Believe it or not, I drew this cartoon way before the latest public discussion about “fake news” and “alternative facts” came to surface.
The recent debate about the authenticity of major news sources follows President Trump’s latest clash with CNN. Trump claimed that CNN, as well as other news networks, intentionally published distorted figures regarding the crowd size during Trump’s inauguration ceremony. Trump went further and accused CNN of spreading “fake news”. With your kind permission, I’ll steer away from this discussion. I’ll do this since, much like most of you, I have no way of finding out who is right and who is wrong in this argument. Also, I really have no interest in participating, or knowing the results of, this stupid argument inauguration-crowd-size-comparison-slash-presidential-dick-measuring-contest between Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Instead, I would like to take a few moments to discuss the the media’s role in this discussion. I’ll also try to find out whether or not the growing suspicion some people have with regards to the credibility of their news sources is justified.
Anyone who was ever first-hand witness to a story which was later published in the news, knows that reported news are not, and can never be, 100% accurate. 100% accuracy is impossible even if we’re talking about the most professional and ethical reporters. There’s a really good explanation for this: A good news reporter gets the story from several sources, cross-checks the facts, and filters what he sees as important. The story he or she writes then get through additional filters (usually by an editor). The final, cross-checked, filtered result turns to a story that you read in the paper or hear in a newscast. Since each source gives his subjective view on what happened, and since each reporter and editor applies different filters according to what he/she sees as important, two reporters covering the same story could provide different perspectives on the same story.
Most intelligent people understand the process of reporting news. Therefore, most intelligent people will accept the fact that a story can have different angles, and that it can be told in different ways.
However, most people expect their news reporters to be:
- Professional – the reporter should try to get as many facts from as many reliable sources as possible.
- Neutral – the reporter should leave personal beliefs and prejudice aside when reporting the story.
- Authentic – the reporter should provide as many angles to the story as possible, leaving no important detail unheard. For example, at the end of an investigative story, it’s customary to publish the responses of the investigated persons, to hear their side of the story.
When a media source doesn’t comply with one or more of the above, it creates a a breach of trust between itself and its consumers. As it turns out, many news organizations are becoming less compliant the above terms.
When news organizations publish stories that contain numerous unchecked facts, or have misleading titles, just so they could get sell more papers, or get more clicks, it harms the professionalism.
When a news organization officially endorses a presidential candidate, it loses any shred of neutrality that was left in it. When news organizations omit from their reports the religious beliefs and/or ideology of terrorists, even though those terrorists say loud and clear that they are committing their acts in the name of that religion or ideology, they are omitting a very important part of the story, thus harming their authenticity.
When you add the close ties that many media moguls have with leading political and business figures, and the potential pressures the latter put on getting positive coverage, you get yet another possible reason to question the integrity of some news organizations.
Trust is the key element here. Once we start losing trust in our news sources, it’s harder for us to “believe” the news we hear, especially those news that contradict our system of beliefs or our ideology. Every new story, every piece of evidence, we start wondering: “Is this true? What is the hidden agenda behind publishing the story?”. Once we go this path, even important stories, which are based on reliable sources, start to sounds like fake news.
So in one thing Donald Trump is right: as media bias continues to become more common, major news sources continue to lose their credibility and their rating. And this should alarm us all, because a strong, independent media is a crucial part of a healthy, functioning Democracy. And if we let go our watchdogs of democracy, we’ll end up with coyotes and wolves roaming freely in our back yard.