Thank you and goodnight

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Somewhere along the way it changed. Were we sleeping? Or merely so preoccupied filling our lives with crap we didn’t notice. Perhaps it took place over a very long period of time, just an inch a day, not enough to see until it was done. But whatever. The result was the same. Oneday we awakened to find the old world gone – that place of unbiased reporting.

I always remember an old editor I met in my youth who’d spent his entire life in the newspaper business. He barked orders while chain smoking several packs a day, a bottle of scotch in his bottom drawer. His gospel was simple – “just give me the facts, not your opinion. Don’t treat the reader like an idiot. If you stick to the facts, and nothing but, they’ll work it out for themselves.”

He probably wouldn’t have much time for an opinion piece such as I am writing now. But there used to be a difference between the news and opinion pieces. Alas, no more. For some time now, especially during my 9 years of living in Los Angeles, I could pick up any newspaper and within reading a few paragraphs tell you which party the reporter voted for. I admire people with strong political beliefs because I, terminally disillusioned and disappointed, have none. Maybe I haven’t believed in anyone since those 3 shots in Dallas. Or perhaps it was Bobby. The sacking of Whitlam? Or the roll call of Prime Ministers and Presidents that have sold us out to get re-elected. Anyway, in the words of Paul Anka’s song made famous by the late, great Buddy Holly, “I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.”

But, as I was saying, somewhere along the line we lost the news and gained the views. Nothing irritates me more than reading what should be an unbiased, unemotional, dry account of the facts and suddenly realising I’m being manipulated. Some reporter is following party lines to slant a story for a specific effect. Forget that there may be real lives caught up in this zealous exercise. Don’t get me wrong. I love reading opinion pieces – especially if I admire the person whose opinion it is – but when it infiltrates into Page One news – or headlines – it becomes something else. Something sinister.

I’ve read headlines that have damned people only to find a convenient about-face in the final paragraph, if you get that far, that covers the writer’s arse against legal action. They rely on us busy people running hatless though life not having enough time to read anything but the headline. And so, at the water cooler or at the coffee shop, or on the iphone, the misinformation becomes fact. “Do you know…?” or “I’ve heard…”

Yes folks, Judas is in the small print. And the Chinese Whispers. We have been betrayed by those who swore an ethical oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. We are now lumbered in two categories – the great misinformed, or those stricken with the disease of indifference.

The latter has swept the world more thoroughly than any disease since we crawled out of the Great Swamp or got kicked out of the Garden of Eden (depending on your view of evolution). Goebbels, the master publicist, believed if you told the Big Lie enough times it became fact. And so it has. Tragically, if Mr. Goebbels was a young man today he’d be working for newspapers, tapping phones and murdering people in print.

Either that or Head of Marketing at Paramount Pictures.

Frank Howson

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