Sensationalism is eroding journalism's place as the first rough draft of history, a former New York Times reporter told 20 people at the Institute of Politics (IOP) Wednesday.
Lee A. Daniels '71, an Expository Writing preceptor and IOP fellow, said technological advances have dramatically changed the quantity of information available to the public--as well as its sources.
This shift has created a "frantic, ferocious competition" among the television networks and the print media--a battle with negative consequences, Daniels said.
Daniels pointed to what he feels is an erosion of traditional ethical standards in journalism. One example, he said, is the New York Times' identification of Patricia Bowman as the alleged rape victim of William Kennedy Smith.
"[The increasing] access of information for laypeople is a discrete dynamic whose impact is literally society-shaking," said Daniels, a former Crimson executive.
The media's obsession with what Daniels called "visual flash" is also problematic, he said.
Daniels cited the rigged gas tank employed by Dateline NBC to create a sensational explosion, as well as the "hyperinflated language" used to describe developments.
He said that the public is often quick to express disgust with the media's tactics, but then demands that the media be "as intrusive as necessary to get the story, especially in sensationalistic cases."
Daniels cited the murder of O.J. Simpson's ex-wife and the Amy Fisher-Joey Buttafuoco case as examples.
With the explosion of information sources, the big media--which Daniels defines as major magazines, newspapers and television networks--is undergoing "trauma."
"Technological advances have led to [a decline in] the big media's control over information, which has led to an erosion of the standard of what is news," he said.
A famous journalist once stated that a reporter's task is to get the news and publish it as objectively and quickly as possible, Daniels said. Over time, that report will become the first rough draft of the age.
But Daniels questioned whether that notion is still valid, "or have technical developments combined to...make this rough draft so rough that it's not trustworthy?"
"Boundaries no longer exist," he said at one point when talking about
the media's publication of mere rumors aboutevidence against Simpson.
Daniels concluded his speech by hailing "ourability to sift through" the glut of informationas "absolutely vital."
"It not," Daniels said, "we'll be giving up ourown freedom."
During an hour-long question and answer sessionfollowing the 30-minute speech, he discussed themedia and politics.
Daniels said he thought the media was going todrive Bill Clinton out of the 1992 presidentialrace by criticizing his draft record and allegedextramarital affairs.
It was only when Clinton went over the heads ofthose in the media, Daniels said, that the publicdecided those issue weren't important.
Daniels cited this "battle over who's going tohave access to the public" as "one reason themedia's been so hard to Bill Clinton.