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Media Takes Hits
At CJ Millennium Seminar

The American public is not being served well these days by a media intent on entertainment, ratings and profits, according to Loyal Gould, a former reporter and journalism professor who spoke Tuesday at Sam Houston State University.

Gould, who worked for newspapers and a wire service before finishing his career as a journalism professor at Baylor University, spoke at the Office of International Criminal Justice Millennium Seminar under way through Wednesday.

Gould praised reporters like Dan Rather, and Rather's mentor Hugh Cunningham, "who instilled into his students the concept of public journalism as a public trust."

That trust "has been supplanted by the endless pursuit by publishers and broadcasters of ever-increasing profits, by a hunger for ever-rising ratings and readership at whatever cost to society," Gould said.

Instead of traditional news about politics, government, diplomacy and business, we are inundated with "infotainment" stories centering on sex, celebrity, violence, cuteness and what are known as "lifestyle" stories.

One result, he said, is the public misperception "that we are being drowned in a tidal wave of criminal activity. In fact, crime in America is not out of control."

In addition to alarming citizens, such reporting causes politicians to react with more prisons and longer sentences, but "may also lessen pressures for (preventive) action that might more effectively diminish the incidence of crime."

Unlike journalists of his day, who often came from blue collar backgrounds and lived in middle class neighborhoods, Gould believes, today's television anchor people are "men and women with pretty faces, stylized hair and anointed voices," with little feel for "Mr. and Mrs. Average American."

"Something else that disappeared was a conviction that first-rate journalism comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable."

Gould criticized media that took information leaked from Kenneth Starr's investigation of Bill Clinton, without identifying their sources and instead of "digging for their own material." And when the leaks were wrong, "most of the journalists who reported the leaks failed to correct them."

Gould said that "lazy reporting," relying on legal documents, files and databases, often cause reporters to repeat earlier, uncorrected mistakes.

Courts and police also took hits because of the incarceration rate for black and Hispanic men that are much higher than for whites. Gould quoted Bureau of Justice Statistics for 1996 that showed that the incarceration rate for black men was eight times the rate for whites and double the rate for Hispanics.

"Not even the most convinced racist could believe that blacks are that much more criminally inclined than whites," he said. "It can only be explained as resulting from latent or active racism in the criminal justice system."

As for the hope of better news coverage in the future, the Internet does not look promising, he said.

"You won't need oceans of ink, tons and tons of newsprint or expensive television cameras and broadcast equipment," Gould said, "and certainly not a staff of highly trained and ethical reporters and editors for you to spread ideology, gossip, propaganda, scare stories, lies or whatever you decide to call 'news.'"

- END -

Full text of Loyal Gould speech.

SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
June 20, 2000
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