Saturday, August 05, 2017

The real trouble with the news

This video from Vox explains what’s really wrong with the news media in the USA. It’s not what they report, as mainstream people already know. Instead, it’s about how they report it—normalising the abnormal, acting as if “this is fine”. It isn’t.

Anyone who’s run across righwingers on social media has inevitably come across their favourite dismissal of facts and evidence: The news media, they declare, “lies”. The more extreme, less educated, or most trolling-inclined rightwingers will use Don’s favourite cliché, “fake news”, but I’ve noticed that most conservatives seem to try to avoid that stupid phrase precisely because it’s so banal and silly. Instead, they try to say the same thing in other ways.

I recently had a rightwinger tell me in no uncertain terms that everything reported about the collusion between Don’s campaign (and possibly Don himself) and the Russian government is all “lies”. No evidence for that bold assertion was offered, except one: Dan Rather. It wasn’t anything Rather has said in the six long months since Don took over, despite Rather’s often pointed and stern criticism of Don and his regime. No, the “evidence” was the incident in 2004 when Rather reported controversial, probably faked, documents alleging that George Bush the Second, then running for re-election as president, had received preferential treatment in the Texas Air National Guard. Apparently, the rightwing’s whole position is that one guy being very wrong some 13 years ago means that ALL mainstream journalists are always wrong nowadays. Even though Rather doesn’t work for any mainstream news media organisation.

I call this the “Yes But Defence”, which goes like this: Make any criticism of Don and/or his regime, and rightwingers respond with, “yes, but X did/said this thing that is completely unrelated to this issue, but it ‘proves’ the news media is lying”.

However, despite the howls and shrieks of protest from the rightwing, the fact is that most journalists get it right most of the time. There haven’t been massive retractions of the stories reported about Don and his cabal, and, in fact, the error rate is about the same now as it was, for example, during the Administration of President Obama. Yet the rightwing persists on pushing the myth of “lying” news media because they have no other defence against the facts and evidence presented against Don and his cabal. So, the reality is that the news media doesn’t “lie”, they present truth that the rightwing doesn’t like to hear.

Rightwingers often try to get around the fact that they’re actually just complaining about truth and facts by calling it “negative”, and alleging that the coverage is “unfair” because it’s negative. But this, too, is mere deflection: By claiming the news media is being “unfair” to Don and his regime, they don’t have to deal with any of the facts and evidence they don’t like, they can just claim to be “victims”.

It seems to me that it’s these latter claims—of “unfairness” and “negativity”—that have led to the news media pulling their punches in reporting on Don and his cabal. They can use multiple sources for the stories they report—and they do—but that will never be good enough for rightwingers. However, by controlling how they present those stories, how they report the verified facts, they end up with their “this is fine” bias.

Sure, most mainstream journalists tend to favour the status quo, anyway, and see a more or less steady path of government, something that can lead them to fail to notice when things are deeply disturbed, and the path is no longer steady. But reporting on the chaos in the White House and the actions of Don and his cabal as if it’s all perfectly normal and usual isn’t just embracing the status quo, it’s actively denying reality, and it betrays their duty to the public.

Naturally, the rightwing doesn’t see it that way. They’re so wrapped-up and thoroughly invested in their self-proclaimed “victimhood” that they’re incapable of seeing that things are not “normal”, that there’s something very wrong with Don, or that the mainstream news media is merely reporting truth and facts that the rightwing doesn’t like.

But there’s nothing new or unique in the rightwing’s behaviour, and the leftwing does it, too. In fact, the farther one goes out from centre in either direction the more common this sort of behaviour becomes. It’s just that at the moment only the rightwing is doing this, trying to defend and excuse the indefensible behaviour and regime of Don and his cabal. The leftwing will probably join this game once the 2020 presidential election season begins, but for now this is a rightwing thing.

To repurpose an old saying, there’s nothing wrong with the news media that can’t be fixed with what’s right about the news media. The way to ensure facts and truth get out is more evidence-based reporting, not less. The way to ensure fairness is to report more, not less. The way to ensure democracy survives is to report more, not less.

Right now, it’s the rightwing moaning and gnashing its teeth over news media reporting facts and truth that they simply don’t like. Eventually, the leftwing will do it, too. If the news media continues to focus on evidence-based factual reporting, and they do so with full honesty, not blind fidelity to the “this is fine” bias, the truth will win, no matter what the partisans choose to believe. And that’s how it should be.

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