, even though the award-winning stories were shown to be misreported. Instead, it was the Russiagate skeptics who found their names on PropOrNot’s list of “useful idiots,” with the shadowy group demanding they be investigated for treason.

Also on rt.com Trump’s insults put NYT reporters in DANGER, cries editor of paper that puts reporters in danger by cheering on war

Punishing good work while reporting bad has drained journalism not just of morality but credibility. While some might be tempted to blame the industry’s fall from ethical grace on President Donald Trump’s voluble scorn for the press as the “enemy of the people,” the disintegration of the profession’s moral center has been underway for years. The constant “disruption” of the journalism industry over just the last 13 years saw online media kill off newspapers, the 24-hour news cycle take over TV, and ad sales vanish, sucked up by the Google-Facebook industrial complex.

To survive this shifting landscape, as the morality study explains, journalists have had to adapt, leaving their identities in flux. A well-developed sense of professional ethics can be a liability in a newsroom where writers are pressured to deliver clicks by any means necessary. In upside-down-world “news” where speed, novelty and ideological fealty are more important than truth, morality all but disqualifies one to be a journalist.

By Helen Buyniski, RT

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.