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CBS Claims Unbiased Reporting

CBS claims in their latest advertising that they offer unbiased reporting. How stupid do they think we are?

Everyone knows that reporting is biased to a greater or lesser degree. Every reporter and every editor and every network CEO has a point of view and that POV gets into every story.

We all know that. Why then would you claim that up is down?

Because you think your viewers are so stupid they would believe it.

“So much for Objective Journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here — not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.” ― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.

Most journalists will not admit bias. They are objective journalists. Where did this nonsensical viewpoint come from?

Thompson thought that the Columbia School of Journalism was the wellspring for the idea that highly educated reporters should tell the low masses what to think.

I rarely quote Wikipedia but they do have it correct here.

“In 1892, Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian-born newspaper magnate, offered Columbia University President Seth Low funding to establish the world’s first school of journalism. He sought to elevate a profession viewed more often as a common trade learned through an apprenticeship. His idea was for a center of enlightened journalism in pursuit of knowledge as well as skills in the service of democracy.”

Noblesse oblige? Stuff it.

Columbia as an Ivy League school was perfect for graduating entitled people who knew better than you or I. It continues that mission today in that a degree from Columbia is a passport into the the privileged world of the major networks, generating reporters who whine about not finding a Starbucks or Peete’s in middle America and who pay for their hotel room with a company American Express gold card.

These people used to write for Life, Newsweek, and Time. Today they line the halls of National Public Radio, The Washington Post, and the New York Times. Fox News has their elites, but with a mild conservative point of view acceptable to national advertisers.

Beyond journalism and party affiliation, however, there is a commonality among those who think they know best. Those in power with college degrees think of themselves as the officer class. Those without degrees are of course the enlisted. And officers are always superior to the enlisted. Right? They know better, right? Back to reporting.

Thompson was bitterly against Columbia’s idea that journalism was some sort of priesthood for the better good. He constantly dealt with elite reporters and knew them well. Most envied Thompson’s freedom to write what he thought, often enabled by looked down upon magazines like Rolling Stone.

“The press is a gang of cruel faggots. Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits—a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.” Thompson, ibid.

Okay, maybe that characterization is overdramatic. But there is a deep, deep division between the wealthy reporters you see on the major networks and the people they report on. They think they know better.

But we know them and their bias even better.

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The Pulitzer Prize And The State of Jefferson

Winning the Pulitzer was traditionally a career making event for a newspaper reporter. And a real point of pride for the newspaper that employed the writer.

It used to be simple, you won the Pulitzer. There were four original awards in journalism: reporting, public service, editorial writing, and a once granted award for the best newspaper history writing.

As with so many prestigious awards, however, and in keeping with Joseph Pulitzer’s will and wishes, the categories were broadened, diluted, and made great in number.

It’s the same way with the Oscars. Everyone in the film trade must now get an Oscar or be eligible for one.

The 1941 film Citizen Kane deftly showed the tumultuous era of big city newspapers. Back when a Pulitzer Prize truly meant something to a beat reporter. There was just one category for them: reporting.

In 1941 Stanton Delaplane (internal link) won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the nascent State of Jefferson, a political movement and a state of mind that continues to be in the news to this day. (external link)

As in Citizen Kane, with the character Charles Foster Kane often making up a story to make up the news, Delaplane played a major role in creating the story of The State of Jefferson.

In late 1941, Delaplane was assigned by the San Francisco Chronicle to visit far northern California and southern Oregon. Word was that a group of rebel counties were planning to secede from California and Oregon to form the State of Jefferson. The chief proponent, Mayor Gilbert Gable of Port Orford, a former high-powered advertising man, was itching to stir the pot of separatism. And Delaplane was eager to help.

Delaplane filed stories of road blockades being set up, complete with photographs showing men with rifles handing out Jefferson State leaflets and proclamations. But some photos were staged. Delaplane’s fiancé Miriam Moore posed in two photographs as a San Francisco tourist, resplendent in her full length fur coat, with nary a mention of her relation to Delaplane.

Gilbert and Delaplane brainstormed ideas for stories, at least one session fueled by heavy drinking. Gilbert and his cronies stood to land governing jobs in this new state. Acting on these conversations and the true anger he found in ordinary citizens, Delaplane quickly spun a number of articles in the best tradition of Mark Twain or Hunter S. Thompson. The least factual story and yet the most accurate. And for that, he bagged the Pulitzer.

Where can you read those articles? You can’t. Not online. Not yet. The Chronicle hasn’t digitized much of their content from the late 1920s through the 1960s. The original newspapers have so deteriorated with age that it makes OCR work nearly impossible. When I looked into the Delaplane archives kept at the California State Library in Sacramento, it seemed that it would be faster to retype the articles than scan them and then correct the results.

Never-the-less, I did manage to make good three of his articles but I’d need to go back to the Library to complete the task. If any serious researcher wants to see what I’ve found, let me know. As the State of Jefferson continues to be in the news, I think it’s important to get its founding correct. Who knows? Maybe you’ll win a Pulitzer Prize.

Reporting (1917-1947)

Local Reporting – Edition time (1953-1963)
Local General or Spot News Reporting (1964-1984)
General News Reporting (1985-1990)
Spot News Reporting (1991-1997)
Local Reporting – No edition time (1953-1963)
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Telegraphic Reporting – International (1942-1947)
Criticism or Commentary (1970-1972)
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Newspaper History Award (1918)

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