Friday, January 5, 2018

Whom Do You Believe?

I have to believe I have written to this topic before, but it certainly is worth touching on again as it is still an issue.

Once upon a time, there were two sources of local and world news.  There was something called a "newspaper", which was published on newsprint, sold by subscription delivery to one's home or picked up at something called a newsstand, or from a "newsboy", who may have been a girl.  For the most part, you bought a newspaper that covered your local area, most of which had only one or two.  And while decades back there were morning and evening editions of a paper, the evening paper eventually died off in favor of the morning one.

The other news source was broadcast journalism.  In the early days of radio and television, that meant a national and a local program broadcast in the evening, covering the days events in the world and the local city or community.  That was where the notion of an anchor, a "trusted" individual who would read a prompter solemnly and believably, arose.  Once upon a time, those people were, indeed, trusted.

We believed the newspaper, and we believed the anchors on the air.  We had no reason not to; if we read or heard that something had actually happened, well, we assumed that it actually had.  More importantly but more quietly, if they did not choose to tell us something, we flat-out did not learn about it, and would be led to assume, if we were told later, that it had simply not been important enough.

That was then, and this is now.

In my brief New Year's column, I noted that 2017 was a year of "fake news", and I meant a lot by that.  Particularly, I wanted to point out that the term "fake news" had been promulgated heavily this year, and from it we learned that, horror of horrors, the news media made up stories, or went to press with untruths and stories that had not been properly vetted, or vetted at all, in accordance with the medium's own journalistic guidelines, in a hurry to get anti-Trump stories out there.

Amid that, I have started to notice something when I watch the news on TV (I no longer get a newspaper).  I don't believe what I am hearing.

When an anchor from network X is talking, he will throw it over to the White House correspondent from network X to describe events in Washington that day.  But that is the same correspondent who earlier at the daily press briefing asked a biased (or stupid) question that we all heard then, because those briefings are aired now.

If we know the correspondent is a jerk, then how do we trust that what he or she is saying is accurate?  And then how do we trust the anchor if he doesn't challenge the correspondent's account of the day's activities?

I've caught myself a few times in the last month, hearing something on air and wondering if it was made up by the news team.  As soon as that happened, I said to myself that, effectively, I can no longer trust the news for any purpose at all.

For yesterday's column, as an example, I had to look up the Wikipedia entry for Susan Rice.  I noticed that one critical fact in that entry was sourced from a New York Times story.  Well, the New York Times is so biased, they are the standard for the loss of integrity in print journalism.  This was a simple point of fact, but I found myself having to check other sources for the same fact, simply because I couldn't trust the truthfulness of anything from the Times.

Do they care?  I mean, if there is one bedrock notion in journalism, it is that your editorial and reportorial sides are walled off, so that your stories are not seen as influenced by the opinions of the owners of the paper.  But clearly the leader in New York print journalism has gotten its wires so crossed that that wall no longer exists, and that means that we can't trust the paper's reporting of simple news stories anymore.  I ask again, do they care?

I have great respect for historical lights of journalism and, as Kris Kringle once said, contempt for meddling amateurs who practice it.  So I wonder what the few remaining true journalists -- folks like Chris Wallace, for example -- feel about the fact that their profession has practically died as the form it once was, to where opinions have made reporting suspect of being biased in the most mundane situations.

Well, there is always the weather; we know we can rely on that.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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1 comment:

  1. Weather? you mean global warming...climate change? Paris accords?