Most of us want to keep up with what’s going on in our respective communities. We watch local nightly television “newscasts,” listen to the radio, read newspapers and chat on the internet to keep up with the Joneses. Many people believe what they see, hear and read, regardless of their media of choice. There was a time in our great nation’s history that one could rely with confidence on the media to serve as a watchdog of democracy. Today, not so much.
I remember with great fondness sitting at home on South High Street in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, with my parents and siblings and watching CBS Evening News anchorman Walter Cronkite close his nightly report by saying, “And that’s the way it was.” Indeed. There was good reason he was known as “the most trusted man in America.” When he reported on the bloodshed in Vietnam and documented the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., he did so unbiasly and accurately to the best of his ability.
Today. No way. Our national newscasts are slanted to political extremes whether they be on MSNBC or Fox. They lack both integrity and truth. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle to stew. Those media outlets come across to me as being, respectively, commie and fascist. Hyperbole? Yes. But it’s not like I can raid George Carlin’s list of seven dirty words and go on a rant. My site’s rated PG. My language does get quite colorful, on the other hand, when I’m lounging in the ol’ bungalow with Jon Seagull VIII and Master Po. Especially when my Jets, Gamecocks or Irish are losing.
Local television broadcasts annoy me every bit as much as the alphabet sludge-soup aired nationally. They serve as public relations outfits for the very corporations whose head honchos earn huge paychecks at the expense of nature and our country.
A month or so ago I spoke with a gentlemen much like myself, an old-school journalist with a deep appreciation for pure journalism. I was hunting sharks’ teeth in front of a local hotel when he approached me and it wasn’t long before we learned of the bond we share. He writes for a newspaper in Kentucky. I wrote long ago for several newspapers. We agreed on the poor quality of today’s media. I admitted to him that I was once a pap pusher, one who was paid low salaries while being required to produce bulk articles for companies that didn’t give a crap about the content of its “news” publications. Advertising revenues were all that mattered. I told him I still wish I had quit on the spot.
On Nov. 19, I was reminded of that chance meeting. While catching up on some morning news, I happened upon a WBTV Channel 13 website article that made me sick. It was a what appears to be a press release dictated by Santee Cooper executive vice president of corporate services R.M. Singletary and printed verbatim. The Santee Cooper announcement documented the company’s plans to make use of the ash that rests in ponds at its Jefferies (Moncks Corner), Winyah (Georgetown) and Grainger (Conway) generating stations. Remember, this is the same crap WBTV’s talking heads report on air. It’s the same crap nearly all local television “news” anchors spew. Talk about airing dirty laundry. Regionally published company press releases amount to propaganda.
Am I living in “The Twilight Zone?” Wait, don’t answer that yet. I want to limit your answer specifically to my belief that media outlets shouldn’t be in the business of doing public relations for state-owned companies. How could any media that supposedly practices objective journalism publish word-for-word a message issued by a corporate executive or any mouth pieces thereof? When did our media start fashioning itself after TASS?
“Santee Cooper has recycled fly ash, bottom ash and gypsum since the 1970s. Prior to the recent recession, Santee Cooper was using about 90 percent of those materials for beneficial purposes,” the press release read.
A good reporter would have asked, “Was it 90 percent or was it less than 90 percent?” A great reporter would have asked, “Well, who put that ash and chemicals into the atmosphere and environment in the first place?”
(Rod Serling narrating) “Meet WBTV..A television “news” organization that touts itself with the slogan, “Coverage You Can Count On”..A week or so ago, however, they led you astray..as do nearly all local television programs of its kind..all across this nation of ours..a nation still in its infancy..WBTV asked you to follow them down the wrong tine of a forked road..the end of which is dead..for so-called “news” organizations should never..ever serve those who specialize in serving themselves.”
There was more information, possibly misleading, published from the press release without any questioning of it.
“As we continue working to close units at Jefferies and Grainger and consider long-term needs for Winyah, Santee Cooper is focused on solutions that are cost-effective and beneficial to the environment and the economy,” Singletary said. “This is a triple win. It is cost-effective, which means it is responsive to our customers’ best interests. It utilizes innovative technology to help an important South Carolina industry be sustainable. And it is an EPA-approved use of ash.”
