‘Murphy Brown’ 11×10 Review: “Beat The Press”

I have often mentioned in these reviews that I, too, am a member of the press. As such, I found the dilemma presented in “Beat The Press” to be all too resonant. When your safety and that of your colleagues is on the line, do you hold back?

The central plot deals with angry Trump supporters attacking Frank hours after Murphy joked on-air about the president. I do wish the anger was over simple reporting of facts the White House doesn’t like, rather than Murphy’s joke. We have seen that plain old truth and persistent pursuit of it seem to infuriate this Administration more than anything else. Last month it was taken to the extreme of revoking Jim Acosta’s White House press credential. After a judge ordered it returned, the president called on the White House press corps to be “respectful,” with a clear implication that “respect” really meant, “Don’t challenge me.”

Meet The Press

The president misunderstands what our job is. The media are not there to be his brass band and cheering section. We’re not supposed to have a comfortable, cozy relationship with government. We’re not supposed to simply parrot back whatever is said by those in power, without challenge.

Our job is to question authority, and our first duty is to the truth.

Truth can make people uncomfortable or even angry. That in itself is nothing new. I’ve dealt with plenty of angry viewers and listeners over the years. But there is something new to the tenor of the anger these days. It’s not just people muttering in their beer or vandalizing news vehicles.

It says something when news outlets like my own begin to provide “Hostile Patron Training.”

It says something when our choices of who covers presidential visits and rallies are based on who in the newsroom has had “Hostile Environment Awareness Training,” a course originally intended for journalists headed into war zones.

And it says something when news outlets have to become fortresses for fear of another angry person coming in to shoot and kill the staff, as happened at the Capital Gazette earlier this year.

All of this can have a chilling effect on reporting. When Frank tells Murphy he’s not sure he wants to do this anymore, I understand and sympathize with him. It’s a feeling I have had from time to time over the past two years. When Murphy pulls back on questioning a clearly idiotic government official, I understand her, too.

But then I remind myself that my first duty is to the truth.

What Can You Do As A News Consumer?

This episode examines the problem, but doesn’t offer any solutions for newsrooms except to keep doing what we do. And so we will. But there are things the audience can do as well. Primarily, become choosy about your sources of news. The University of Texas offers a primer on evaluating news sources. Ad Fontes Media has produced a “bias” chart which ranks national outlets based on how their stories skew and their reporting methodology (fact-based vs. opinion-based).

You can also learn about how news is produced. Check out Poynter.org or The Columbia Journalism Review to understand the ethics that guide us and the challenges that impede us. The NPR Ombudsman is another excellent source of media criticism that can help you understand what makes a newsroom tick.

Read. Listen. Learn. The only true enemy of the people is willful ignorance.

Murphy Brown airs Thursday nights at 9:30/8:30 Central on CBS.

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