In Defense of News Media, but not what you think!

Here I sit very close to my 69th birthday, which means the days ahead will never compare to the days behind, at least numerically. Most of my life, I was a newspaper reporter or editor of columnist. The part I liked best of all of that was the newspaper reporter status. It was a license to watch closely, then describe accurately, then add to your knowledge base and move on to the next thing.

On my darkest day in more than three and a half decades in news, I never once thought of myself as the story. In fact, attention made me uncomfortable. I never really liked my looks, I knew my attitude was generally cynical and full of doubt, but that I had very sharp reporting and writing skills and used them honestly any time I could.

This White House CNN spat is foolish, damaging and ridiculous on its face. It seems to be asking media to side with itself against the press secretary. That should NEVER happen, and here is why. The assumption behind news media is a hearty and healthy competition that keeps people at a distance from one another. Its why the White House Correspondents Dinner and all the hoopla attached to it is so ridiculous, so much ego driven bullshit. I hated every one I attended, although it was a good chance to get totally drunk on someone else’s tab.

It’s the kind of thing for reporters who liked working indoors and wrote and talked like the bureaucrats they covered. At base, there is a longing to be part of the picture. Who would not be flattered if a president, at least up until this one, took some friendly notice. That is why working in media is so dangerous. We all have fragile egos, easily stroked and easily turned by kindness or favor.

I return to my oldest complaint about Washington, which is that everyone so wants to be THERE! My ideal Washington bureau would be out in Harpers Ferry, or maybe up over the Pennsylvania line, or in Delaware someplace. You would only go to town if you absolutely had to. You would have no real sources, but you would spend all your time learning and looking for information on your own. You would learn to use the phone very well.

You might file something substantial about once a month. (There’s too much news noise in media these days. You could pass on 95 percent of it and miss exactly nothing. ) Then you would go away and start looking for something else. No one would ever be sitting around a table on TV telling people what they thought about anything. You would have to get by on something close to the nation’s median salary, just so you would know how that would be, what it would be like to be pinched.

You would never own a blue oxford cloth shirt, a dark blue jacket, gray slacks or a rep tie.

You would never go to anything you were invited to. For something to be viewed as news, it would have to involve a development everyone could understand.

I know this is a futile dream, but if I could cast it all over again (and if you know anything about me you know I have had lots and lots of great newspaper jobs) that’s how I would want to do it.

Finally, I would never care what anyone thought about me except members of my family and a few friends.