Did professional journalism finally die today?

Caption: The ghost of Walter Cronkite weeps for shame. Picture: CBS Photo Archive.

When I studied journalism (not that long ago), they still taught that it was a fundamental rule that journalists should never report their opinions as news. ?Journalists should clearly distinguish between news, comment and opinion?, is the blunt statement of the standard text we used. It warned that mixing them risked journalists? and outlets? credibility.

When CNBC?s Rick Santelli switched without notice from a standard market report to a diatribe against the Obama administration that is widely credited as the founding statement of the Tea Party Movement, he was rightly castigated for mixing news and editorial opinion. That isn?t to say that Santelli?s opinion was necessarily without merit, but by not clearly announcing it as opinion, Santelli grossly violated journalistic ethics.

On the other hand, when Walter Cronkite delivered his famous Vietnam speech, he clearly prefaced it by saying that it was, ?an analysis that must be speculative, personal, subjective?.

Unlike us lowly bloggers, peddling our opinions, Associated Press is the primary news service in the United States. Although it has been criticised, especially for erasing the factual term ?illegal immigrant? from its style guide, AP has so far avoided going completely down the ideological primrose path with CNN and MSNBC.

But its report on the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings suggests that it is fast becoming just another mainstream media fake news bully pulpit. Quote:

He let his anger flare repeatedly, interrupted his questioners and cried several times during his opening statement. She strived to remain calm and polite, despite her nervousness, and mostly held back her tears.

Throughout their riveting, nationally televised testimony on Thursday, Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh served as Exhibits A and B for a tutorial on gender roles and stereotypes. Amid the deluge of reaction on social media, one prominent observation: Ford, as a woman, would have been judged as a far weaker witness had she behaved as Kavanaugh did. End of quote.

None of this is reporting. This is comment, from beginning to end. That it was the lede for an AP news article is a shocking example of just how pervasive the collapse of mainstream media standards has become. Quote:

Kavanaugh, nominated to fill a vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, mixed tears with fury in his statement forcefully denying Ford?s allegation that he sexually assaulted her in 1982 when they were both in high school. He choked up at several points when referring to how his family has been affected by the tempest surrounding allegations by Ford and other women.

Opponents of Kavanaugh?s nomination said his behavior demonstrated a lack of judicial temperament. Some supporters said they were moved to tears when he broke down. End of quote.

This, at least, is reporting, of a sort. Certainly a bit heavy on emotional colour. But it also junks the ?inverted pyramid? model that AP was previously famous. The inverted pyramid places primary emphasis on the most basic facts of reporting: the ?who, what, when, where, why, how?.

After just two paragraphs of actual reporting, though, it?s back to being browbeaten with the journalist?s opinions. Quote:

Kavanaugh aggressively interrupted his interrogators and even asked sharp questions of his own?Ford, in contrast, sought to present herself as cooperative and respectful. End of quote.

Even worse is when the article purports to be ?reporting? the ?reactions? of ?commentators?, who are clearly merely cherry-picked sockpuppets for the journalist?s own opinions. Quote:

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, communications professor and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said some of Kavanaugh?s statements ?were more consistent with one?s expectations of a partisan than a judge or prospective associate justice of the Supreme Court.?

Michael Cunningham, a psychology professor at the University of Louisville, said he found Ford?s body language and tone of voice to be persuasive.

?Her generally calm and soft-spoken, yet firm, voice seemed consistent with the feminine sex-role,? he said. End of quote.

This is garbage. It?s also highly unprofessional for a psychologist to opine such armchair diagnoses.

The rules of professional ethics for psychologists clearly states: ?On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention…it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement?.

The American mainstream media have become so unhinged by Trump Derangement Syndrome that they have not just abandoned the principles of ethical journalism, they have bludgeoned them to smithereens and happily danced on the pieces.

If Rick Santelli?s unprofessional diatribe marked the birth of the Tea Party movement, this disgraceful garbage from AP may well mark the final death of professional journalism.