The First Draft of History

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Longing for old time journalism

By MARYMICHELLE LOTANO

I used to watch the local and world news every night, as my parents and grandparents had done. They made being fully informed of the events happening around us a priority. Newspapers were a staple with our morning meal, the radio informed us every hour of what was occurring in places we had never been and at 6:00 p.m. we sat for 30 minutes to watch the world report. It was a ritual that cultivated our awareness and our sense of responsibility as a member of a global society. As we moved into adulthood, it was expected the habit would remain steadfast.

As a child, I watched the evening news along with them; there were no other options. At the time, it was a huge inconvenience. Not to mention supremely boring. That being said, I still remember major historical events, such as Vietnam, the release of the Pentagon Papers, the breaking of the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Nixon. There was the unprecedented visit to communist China, the presidency of Anwar Sadat and the hostage taking of the Israeli athletes in Germany. Around the world, incredible events were shaping the future and I was stuck watching it. It was an experience I am now truly grateful for having been force fed.

The most vivid impression the television news made upon me was the nature of reporting. It was serious, factual, informative and delivered by Walter Cronkite. In his manner, there was a dignity that is unparalleled today. There was never a doubt in any of our minds that Cronkite had gotten the day’s events correct.

I no longer watch, read or listen to the news. One day, the information no longer felt reliable, so I stopped consuming it. I gave up something I used to cherish. For a very long time, I did not think about why I made this decision.

But recently, after seeing the movie The Post, I was reminded of why I no longer participate in the news. In the 1970s, The Washington Post was owned and operated by Catherine Graham. It was a position she inherited after the death of her husband. It was not a job she asked for, nor was she initially equipped to carry it out successfully. But that was of no consequence. The job needed to be done and she drew the short straw. So, like all strong women, she tackled it with mistakes, grace and dignity.

These characteristics Graham brought to the news are no longer the way of world reporting. Instead, today’s news fills us with doubt; is it real news or fake news? Is it slanted so far to the right or left as to be lacking in credibility? Did it come from Twitter, evidencing a true lack of dignity and respect for all nations? Too often, the answers to all of these questions is a resounding yes.

The news today is presented to us in a way that reflects how lost we are. It is reported with questionable facts, is skewed to garner ratings and is consistently inconsistent. The news promotes anxiety, blame, greed, harm and selfishness. It is sensationalistic, irrational, extreme, defensive, rude and suspicious. It promotes disharmony, prejudice and divisiveness in the world. The news separates us.

We need to return to the days when the news, as described by Graham, was considered “the first draft of history.” And with creating that draft, we need to find our way back to truth, responsibility and clarity. Reporting needs to return to being rooted in the public’s interest in being fully informed with integrity, reliability and credibility. These characteristics are sorely missed in our daily representation of what is happening around the world.

It is time for us to recount the day’s events with intelligence, wisdom, rationality, tolerance, acceptance, temperance, innovation and a willingness to give a fair account of the facts, no matter what they reveal. To those of you who bring the news to us today, raise your standards to truly embrace the significance of your profession. Do better. Embody Catherine Graham.

ShelliAuthor of Circles of the Soul, Marymichelle Lotano has explored the areas of personal growth, meditation and art. Ms. Lotano is currently a full time writer and mother, residing in Carlsbad, California. Visit: circlesofthesoul.net.

 
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