Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 26, 2012

Critics prefer leaving media in pieces, not peace


CNHI

— Given the current epidemic of citizens great and small smacking the news media about the head and shoulders repeatedly and with great vigor, it can’t help but hurt the feelings of a sensitive and fragile soul … such as yours truly.

I am a journalist. Hath not a journalist eyes? Hath not a journalist hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer?

… If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.

The Shakespearean scholars among you will readily realize that I have plagiarized the Bard’s speech by Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice,” Act 3, scene 1, cleverly (OK, maybe not so cleverly) substituting the word “journalist” for “Jew.”

As I am a member of both profession and religion, I felt entitled. Further, I thought this past week that I could find refuge from the slings and arrows of outrageous accusations of media bias that have become daily shots to my industry’s solar plexus. This, I felt, could be accomplished by attending synagogue during the Rosh Hashana holiday.

I’m not the most observant Jew, but to me, Rosh Hashana, the solemn Jewish New Year, has through the years become sort of a two-day island in time. I generally don’t watch TV or go on my computer. In getting away from my three non-family obsessions — politics, the Yankees and my newspaper — it’s a nice time-out for my poor, old brain.

So, I’m sitting in the synagogue on the first day of the holiday, pleasantly detoxing from my cares and strife, when the rabbi begins his sermon.

But alas, for the better part of a half hour, the rabbi — who’s a friend of mine — lays into the news media for what he deemed is its bias against Israel. This opinion was based, as far as I could tell, pretty much on one column in Time magazine.

So much for detoxing from my cares and strife.

I sat there and took it, my gorge (as the Bard might say) rising, wanting to stand up and declare that Israel has never had as much support from Democrats and Republicans … and the news media … than it now enjoys.

But I didn’t, of course.

One doesn’t rise in the middle of a rabbi’s Rosh Hashana sermon in a crowded synagogue and tell him he’s full of beans. I mean, it just isn’t done.

For that matter, in our daily business day, newspaper folks generally let our critics give us the business in no uncertain terms and pretty much just take it. Whether it’s a letter to the editor from someone on either side of the hydrofracking debate or an angry — and often anonymous — telephone call from someone who thinks we are a communist cabal or a tool of big-money interests, we generally sit there and take it.

Not that we in the media don’t often deserve the abuse. We most certainly do. Everybody from the corporate genius who hires newscasters based on their glib and uninformed diatribes … to the editors who miss out on assigning important stories … to the rookie clerk who spells a name wrong in a box score.

That said, it gets a bit tiresome to see members of our profession portrayed in movies and television as voracious, unfeeling, microphone-waving mobs intent on violating people’s privacy. It gets even more noisome to listen to politicians complain of media bias because we accurately reported some colossally stupid thing they said or did. “Who are you going to believe,” they seem to ask the voters, “me or that lyin’ videotape?”

Show me some politico desperately ripping the media, and I’ll show you a scoundrel who has been caught stealing from the church collection plate.

Of course, even for sensitive sorts such as me, it does no good to complain about the press getting “a bad press.” Sophocles had it right way back around 441 B.C. when he wrote: “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.”

Love we don’t expect. But it would be nice to go at least a day or two without hearing that we are the cause of most of society’s ills.

After all, hath not a journalist ears?

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Sam Pollak is the editor The Daily Star in Oneonta, N.Y. Contact him at spollak@thedailystar.com.