Journalism in America
Report by Betty Sakai
Academic John Miller exemplifies the knowledge, vigor, tenacity, and intellectual curiosity of classic American Journalists. A graduate of the University of Michigan – the same school that tried recently to stop the viewing of American Sniper – John Miller moved to Washington DC and worked on the staff of The New Republic. Today as a contributing editor of Philanthropy Magazine, he writes regularly for newspapers and journals including the Wall Street Journal, the Detroit News, and the National Review where he had the opportunity to interview George W. Bush. He has authored several books, including the First Assassin – a novel set in the Civil War, and the Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football.
His presentation at the Forum addressed the evolution of journalism in America, how liberalism has undermined our society, how conservatives can take advantage of the multiple opportunities available to them today due to the fracturing of the mainstream media. The Chronical of Higher Education named John Miller one the best literary journalists in the country today. At Hillsdale College, Miller is founder and President of the Student Free Press Association – a group that supports campus journalism and assists young journalists securing internships in conservative media outlets. John Miller is the Director of Hillsdale College’s Dow II Program of American Journalism. He heads the campus radio station aptly named Radio Free Hillsdale and oversees the school’s newspaper. He instructs classes in journalism and continues to work as a journalist for the National Review.
Concerning Hillsdale, many may be unaware that Hillsdale College receives no federal aid. It is completely dependent on donations and is immensely grateful to those who contribute. Considering the fact that the federal government is 18 trillion dollars in debt, Miller mused that Congress should send a thank-you card to Hillsdale. Because of the school’s emphasis on first principals, Hillsdale students receive a thorough understanding of the U.S. Constitution. Liberals are desperate to get hold of Hillsdale College. In the last Democrat Convention, everyone was told they owe allegiance to government.
As a means of capturing voters’ attention, Miller confessed he would like to see April 15th income tax day moved to the middle of October -- just before the November election to give voters perspective. Injecting a bit of serious humor, he added that traffic accidents on April 15th increase and fatalities rise by 6%. “Income tax is hurting us! It’s killing us!”
Regarding opinion journalism, Miller confided that opinions are cheap. Everyone has them. The way you distinguish yourself is that you report. You ferret out the facts and bring them into informing opinions. To illustrate how this works, he conducted a casual Presidential straw poll with his Forum audience. He asked everyone to vote for one of the twelve potential candidates [unfair he said to vote more than once]. The three who won the straw poll were: Scott Walker 1st, Ted Cruz 2nd, and Ben Carson 3rd.
Miller told conservatives they are really good about complaining about the liberal media. Conservatives need to take advantage of the media currently in upheaval. What is happening is pure opportunity for conservatives. The coming era will look a lot like the journalism that existed at the beginning of our country.
He then discussed the contributions of Frenchman Alexis-Charles-Henri Clerel de Tocqueville (1805 – 1859) who is best known for Democracy in America. Tocqueville came to America to learn what makes democracy tick. Tocqueville traveled to the frontier town of Detroit and from there went into the wilderness areas of Michigan, into the rural areas. In small cabins he found people living off the land and literate. Their counterparts in Europe (peasants) were illiterate. The difference Tocqueville found was that in the cabins of America he found stacks of newspapers. He discovered everybody is engaged and actively participating in democracy. Americans are informed. They read the newspaper. Tocqueville concluded that he cannot underrate the importance of newspapers in a democracy because more than just maintaining liberty, newspapers maintain civilization. Of course, the newspapers of yesteryear are today’s media – newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, direct mailings, the internet, etc.
Hillsdale sees its role as saving America, but possible only if there is a good media. Thomas Jefferson, Miller said, was once quoted as stating the man who never looks into a newspaper is perhaps better informed than the man who reads them. Today the problem is liberal media bias. The American people are frustrated over the lack of media accountability such as what happened recently with Rolling Stone Magazine perpetrating a hoax. Not a single person lost their job. There was a complete lack of accountability. The editor of Rolling Stone continues to earn nearly a million dollars a year.
Miller discussed the origin of the DOW Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. Herbert Dow in the 1980s was frustrated over biased news articles defaming Dow Chemical during a lawsuit over silicon breast implants. Concerned about the education of journalists, Herbert Dow decided to fund an education program for journalists. This resulted in the birth at Hillsdale College of the DOW Journalism Program.
John Miller then turned his attention to how liberalism effects journalism. Two researchers at Indiana University asked the question, “How many journalists consider themselves conservative?” They found 7% were conservative. Liberal journalists allege their opinions do not affect their journalism but this has not been proven true. The phenomenon of liberal bias exists in the newsroom as well as in the faculty room. Although journalists and professors don’t wake up thinking they are going to stick it to conservatives, they simply don’t rub shoulders with them. There is a herd mentality. In one Florida debate between Marco Rubio and others, Journalists gathered after the debate to decide what the story would be.
