The media are facing a grammatical crisis. The New York Times, for one, still writes “the media is.” Part two of this insult to thinking people is the relative use of “crisis.”
The crisis issue was made evident in a recent New York Times article on Bill Cosby’s latest legal woes. “There is no benefit in speaking out now, and there is a risk because anything he (Cosby) says can be held against him,” observed Dan Hill.
The statement is hardly revelatory but consider why the Times chose Hill as a source. He’s President of Ervin Hill Strategy, a firm specializing in “crisis and reputation consultancy” in Washington. It should have occurred to me that reputation-mending firms flourish in D.C., but in my Left Coast naïveté I was confounded by crisis and reputation consultancy. The mind reels. This is a concept in search of a cartoonist. Picture the solemn line of potential clients who need crisis and reputation consultancy: Stalin, Napoleon, Genghis Khan, Kissinger, Pol Pot, Judas, Pee Wee Herman, George Bush, Brian Williams, Imelda Marcos, Pete Rose, Nixon, Donald Trump and, it appears, Mr. Cosby.
Now the source cited does have a relationship to “the media.” After all, how else can you reconstruct a reputation without massaging a few media contacts? It’s hard to assess the source’s actual niche in the media world, but I would draw the analogy used by the late comedian Fred Allen to describe our business leaders: “On ships they call them barnacles; in business they attach themselves to desks and are called vice presidents.”
Now I challenge readers to name another media outlet in Washington with the word “crisis” in its title. You get full credit if you cited The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. I admit that I had not heard of the Pulitzer Center until 2014, when I attended the Journalism Faculty Washington Conference led by Journalism Professor Gil Klein of American University.
Unlike the firm cited earlier that attempts to remove “all stains,” The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting “promotes in-depth engagement with global affairs through its sponsorship of quality international journalism across all media platforms and an innovative program of outreach and education.”
A recent Pulitzer Center posting with video runs under the headline “After the Trauma: A Community Trying to Heal,” in which Emily Feldman reports “a year after ISIS tried to wipe the Yazidi minority off the map, the scarred community is slowly trying to move on.” (http://pulitzercenter.org)
Both the “stain remover” firm and the Pulitzer Center have a place in the vast canvas known as The Media. Others include the muckrakers of a bygone era: Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, I.F. Stone, and more recently, Seymour Hersh, Amy Goodman, PBS Frontline, Mike Taibbi, and Project Censored, launched at Sonoma State University in 1976. But the media also harbor radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and his ilk, Fox News, bloggers of all stripes, and Internet sites too numerous to mention. The Media “are” reformers and hate-mongers and everything in between. New York Times and others culpable: Please observe the plurality.
Burt Dragin teaches journalism at Laney College in Oakland, CA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org