I remember a time when journalists were an integral part of crime solving. There was a competitive edge to their investigations in order to scoop the story. Journalists rivaled one another, but they also rivaled authorities in their efforts to solve crimes. Either way, whether for justice or content, the resources made available by both the authorities and media got results.

Today, journalists, by and large, are lazy and ineffectual. Perhaps media organizations are not providing adequate budgets for sincere investigation. The modus operandi is for reporters to converge on a crime scene and literally camp there waiting for information to be fed to them via the authorities. They behave much like dogs around a dinner table begging for any scraps.

If journalists conducted their own investigations, using the vast resources of their media organizations, it is likely that many of the unsolved crimes that plague our nation would be resolved. It is probable that the recent snipers would have been caught more quickly, and that Osama bin Laden would be in custody.

It is no wonder that Americans distrust the media. It is difficult to have confidence in reporters who consistently deliver news that is fabricated by others. It is common practice for newsrooms to use press releases, wire services, and content that was authored outside the newsroom by public relations professionals for a specific agenda that has little relevance to the public. The information is usually not verified, let alone considered need-to-know information. The reason such data is used is because it is easy to produce and costs virtually nothing. Reporters regurgitate the data and call it news.

One of the most disturbing abuses of this sort of news delivery system occurred during the Gulf War, when then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney censored all war coverage by forbidding access by the media to military personnel, and restricting reporters from most of the active areas of the war. Cheney produced his own sanitized footage of the war, distributing newscasts to the media, who gobbled them up and aired the information as their own news for American consumption. Some of what Cheney produced was completely fabricated and untrue. Newsday senior correspondent Patrick Sloyan won a Pulitzer Prize for his post-Gulf War coverage, which exposed Cheney's censorship strategy. The media itself was silent on the matter because it was a willing participant in the censorship. (See "Battles Rage," River Cities' Reader Issue 299, November 29, 2000.)

Meanwhile, there are hundreds of thousands of Americans marching in protest of a war with Iraq all over the country, including Washington DC, San Francisco, and cities in Minnesota, South Dakota, Maine, and New York, yet the media is deliberately not covering these protests. If Americans relied strictly on the mainstream media, we would not have a clue that such movements were occurring in our country. The question is why not cover these protests? Why is the media censoring these relevant civic events? It is beyond the media's fiduciary responsibility to deliberately influence public debate that explores the question of right or wrong, nor should it purposely persuade or dissuade public consensus or opposition. The media's responsibility is entirely about our right to know what is happening, advocating and empowering the public's freedom to determine our positions for ourselves based on facts and the truth. It is the media's job to deliver information without censorship. It is the worst possible breach of public trust to omit information because of some hidden agenda or desire to manipulate the public.

During the snipers' terrifying spree, the media spent countless hours speculating on the who, what, why, where, and how of the crimes. It engaged in endless discussion without a shred of need-to-know criteria present beyond the news releases from the authorities. Instead of deploying reporters to pursue professional, hardcore investigative journalism, news directors brought in their versions of "experts" to babble away the hours in order to fill airtime and pages. This is not news, but vacuous entertainment. The larger concern should be whether we, American citizens and consumers, are becoming so frivolous in our consumption of meaningful information that we will continue to tolerate the mainstream media's flagrant lack of respect for our collective intelligence.

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