I’m guessing most of you heard on the news this morning that CNN anchor Lou Dobbs resigned as of last night, after much controversy over his remarks about the validity of President Obama’s birth certificate. Also last night, Sean Hannity apologized to viewers for splicing footage from two different political rallies to make one appear larger, and acknowledged that Jon Stewart was right. What is going on?
These incidents strike me as a possible indication that we are becoming more news literate. I do believe that as far as television news is concerned, the line between journalism and editorializing seems to have blurred. I’m happy that people are asking questions, and they are asking them loudly enough that networks have no choice but to respond. I applaud CNN for its choice to remove a pundit masquerading as a reporter, and though Sean Hannity may continue to carry that mantle, I applaud him for apologizing. I have no more or less respect for his work, but it takes a lot for people to admit they were wrong, and perhaps even more so when such an admission takes place in front of audience of millions. The news frequently gets things wrong, and it frequently oversteps the boundaries of strict journalism, but it is not often that the people involved make such public apologies. (Even retractions are typically found only in fine print.) It makes me proud that the notion of news reporting as fallible is catching on.
Meanwhile, we have not heard the last from either Lou Dobbs or Sean Hannity, and we will certainly continue to hear irresponsible reporting and poorly-argued editorials. News literacy continues to be of key importance in a media-saturated environment; simply removing someone doesn’t make us more literate. But it does provide a strong example to back up what we at The LAMP say often: When we demand smarter media, the media producers will respond. After all, the best argument for removing Lou Dobbs, at least from a CNN perspective, is the ratings drop.