The Septuagenarian Speaks – published November 19, 2018, Siskiyou Daily News.
Donald Trump has talked about “Fake News” for several years. More recently he has tweeted his rhetoric that “The Media is the true enemy of the people.” He has been criticized for that, perhaps rightfully so. Some critics believe his rhetoric indicates a sinister plot to turn the United States into a Marxist-Leninist state. I personally don’t believe that. Although inartfully, Trump is pointing out that the media today is dysfunctional and reckless. He’s right.
The First Amendment prohibits abridging the freedom of the press. The founding fathers recognized the importance of the press as a “fourth estate” to provide additional checks and balances beyond those provided by the three branches of the government. Americans need to be highly vigilant to recognize and resist attempts to chip away at the freedom of the press.
This “fourth estate” is of vital importance to protecting our freedoms, but along with that importance comes responsibility. The media is not living up to its responsibility. Civility is one of the issues, but that discussion will be saved for a later day, perhaps after the courts finish dissecting the Jim Acosta press-pass affair.
Here is the focus of today’s rant. There is no longer an identifiable standard that journalists must follow to verify, corroborate, and fact-check stories before making them front-page news. Is it “Three high level officials who wish to remain anonymous have reported…”? Or “One high level official”? Or how about “Some folks at the coffee shop across the street from the Washington Post”? Journalism standards of ethics and accuracy have hit rock bottom.
Until recently media outlets with no discernable minimum standards of accuracy or ethics have been the exclusive domain of supermarket tabloids, such as The Globe and The National Enquirer. No more. Now, it would not surprise me to see The Washington Post, The New York Times, or The New Yorker on the racks while going through the checkout line.
This doesn’t just apply to the press. The other media that we read, see, and hear are just as bad. What makes this whole phenomenon frightening is that not only is the journalism sloppy, but it is agenda-driven. There are strident media outlets on the right and strident media outlets on the left. What they are essentially doing, since accuracy is no longer a requirement, is feeding us propaganda.
The media’s abdication of its responsibility to be accurate means that average American citizens like you and me must step up and accept our responsibility to ferret out the truth. It is human nature for us to want to read, see, and hear only the information that meshes with our own ideology or belief-structure. We must be more broad-minded and try to understand the other side. Unfortunately, it is not that easy to do.
For example, I consider myself to be right of center, politically. My media publication of choice is The National Review. For the most part, The National Review is preaching to the choir with me, and it’s comfortable. It would be easy for me to simply read the National Review and call it good.
But every day I make myself read, see, and hear media offerings covering the entire political and ideological spectrum. Examples are NPR in the mornings, then throughout the day, Washington Post, National Review, Politico, CNN, Reuters, New York Times, Fox, and others. As a practical matter, this is physically easy to do in today’s world where everything is as close as your computer keyboard. But emotionally it is hard to do.
Try it, if you haven’t already. It is amazing to discover that most stories indeed have at least two sides.