Have a conversation with a handful of Americans and you will quickly discover that they don’t agree on much.
But as of recently, many Americans (and even foreigners) have come to the consensus that the mainstream media is failing at its job and some have gone as far as to treat it as the enemy.
Ask a conservative, and you will hear that CNN is “fake news”.
Ask a liberal, and you’ll hear that the mainstream media’s been bought out by the interests of billionaires and multinational corporations.
Ask an Israeli and she will say that the American media treats Israel as the aggressor in the Middle East.
Ask a Palestinian and he will say that the American media is far too sympathetic to Israel.
But as I thought more about this, this common narrative about the media is strikingly paradoxical.
If the mainstream media continues to write pieces and broadcast news, then it is clearly supported as a necessary and important source of information by the bulk of American society.
Yet it seems to be the easy target for all sides to pick on.
So it attempting to revise this false indictment of the media, I thought about the stated premise of the media, to report and inform the public on events as they occur.
However I realized that this simple task has often been convoluted, for two reasons.
One, because in the current political climate, the information presented by cultural and institutional authorities for the media to report out is not reflective of the truth.
In these cases, the media is left with few options, as reporting on reality is no longer consistent with reporting on the presented reality.
Secondly, the media has traditionally functioned with a certain structure that has now become particularly vulnerable to manipulation.
This has made it even more difficult to confront falsified information, a problem that has become acute as liberals attempt to confront the rhetoric and posturing of conservatives, who currently dominate the government in numbers.
Generally speaking, mainstream media rarely denies airtime to advisors in President Trump’s administration.
They are viewed as trusted authority figures that give the public greater insight into the wishes and policy positions of the president.
Perhaps Trump’s most recognized advisor, Kellyanne Conway has appeared frequently on TV to do interviews.
But she has been much more of a distraction than an illuminating agent.
She runs the clock on interviewers, speaking around criticisms of Trump.
She refuses to answer interviewers’ questions, instead, picking out a central word in the question that she can use to promote ideas that paint Trump in favorable light.
This answering structure confuses audiences, while simultaneously making it appear as if she is answering questions.
Worse of all, she has proven to lack credibility, reinterpreting and changing positions to portray a false image of Trump’s administration.
Following Kellyanne Conway’s reference to the non-existent Bowling Green Massacre, CNN placed a temporary ban on Conway, turning her down for the Sunday “State of the Union” public affairs show.
Later, they reiterated their position, citing their concerns about Conway’s credibility.
These are essential steps for the liberals and even people of all political affiliations to take to confront conservative falsehoods and distortions of the truth.
The mainstream media has also hit difficulties with the content of conservative sources.
Traditionally, representatives of the media avoid using the word “lie”.
In an enlightening article by Philip Bump, a correspondent for The Washington Post, Bump discusses the difficulties associated with confronting a lie by Donald Trump or others in his administration through the media.
First, according to Bump, reporters feel that the word “lie” carries a judgment of the intentions of the person telling the lie and because it is difficult to pin down intent, media outlets are hesitant to go as far as to call something a “lie”.
Secondly, there is a general social expectation that members of the media are polite towards their subjects of reporting, especially in person.
Asking difficult questions to reveal inconsistencies, to repeat questions that are not answered and to outright call out lies are not accepted as typically polite behavior on the part of the media, so when members of the media are confronted with falsehood and unanswered questions, push back is viewed as overly aggressive, while yielding simply allows for a reiteration of inaccurate information.
Thirdly, these media outlets want to maintain the trust of their readership and the risk of the making an accusation as strong as suggesting a person of authority is “lying” is far too great.
Even if a media outlet has concluded that something is inaccurate with the information they have access to, the cost of being wrong in light of potentially hidden information is too dangerous, as it harms the media’s reputation even further, providing more evidence to the Trump administration that the media has an anti-Trump agenda and delegitimizing its future reporting.
Hence, it is often much easier for the media to repeat what has been presented as fact instead of addressing its dissonance from truth.
However, recently, some TV hosts and journalists have begun to confront these false facts. Dan Barry of The New York Times wrote an article explaining the importance of “calling a lie a lie”.
NBC’s Chuck Todd boldly confronted Conway in interview, exclaiming that “Alternative facts are not facts, they’re falsehoods!”
This breaking from previous hesitancies has restored the trust of liberals in the role of the media, while simultaneously fueling the fire of Trump’s “fake news” claims, supported by some conservatives.
But from a more removed perspective, this newfound strategy is necessary, not just for liberals confronting conservatives through the media, but also for the sake of maintaining a basic journalistic standard.
A large part of the distrust in media originates from a casual treatment as truth as entirely relative, which fosters public ignorance and a pseudo-reality of disinformation.
The media should adhere to a far more discerning view of the truth, to preserve liberal dissent in a conservative government and to work towards a greater pursuit of truthful information, regardless its affiliation.
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Cover Photo Credit: hannesdesmet/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)