Details. The devil’s in the details. A Santee Cooper representative should have been asked many questions. Among them: What, specifically, are Winyah’s long-term needs? How is this move cost effective? For whom is this a triple win? You, your immediate subordinates and your families? A reporter might also have suggested to said representative, “People who may have suffered related illnesses didn’t win. Mother Earth certainly didn’t win.”
It’s staggering to think about how many billions of flora and faunas have been killed since Santee Cooper introduced itself to our neck of the maritime woods. Tens of billions. Species, possibly.
Nobody questioned this? Wow. Maybe I am living in a different world than everyone else, but “The Twilight Zone” isn’t all that great.
“Today, I submit for your approval or disapproval..or total ignoral of..yet another opinion..that of a man who dwells in another dimension..a dimension not only of sight and sound but of warped mind..A journey through an oxygen-depleted seascape..where boundries are often overlooked..and even more often overstepped..Your next stop..the Dharma Beach Bum Oh No Zone.”
Just so there’s no misinterpretation of what I’m writing: I want to make it clear that this blog is addressed to the Singletarys across the United States and anywhere else for that matter. It’s addressed to the Singletarys’ immediate underlings. In no way am I pointing a finger at anyone else who works for the utility company. My philosophy is that every person in our country other than the above mentioned more than deserve their salaries and wages and they have every right to earn a living for their families — as long as they, too, aren’t earning their money at the expense of fellow human beings and nature. I applaud them no matter where they work.
I’m also speaking to my fellow journalists. Good journalists know the difference between pap, public relations pieces and news. Very good ones rise above it when they are allowed to do so by the companies for which they work. The great journalists, like Walter Cronkite, humbly lead by example, telling a story “the way it was” from an objective point-of-view. Anyone who would publish the type of press release of which I write needs to find another profession. That or, uh, look up journalism on Wikipedia.
I did come across an article that gave me hope for today’s media. It was written by David Wren, an investigative reporter for The Sun News. He’s the best reporter in the region. Better than I ever was. He takes the time to ask pointed questions when reporting on important issues. He wrote an excellent article published Nov. 14 that outlined environmental concerns surrounding the demolition of the Grainger electric plant, a process that is to start with asbestos removal from the site. Environmental concerns include contamination of groundwater. The Waccamaw River is very near Grainger.
We, meaning our country, need more reporters like Mr. Wren.
The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, said in introducing his version of the classic song, “War,” amidst a mid-80s tour, “Blind faith in your leaders..or anything will get you killed.” Blind faith practiced by the media is flat out dangerous and any practioners of it are complicit in corporate greed and they lack compassion for all forms of life on Mother Earth. Shameful.
(Editor’s note: This article is dedicated to my late father, Robert Sr., and my mother, Linda. My mother is alive and, at 73, doing very well. The “rock” of our family. My father died a few days after Thanksgiving – our favorite holiday – in 1986, just months after his 46th birthday. I know he died worrying about mom, my brother and sister and me. We’re just fine, dad. I should be doing much better, but I’m getting there. Baby steps, you might say. Mostly because of the way you and mom raised me, though, I aspire to “Walk Like a Giant” in both my adopted home community and in my beloved country. The greatest in the world. Yes, still. When using that Neil Young phrase, I mean that I want to contribute to the Grand Strand through community service and I want to be a good citizen of the United States. We’ll chat again tomorrow, dad. Rest. Dad was the definition of a family man. I spent Thanksgiving Day hunting sharks’ teeth for an hour after dawn, remembering both on and off the beach what a nice and good man he was, writing this piece in honor of my parents and eating whiting. Pity me not. I’m flying to Pennsylvania for Christmas for my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding and I can’t wait to see my family and touch base with good friends whom I haven’t seen in a long time. There were 100,000 or more fellow citizens who serve our country in the military who didn’t have the chance to see their families and friends on Thanksgiving, nor will many of them have that opportunity on Christmas. They of course, don’t want pity either, but they deserve our thoughts and prayers. Oh, yeah. I also enjoyed a Thanksgiving Day tradition — following football. I would have said that I thoroughly enjoyed it, but the Cowboys won.)