Service of Gotcha Journalism

June 21st, 2010

Categories: Blame, Competition, Gotcha Journalism, Guilt, Newspapers


BP’s Tony Hayward spoke about the “little people” and how he looked forward to getting “back his life,” two quotes that will no doubt appear in his obituary if not on his tombstone. And he was recently seen yachting while his oil is polluting the Gulf water affecting millions.

Helen Thomas said that the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go where? To Poland and Germany. Then she resigned-or was forced to.

These are facts. Hayward and Thomas said/did these things and before and long after them hundreds of others will be caught saying/doing whatever the press-or competitors-dig up from a college paper, a speech or Facebook entry early in a career, hear at a cocktail party–captured on a smartphone–or over a live mic that the speaker thought was turned off.

off-trackGotcha journalism garners headlines, but often steers us off the track. Reminds me of the final days of my Dad’s battle with cancer when friends and family called to see how things were. We railed against the hospital because housekeeping consistently ran out of clean towels and washcloths. Tossing energy and voice at this extreme inconvenience allowed us not to face what really was wrong: We were losing Dad. Grousing about towels served a psychological purpose, helping us ease into the inevitable.

So Hayward misspeaks and headlines blare which puts in the background the fact that millions of gallons of oil continue to contaminate our shores and thousands of people are put out of work. But aren’t we missing something? Where are the headlines that address the progress toward stopping the leak?

The front page headline in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal while more to the point–“BP Relied on Cheaper Wells“–is significant for regulations regarding future drilling, if there is ever to be offshore drilling in this country again. But isn’t the bigger issue what we will do, and soon, to reduce the demand for oil so we no longer need to jeopardize our shores, livelihood and health?

sweetdrinksSpeaking of health, New York State is considering a tax on sweet drinks, both to generate revenue and to make people aware of the empty calories and negative health ramifications of these drinks [that I love]. A hefty tax on gas and increased government subsidies for public transportation might have the same affect on our use of oil.

As for Helen Thomas, her outburst illustrates how close to the top violent feelings remain even for a journalist whose lifetime goal has been to be objective. She is not alone on either side of the war in the Middle East. Her resignation also brings up the question of what issues break a camel’s back in our country and which a camel can continue to carry without breaking stride. We may never know whether Thomas’s employer had been praying for an excuse to fire her for years. No doubt, if anyone cares by then, the truth will eventually leak out.

What service do you see that gotcha journalism plays in our lives? Do you think it has always been in play or that technology catches more of it today and spreads it farther and faster than ever before?


8 Responses to “Service of Gotcha Journalism”

  1. LK Said:

    My career group says to not pay attention to sky-is-falling economic headlines because they’ll just needlessly demoralize the job seeker.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    LK, What a great association between Gotcha Journalism headlines and the potential of sending goose pimples up and down even the sturdiest spine unnecessarily–serving zero positive purpose.

  3. Ann L Said:

    Remember the remark….Where’s the beef…..bye bye Mondale. Now, we have our little British guy with smirk on face…..I want my life back…..I don’t blame him…what a life!!!! Anyhow, it was a totally inappropriate remark at the time.

    Gotcha Journalism sells papers! Yep, it’s the “follow the money” game again. It has always been in play….look at some of the headlines from newspapers of the Depression era and on and on and on.

    High Tech makes it move faster. It also makes it go away faster as we move on to the next Gotcha…..

  4. Simon Carr Said:

    I too believe that there is nothing new about gotcha journalism. It just happens faster, is less constrained, as are perhaps both its victims and its consumers. However, I don’t like it, period!

    I was lucky when young to have been given heavy doses of history by some very tough, first class teachers who insisted that we look at facts before arriving at conclusions. Consequently, I believe that this made me less gullible than TV and Internet sated more recent generations are, less taken in by the gotcha approach to news, or rather scandal, spreading.

    As to Mr. Hayward, he reminds me of a navy captain whom I once knew that proudly wore the Medal of Honor. Even so, when he was asleep in bed and his cruiser went on the rocks, he was court marshaled. It is hard to have much sympathy for Hayward’s having been gotten by the “gotcha boys” with all that oil still leaking.

    Helen Thomas is a different matter. Even though, as a long time reader of the New York Times, I am skeptical that journalists, including the best of them, have “a lifetime goal to be objective,” I feel sorry for her. In old age, she forgot one of the cardinal rules of survival. There are certain subjects about which it is unhealthy to say what you truly believe. In fervent societies like ours, heretics may gain heaven as martyrs, but they don’t survive. She should be forgiven.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Ann L,

    It will be interesting to see whether your forecast that we hear about things faster but will forget them faster as well holds true. As for gotcha being around forever, yellow journalism had its distinct place before and then there was what was considered serious reporting. Today the lines smudge.


    You are right about the subjects that are unhealthy to discuss–we were all warned as children to avoid religion and politics.

    Not quite sure whether it was your history lessons or being taught to think through and research a subject before making a decision that serves you best in analyzing what you read or hear in the news. In any case, there will always be those who look for proof of their beliefs, regardless of the source, and will take the time they should spend contemplating the significance and validity of what they have heard to instead go straight to celebrate the nasty news.

  6. ASK Said:

    “Gotcha” journalism seems to breed public (insincere?) apologies (Yikes! I got caught!); both are best ignored…

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    This “gotcha” journalism you describe appears as an intent to call attention away from a specific problem. It’s a growing nuisance from which the press/media would do well to rid itself. This never ending quote of various gaffes from CEOs, politicians, nabobs and etc. is nerve racking and increasingly ineffective. One or two prize bloopers are one thing. Now, one can’t open a paper without being treated to a new one every day. Worse, we must hear the now stale “life back” repeated until someone comes along with another unremarkable statement .

    I am not defending anyone, but am becoming increasingly impatient with lack of originality. The BP disaster is horrific, but instead of repeating a clutch of quotes ad nauseam, how about one or more journalists donning hip boots and getting down to the bayou to help out and then relate an experience? It might inspire others to volunteer much needed help, money or supplies. Equally important, they will be doing what they are paid to do – report news by telling people what’s going on.

    The Helen Thomas episode is a waste of time. Lots of people don’t like Jews and have said as much or worse many times before.(Anyone remember the Holocaust?) So where’s the news? This non story may well succeed in raising hopes of white supremacists looking for a reason to sound off.

    If this is the garbage which sells papers other than the Enquirer or similar rags, it’s hard to decide whether to laugh at public stupidity or cry because it exists in such huge numbers.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I think that publishers are encouraging gotcha journalism in order to remain in a spotlight. General McChrystal and his big mouth in Rolling Stone should not be the news, Afghanistan and what we are doing there is the story. At his stage of the game, McChrystal should know better than to go blah, blah, blah to a free lance writer or reporter of any stripe but that story, too, is tired, old news.

    Lots of people don’t like lots of people but especially once someone has acquired some fame, I think that they should keep their prejudices to themselves. Awareness is key so that it’s fine to point out the impact of an unhelpful statement. One thing that annoys some but I think is a positive change in the past 20 years is the concept of thinking of what you are saying and its affect on others–an offshoot of political correctness. Hurtful generalizations, name-calling and expressions that use spiteful words are neither clever, creative nor helpful. They serve only to toss hot sauce on open sores.

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