Two weeks ago 350 plus newspapers in the U.S. had editorials decrying the present administration’s portrait of the news media as “the enemy of the people.”
The New York Times editorial board headlined their missive: “A Free Press Needs You.” It quoted Thomas Jefferson who, in writing to a friend in 1787, the year the Constitution was born, said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
Of course, he felt differently after he became President himself! “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper,” he wrote. “Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”
His discomfort was valid as part of the mandate of the press was to ferret out and report on the accountability of government. Discomfited or not, a free press is a fundamental American institution firmly established by the writers of the Constitution to assure against the oppression of truth they had encountered from England before the American revolution. So members of the press were just doing their job.
The freedom of the press, protected by the First Amendment, is critical to a democracy in which a government is accountable to the people. A free media functions as a watchdog that can investigate and report on government wrongdoing.
The first amendment to the Constitution bars Congress from abridging the freedom of speech or of the press for good reason. Press’ freedom means the news media are not subject to censorship by the government. Our founding fathers believed that a well-informed public is best to promote liberty and justice. That is still true today.
Yet we have issues. Is the media doing its job as it should? While the present administration is painting all journalism as fake news, it’s important to question further. Just because we may not like negative reporting on an issue does not make it a lie or fake.
One of the areas of news we need to question and understand more thoroughly is that of adversarial journalism which we are seeing more of today. And, which is leading to the present labeling and conflict.
Adversarial journalism at one time was labeled “yellow journalism” and, by some, as “muckraking!” While it has its place, it is a style of journalism that lacks some journalistic integrity. It is often the term given to investigative reporting that has an antagonistic reproach and can be abusive and overly biased.
Some of our cable news networks and social media outlets are “guilty” of this with their striving for the best ratings and market share by pitting confrontational hosts and stating “facts” which are more opinion than fact.
While this type of reporting claims to be news, it makes for increased partisanship and a lack of objectivity. It is killing real investigative journalism.
Still, it has its place if carried out with integrity as the Watergate investigation, the Snowden investigations, reporting on Big Pharma, oil monopolies, child labor laws, EPA abuses, CIA, FBI, and a hundred more sound investigations have led to exposure and solutions.
Unpleasant but necessary.
“Public discussion is a political duty,” the Supreme Court said in 1964. That discussion must be “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open,” and “may well include vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
For many reasons, and this is one of them, it is critical that media communicate the truth or they erode their very reason for existence.
Yes, media makes mistakes. The economic restrictions that print media especially deals with today put a heavy burden on limited resources which, in turn, affects the vigorous fact-checking of yesterday.
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It is important and necessary that those mistakes are called out and corrected. And correcting those mistakes is core to the job, however insisting that truths we may not like are fake is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy.
Fake news is made-up news, a lie. It’s not based on traditional reporting values like facts and sourcing. It’s not “news” at all. The problem is that many believe the debate and accusations. More than 4 in 10 people in a Gallup poll earlier this year could not name a single objective news source. Almost eight in 10 (77%) in a Monmouth University poll released last month said TV and print media report “fake news.” That’s a 14-point increase from those who said the same last year.
In a recent YouGov poll, 43 percent of Americans say they’ve personally used the term “fake news” to describe something. People on both sides of an issue often claim the other side is creating “fake news.”
And the Pew Research Center published a study which examines whether members of the public can recognize news as factual – something that’s capable of being proved or disproved by objective evidence – or as an opinion that reflects the beliefs and values of whoever expressed it.
This study shows Americans have difficulty distinguishing between fact and opinion. Only 26 percent of adults correctly identified five factual statements as such and only 35 percent were able to do the same for five opinion statements.
It seems that Americans call opinions “factual statements” when they overwhelmingly agree with them; and they incorrectly label as “opinions” factual statements which they disagree with.
Our founding fathers knew from experience that “a well-informed public is best equipped to root out corruption and, over the long haul, promote liberty and justice.” This is still true today.
Telling the truth as you see it when it endangers a company, the public trust, and our society is a moral obligation. Much of media today does their best to serve as the watchdog and truth sayers of society. We have a responsibility to call them out if they are not doing their job with impeccability. We also have a duty to do the same to any entity that filters the truth through their own lens at the expense of a democratic society.
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