Joseph Pulitzer had two goals as owner of The New York World:
- Sell as many newspapers as possible, and
- Support the Democratic Party.
Brilliant investigative reporting wasn't a goal, it was the organic product of two other goals, neither of which had anything to do with "journalism". Pulitzer didn't make money selling newspapers in order to finance great journalism. The journalism that sold newspapers was great. (It was also terrible: "French Scientist and Explorer Discovers a Race of Savages with Well-Developed Tails.")
The tragic irony of Joseph Pulitzer is what happened to the giant pile of cash that resulted from his great skill in selling newspapers. Pulitzer's donation of $2 million created the Columbia School of Journalism where it has been spent on the methodical and systematic libel of Joseph Pulitzer. As the high church of "objective journalism" the Columbia J School, armed with the unparalleled propaganda weapon of the Pulitzer Prize, has embedded deep within the American psyche the notion that great journalism--contrary to the evidence from the career of Joseph Pulitzer--does not just happen unless it is your specific mission. On top of this falsehood is piled the fallacy that "if it sells newspapers it cannot be great journalism".
The great muckrakers weren't after a Pulitzer Prize: it didn't exist! Instead, it was Pulitzer's pursuit of wealth and political sway that gave the world reporter Nellie Bly. Just an example, from her dispatches after deliberately getting committed to an insane asylum in order to report on the conditions:
What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? Here is a class of women sent to be cured. I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck.
Meanwhile, what kind of journalism meets with the approval of the dons at Columbia? The modern newsmedia works toward three avowed goals:
- Produce "great journalism".
- Be objective.
- Sell newspapers.
This modern "objective" model assumes that goals 1 and 2 are mutually reinforcing (when, in truth, they are mutually exclusive). Meanwhile, goal number 3 is considered to be an unfortunate reality that must be accepted as a means to advance goal number 1.
The crisis facing America in the day of The New York World was the desperate need for government to act to mitigate the harmful consequences of the Industrial Revolution. Joseph Pulitzer's response was Nellie Bly, whose expose from within an insane asylum is quoted above. Today, America faces a Constitutional crisis. Our system of government was designed to forge workable compromises between factions of different interests. But because we were ideologically unified for so long, our system is not well suited for parties that represent ideas instead of interests. Thus, the fact that the Tea Party branch of the GOP is organized on ideological grounds is, by itself, problematic. Elevating this "problem" to a "crisis" is the content of the ideology: "government is always morally corrupting." Can our major news organizations find a modern day Nellie Bly to dig deep, rack the muck, and bring the problem out into the light of day?
In 2013, The New York Times sent two reporters into an insane asylum and gave us this pablum:
Republicans argue that the Obama administration has itself delayed elements of the law. They say that at a minimum it should be postponed for a year to eliminate what they see as bureaucratic problems and harmful consequences for businesses and individuals. Republicans also say they have compromised by retreating from their insistence that all money be stripped from the health law.
Democrats say Republicans are being driven by the most extreme elements of their party to use the federal budget to extract concessions on health care that they could not win through the traditional legislative process. But with the government poised for a shutdown, no one in Congress seemed to know how or when the showdown would end. “The scary thing about the period we’re in right now is there is no clear end,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.
We're in trouble.