The news industry has a black eye after the brawling, bruising election of 2016. There really were no winners in this bloodbath. Among politicians the codes of decency, civility and honor were decimated. But the real losers were basic journalistic values, which took a severe beating throughout the months of endless barrages of insults, false reports, fake news and bruising accusations.
What follows is a report card reflecting the grades I would hand out to the media after the election.
Neutral observers D-
I’ve talked with people from both red and blue states and not once did I hear of anyone who found a truly credible source working without an agenda. This is truly sad, given that one of the foundations of journalism is to provide an objective voice and 3rd person point of view. Republicans complain of the slanted coverage on CNN, the New York Times, Huffington Post, etc. Democrats point to the conservative agenda of Fox News, Briebart, the Drudge Report etc. In my opinion, just about every news source is guilty of putting their POV across in the selection of hosts, guests, analysis and content.
Truth & Accuracy F
When you have both sides of the aisle complaining of “Fake News” from the other you know that something is amiss. With the new president’s press corps proclaiming a new era of “alternate facts” and the complaints from conservatives of the “enemy media” and fake news claims from both sides, really, it seems truth is in short supply. Also fact checkers had a field day looking to substantiate some of the claims carelessly flung around by the candidates. Accuracy is a casualty of the rush to get an edge, to get the story out first, without consideration of the facts.
Present Facts Without Passing Judgment C-
This one is a little tricky. Some of the newspapers and networks seem like they are being objective, and upholding objectivity and journalistic integrity. But, it’s easy to see the bias implicit in their reporting. Editors select what stories to follow and what to pass on. When the New York Times runs five or six stories critical of the new Trump administration in their lead, and Fox News leads with their stories in support, the partisan press disguised as an objective press comes into focus.
Crediting Sources D
In the “Society of Professional journalists’ code of Ethics” journalists are urged to “Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.’ In this new era of “partisan news” however, stories begin in the strangest and murkiest of places. The participatory culture has given us bloggers who have no journalistic training, and partisan viewpoints that need nurturing. So a “source” could be a fabricated fake news story started on a political blogger’s site, which is picked up by more seemingly reputable news organizations and reported as “news.” One glaring example of this was Buzzfeed’s decision to run the “Trump Russian Dossier” story without fully vetting its sources and verifying its authenticity. Next thing you know the dossier is the talk of all of the news shows.
Public Interest D
“Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.” Again this statement from the journalistic “Code of Ethics” is debatable. A journalist with partisan views may feel he is serving the public’s interest by writing stories that support his or her political positions. Even though personal bias is frowned upon, it is clear from some of the partisan coverage mentioned above, that a not-so-hidden agenda is being served by most of the reputable journalistic institutions like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, right down to the news aggregators with partisan views like Briebart and the Huffington Post.
Whereas we the people depend on a free and independent press to tell us the truth (or in Walter Cronkite’s famous sign off – “That’s the Way it is…”), today’s journalistic climate of political bias deserves a near failing grade. It leaves more citizens wondering, “Who can I trust?”