After Charlie Hebdo: Will journalism get its act together ?

When you disagree with a newspaper, it is not the right approach to ring at the door, ask for the editor, climb the stairs, and shoot the editor and the crew. The outcry over the world on the massacre at Charlie Hebdo shows that civilised people agree on this.

Period. What else is there to say on this ? Basically nothing.

Still, the outcry by journalists themselves struck me as a bit too easy. Yes, they have every right & reason to protest that they shouldn’t be shot. Or spanked. Or tampered with. Or receive an ukase from Putin. So much is obvious.

However, journalists do make a lot of errors. They use too many lame excuses to cop out of criticism. They produce bad journalism, and bad journalism aggravates social problems.They should get their act together.

In a potential episode of the South Park animation we can well imagine that Eric, and some other dude under his spell who actually holds the gun, ring at the door, ask to see the editor, climb the stairs, and shoot the editor and the den of journalists. Like in a den of dragons, the journalists would be depicted as horrible monsters. See ? If you agree that you can imagine such a scene and would enjoy it, then it is not unreasonable to expect that you would be open to the idea that there is criticism and need for change.

Perhaps now is the moment that journalists might listen. If the argument is put as “we can imagine that some mean-spirited and revengeful people want to shoot journalists” then perhaps they pay attention – since apparently they don’t do so in normal life.

Let us mention some of these errors by journalism, and let us hope that they listen and get their act together:

  • Check the reporting on the creation of the euro. Bernard Connolly’s book The rotten heart of Europe still doesn’t get the attention that it deserves. Dutch readers may watch this video on NPO History on the Black Monday when monetary union and political union got separated.
  • There is my earlier weblog on the gap between science journalism (who neglect economics) and economic journalism (who neglect scientific standards like the integrity of science). Please note that religious radicalism would be less of a problem in the world if the economy would not be structurally depressed.
  • The reporting on the Bush & Blair invasion on Iraq was miserable. The US and UK governments presented Saddam Hussein as a member of Al Qaida responsible for 9/11 and in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Journalists succumbed to waves of patriotism instead of reporting that the governments misrepresented the facts.
  • Neighbourly love is great but scaring people with eternal damnation isn’t. News media do as if God exists while it is more reasonable to question the religions. Why not discuss the more reasonable case that Abraham, Moses and Jesus are mythical characters created for the purpose of the religious story itself ? See my book The simple mathematics of Jesus (SMOJ). If you think that a mythical origin is unreasonable, check how the myths of the Mormons came about, in this piece by Tarico & Nugent, and follow the money with Murdock.

Note that SMOJ is published as printing-on-demand, and that news media refuse to buy such books themselves. They want publishers to send them free copies. Guess what happens with most of those free copies: probably dumped in a waste bucket, so that the journalist can say that he or she threw it away, and then it is retrieved and sold to antiqbook or some outlet, so that the book editor has a small earning on the side. (This also happened to Eric’s book, which caused him to look for the editor and shoot him.)

PM 1. South Park just crossed my mind in looking for a cartoon figure, but it so happens that they had a problem on Mohammed too, see this Yahoo News report (easy journalism again). PM 2. The potential episode that I describe of course doesn’t exist (yet).

Addendum January 13 2015: I was happy to read Teju Cole Unmournable bodies in the New Yorker with a similar sobering note that the slogan of free speech comes along with hypocrisy.

Scene of South Park cartoon series (Source: Wikipedia)

A scene of the South Park animation series (Source: Wikipedia, (c) South Park)

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