Group-think is like the double-think written about in George Orwell’s novel, 1984. Double-think is the ability to hold two contradictory views at the same time. Liberalism is beset by double-think today. Examples are: war is peace, freedom is slavery, tolerance is a social issue, dissent is the highest form of patriotism […when there is a Republican in the White House]. Group- think and double-think together create a type of hybrid vigor. Double-think applies to phrases such as women’s rights. The fact is, no-one is against the rights of women. In an effort to control the way people think, the Associated Press recently banned the terms ‘illegal alien’ and ‘illegal immigrant’.
The AP (Associated Press) is supposed to be an objective news agency. A recent tweet by AP described President Obama in a photo with Castro as, “After triumphs abroad…President Obama returned home.” The fact is, Obama has had no triumphs abroad.
The biggest fabrication of double-think is, “I will defend to the death your right to say it…until you offend somebody.” At the University of Iowa a visiting artist created a controversial sculpture in which the figure resembled a KKK Klansman. Instead of using the artwork to initiate discussion, the university’s journalism professor stated that if it were up to him he would follow the lead of every European nation and ban this type of free speech. Shortly thereafter, the Charlie Hebdo massacre happened in France. The New York Times refused to print the Charlie Hebdo photo after the massacre. The fact is, the New York Times has printed Mary Magdalene amid pornographic images smeared with elephant dung. The New York Times has printed a picture of Jesus Christ immersed in urine.
Words matter. A study done by psychologists affirmed the effect of using different words to describe the same experience. Considering a car accident, using the word “smashed” versus “contacted” generate different responses.
Miller emphasized, it is not a coincidence that both free speech and freedom of the press are in the First Amendment. He then lamented that in too many newsrooms there is a herd mentality that denies objectivity.
At the beginning of this country, Miller noted, newspapers were closely aligned with a political party – for example the Littlerock Democrat, the Springfield Republican. The AP (Associated Press) was started in 1846 by some newspapers who wanted to pool their resources to send reporters to Mexico to cover the war. This was the beginning of objectivity in reporting. Publishers discovered commercial success could be linked to objectivity and this would profit them as they expanded their business.
In the early 1900s, the rise of the progressive movement and the professionalization of everything – science and technocracy – changed journalism as well. A professional was thought to do a better job than a layman. The administrative state came into being because people thought agencies like the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) would better serve the people as they would be staffed by experts not affected by politics.
By the 1920s, journalism had become a profession rather than a trade with standards of professional conduct. One of the standards was objectivity. Objectivity is great, John Miller said, if it means critical detachment. Too often objectivity has meant departure from reality. Newscasters like Dan Rather lost their job when a hoax he perpetrated was uncovered. Conservatives have run around the biased mainstream media with human events, direct mailings, the National Review, talk radio, Fox News, etc. The people operating the mainstream media have considered themselves fair and above politics but have in fact operated in a cult-like delusionary fashion accusing the conservative media of lacking objectivity. The truth is just the opposite. The mainstream media is anything but objective.
Today the main-steam media today is fractured. The model of a one-size-fits-all media is breaking apart and news outlets are returning to represent one side of politics or the other. Today there are plenty of opportunities for conservative journalists in news stations, talk radio, in newly established newspapers and in digital outlets. A journalist’s compensation is good and it’s enormously fun, encouraged Miller. We have in the past enjoyed many journalists. Mark Twain was a non-fiction travel writer and novelist. Winston Churchill wrote newspaper articles. Ronald Reagan worked in radio, broadcasting Cubs games from a ticker-tape machine. George Orwell was a journalist.
The Forum audience thanked John Miller with long applause. A question and answer (Q&A) session followed. Asked if people only read news that validates their opinions, Miller answered the real problem is apathy, not being engaged enough to consider the other side. Asked if universities should be allowed to limit free speech, Miller answered no. Campus codes limiting free expression were downed by an ACLU legal action.
Asked his position on Fox News, Miller applauded many of the commentators but added he believes Fox News would be stronger if it had a competitor. He said the National Review grew stronger when the Weekly Standard began competing for the same readers.
Asked to what extent the biased media is responsible for Obama becoming President, Miller answered he does not know. He recommended reading Tim Groseclose’s book, Left Turn: How the Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind. Miller said Groseclose found that liberal bias accounts for about a 10% to 15% swing in politics.
Asked about journalist James O’Keefe, Miller said O’Keefe does not represent classic journalism. Miller believes investigative journalism does not require the use of theatrics. John Miller admires O’Keefe’s accomplishments and admits O’Keefe scored big with two or three reports contributing much to this nation.
John Miller addressed a number of questions succinctly, including lamenting anti-Semitism being alive and well on campuses and referring to Benjamin Netanyahu as a hero for his people. The evening was long but engaging and the Forum audience thanked John Miller with applause. Many stayed after his presentation to ask additional questions.
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