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May 30, 2017

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Idiots, fake news and baby reporters

Thomas Jefferson wrote from Paris to Edward Carrington, whom he sent as a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1786 to 1788, on the importance of a free press to keep government in check. He concluded that if he had to choose between "a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

Had the third U.S. president been in Donald Trump's place, he wouldn't have said so. A few people watch TV news and read papers that are no longer truly reliable like the "banks of old," whose most modern counterparts are, alas, not as safe as they should be.

With the rise of online reporters, the unreliable "press" is worldwide, but the media including internet newsmongers in the United States are not as bad as their opposite numbers in Taiwan. The trend was set during the reign of President Chen Shui-bian, who is now on a medical parole from serving a 20-year sentence for corruption and graft as well as money laundering, and has since been getting worse. The worst case is the rumors spread by unlicensed broadcasting stations in central and southern Taiwan spread on the eve of the presidential election in 2004. They all reported his assassination was attempted by General Secretary Hu Jintao of the Chinese Communist Party, who wanted Lien Chan of the Kuomintang to beat Taiwan's incumbent president. Chen won reelection by a razor-thin margin, and continued to rake in bribes totaling at least NT$1 billion.

President Ma Ying-jeou was the victim of the irresponsible press and online reporters. And even the world-famous American cable news television channel of CNN covered the Typhoon Morakot disaster of 2009, which wreaked unprecedented havoc in southern Taiwan killing 677 people, and its reporter called for a recall of President Ma for his failure to timely rescue those trapped in landslides. Fortunately, the people of Taiwan were not like lemmings as he believed to be. No call was made to recall Ma, who, however, was victimized by Taiwan's unfair media and quasi-reporters.

Why so?

Reasons are not far to seek. Taiwan has countless baby reporters. There are practically no competent copy editors. Publishers and editors need sensational stories and wish only to cater to readers and viewers politically polarized, thereby further dividing the country into the two groups opposing each other of increasing pro-independence supporters and dwindling Chinese unification adherents.

Almost all media owners only care about the circulation and ratings. They encourage their baby reporters, copy editors and editors to present stories as sensationally as possible to increase the revenue. Their news staffs have to obey to keep the jobs. The result is poor reporting at best. They are babies, no matter how long they have been reporting, simply because they haven't been properly trained and have failed to learn their trade. Journalism is not a profession.

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