Open Letter to TPT-PBS: You get it, you just don’t want to admit you are the problem with the press today

I don’t watch much “news” these days on television — nor do I find myself taking for granted that what I read or hear in the newspapers, online or on the radio is the “God’s Honest Truth” when it comes to consuming information.

As I write this it is important for me to emphasize that I deeply believe that America needs a robust, credible and aggressive 4th Estate.

There is nothing that holds truth to power more fully than an independent media that is believed by free people to be the indispensable purveyor of — the truth.

I also deeply believe that our national media is broken, dysfunctional and more often than not creates a further chasm between itself and the public that desperately wants to know — the truth.

Sadly, on a local level, our media suffers as well from an existence in which its subscribers, viewers and listeners can rarely distinguish fact from opinion and news from analysis.

The recent dust-up at Twin Cities Public Televison (TPT) underscores so much of what is wrong with our news media today.

When confronted with the fact that the news organization (let me emphasize that term: News Organization) deleted a portion of an interview with the powerful spouse of our powerful Minnesota Governor, Gwen Walz it wasn’t the “crime” it was the “cover-up” that has done in their credibility.

What has further harmed that credibility is their decision to “investigate” the incident and give two of the individuals involved with the incident an opportunity to give their perspective.

I say “two of the individuals” rather than “three people who were prominent…” in the story because the story is wholly incomplete, as is the reporting of the story.

The fact is, there was no viewing of any interview with the “…public relations…” firm that was involved with the event …the person who ordered the deletion of the video…or, for that matter, the person who actually deleted the video.

So many people who would have been in the chain of events beginning with a debate over the video itself — including those who had any role in its deletion–were either left on the sidelines or ignored.

Instead, there was an interview with the Event Moderator- Toussaint Morrison and TPT President of TPT Jim Pagliarini.

Morrison gives a compelling argument that the decision to delete the video is a clear example of white privilege and the powerful protecting one another when confronted with something that makes them uncomfortable.

Pagliarini gives a coherent and cogent impression of Donald Trump explaining why it is okay for him to change the rules of journalism’s relationship with the truth as long as it comports with his narrative.

The interviewer, David Gillette, is earnest but then proceeds to fail to poke and prod Pagliarini with questions about how the deletion of the video came to happen — what role did he play – and more importantly, what is the actual timeline of how all this happened and who was involved: “What did you know and when did you know it?”

Instead, he spends valuable time asking Pagliarini if he owes people an apology — and asking Morrison if an apology is deserved.

To the former, the answer was “No” and to the latter the answer was more along the lines of “Who cares about an apology; admit the truth.”

I know many people who work in journalism. There are far more of them that I know care deeply about their work, the institution and their obligation to help inform the public.

But, I also know they are in a war in which each battle is being more and more informed by decisions made above their pay-grade and a further deterioration of the lines between being a reporter and being a celebrity.

The rise of Twitter and the use of it by journalists to air their own personal political opinions and beefs with people, big and small, has destroyed the fragile concept that there is any objectivity in news that is reported by those individuals.

Cable news and talk radio has journalists competing with one another to be more outrageous — more compelling — more “human” — more outraged than the competition.

As I wrote to a friend on Facebook recently the most abused phrases and words in journalism reporting today are “May have..”. “Could have…” “Might be…” “Potentially could..” “Some have suggested..”

And the list goes on.

TPT-PBS messed up. It’s not important to know which “division” of the news organization screwed up. It’s important to acknowledge that it failed to live up to its obligation as a news organization.

It failed to be a trusted conveyor of the truth to the people it is accountable to: The public.

It failed to be trusted — it failed to say “No” to the powerful — it failed to stop its own powerful from catering to the powerful — it simply failed.

This is an important thought to consider: If any of the participants during the taping of the now deleted segment had uttered a racist comment–committed a crime–or admitted to a crime–would the station have so quickly deleted it?

I think not.

I am politically and ideologically unaligned at this stage of my life. My partisanship is to America — not to a party.

I fear more for America from the decay of our institution of the 4th Estate than I do with what the President or any member of Congress does — or does not — do in the conduct of their office.

I fear that our local media institutions don’t hold our local elected officials to account for their abuse of power and their deliberate attempts to avoid transparency.

Truth be told, I believe the disintegration of a robust local media is more of a danger to American Democracy than our national media.

The impact of the decisions made by Governors, State Legislators, Mayors, City Councils and County Boards do more to influence our lives than any act of Congress or a President.

Sadly, the question “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there does it make any noise?”can now be be rephrased to “If a City Council acts against the interests of the public and the press isn’t there does it make any difference?”

I fear our national media institutions have become impotent and irrelevant and consumed with their own celebrity. One cannot go onto a CNN, MSNBC or FOX internet news site and tell the difference between a “news” story and “analysis.”

People who used to spend a career and a lifetime becoming journalists are replaced by people who test well on television – who have extended their 15 minutes of fame into a television talk show — or done something unremarkable to the advancement of the journalism profession.

It’s not too late for our local media and news organizations to get back into the fight for American Democracy.

TPT-PBS can help lead the way and in doing so restore depth back to its self-professed claim to be a news organization.

It can start — not with an apology — but with an admission: We failed to report the news because we were more concerned with holding ourselves close to power than we were to holding truth to power.

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