Journalistic backbone seems to have disappeared. I am not a journalist nor do I claim to be one, but in the last few days this has become a topic of interest. The interest arose thanks to Donald Trump who, by the way, seems like an awful candidate and an equally awful human being.
In Iowa on Tuesday, Trump held a news conference, in which a journalist and anchor by the name of Jorge Ramos from Univision began asking questions concerning Trump’s plans for immigration. Ramos himself is a Mexican-American. Trump, in his arrogant, condescending and all-but-humble style, basically tried shooing him off. “Wait your turn,” Trump said once and again, trying to get the pesky journalist to sit down, but Ramos did not let up.
In the meantime, Ramos continued hurling his questions at Trump, and Ramos’s colleagues simply put their heads down and tried their best to ignore the awkward situation. They all knew better than to ask a question out of turn and they all knew that once they were called on, their questions should be appropriate, easy. Ramos was eventually escorted out by a security guard.
Things were not always like this. Back before Reagan’s glorious Republican reign, journalists would fight their way through a crowd to get their hand noticed by whoever it was they were trying to get an answer from. Politicians, on the other hand, would prepare themselves for combat against this unrelenting hoard of truth-seeking journalists; there were no carefully crafted and rehearsed responses given by political figures.
The lack of voraciousness became all the more evident when Jon Stewart, a comedian not a journalist, came onto The Daily Show. He brought back that tenacity and backbone that journalists had lost, but he did it by mixing in some satire and humor.
Stewart became a breath of fresh air in a smog-ridden news hub. Of course, some might say that he was not out there on the field asking those same biting questions to politicians or VIPs, but I would remind those people that Steward is not a journalist; he is a comedian who took on a form of comedy that happened to involve communicating facts and unbiased information. He without knowing it, and perhaps without wanting it, became a beacon of real news reporting and many followed in his steps.
Among those who followed in Steward’s stride was Stephen Colbert, though he did something different and brilliant. He created a character (also named Stephen Colbert) which was a hyperbolic amalgamation of several real-life news anchors and journalists. I would say that the character, Colbert, does not seem as exaggerated next to the anchors or journalists in Fox News. At the start of his show, The Colbert Report, Colbert’s character told his audience that he would not support any of his claims with facts and figures; rather, he would support his claims with “truthiness.”
This “truthiness” came from the gut; it was a feeling, it came from the heart, and it supported a claim in a way that facts never could. He was, of course, mocking the journalistic style that has become commonplace in a journalist’s line of work. Colbert was a protégé of Stewart with the goal to lift the veil that many news networks have placed over current events.
However, both of these journalistic comedians are gone and only John Oliver and Larry Wilmore remain to carry the torch, though it will not be the same. For over 10 years, these comedians became the journalists who asked the hard questions; they became the journalists who sought the truth and communicated it; they became the journalists that journalists today ought to be.