Trust in the media is at an all-time low. But should it be? Why do fewer and fewer Americans trust the mainstream media. Investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson, author of The Smear, explains.
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Trust in the media is at an all-time low—and for good reason.
We in the business of journalism have exempted ourselves from the normal rules that used to govern us, and so the most egregious kinds of reporting errors are becoming more common.
Formerly well-respected news organizations and experienced national reporters are making the sorts of mistakes that wouldn’t be tolerated in journalism school.
When these mistakes are corrected at all, it’s with seemingly little regret.
And the corrections never get anywhere near as much attention as the original salacious—but incorrect—narrative.
How did we get here?
I discuss that in detail in my book, The Smear.
Here are three factors:
First, firewalls that once strictly separated news from opinion have been replaced by hopelessly blurred lines. Once-forbidden practices, such as editorializing within straight news reports and the inclusion of opinions as if fact, are not only tolerated—they’re encouraged. The result: It’s never been harder for Americans to separate news that’s real from news that’s not.
Example: May 14, 2016, ten days after Donald Trump became the Republican presidential nominee, the New York Times published a blockbuster article titled, “Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved with Women in Private.” The story’s authors, Michael Barbaro and Megan Twohey, interviewed Rowanne Lane, an ex-girlfriend of Trump’s. Her quotes made Trump sound, at best, like a jerk, and at worst, like a predator.
The reporters went so far as to provide their own quotes for the story, presenting their personal commentary as if it were established fact, writing, “This is the public treatment of some women by Mr. Trump...degrading, impersonal, performed.”
The problem is, the reporting wasn’t true—according to Trump’s supposed victim.
Once the story was published, she publicly accused the Times of misleading her, writing a “hit piece” against Trump and putting a “negative connotation” on what—she said—was “not...a negative experience.”
No matter where you stand, this was a huge development in terms of journalism: the main source behind front-page national news discredited the entire premise of the story.
You’d expect something like that to rock the whole news organization and prompt investigations, a retraction, and re-examination of policies. Yet, I can find no record of any of that. The Times and their reporters never even apologized or printed a correction.
Second, though we may personally like or dislike a politician, as journalists we’re obligated to treat them the same. Too often, that’s not the case.
For example: In May 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama said he had visited 57 states. Since there are only 50 states, everyone knew what he meant. He meant to say was that he had visited 47 states. The remark, nothing more than a verbal gaffe, drew little attention. And it didn’t deserve more. But when Sarah Palin made a comparable gaffe, saying, “We’ve got to stand with our North Korean allies,” she was relentlessly ridiculed and mocked in the media even though everyone knew she meant to say “South Korean allies.”
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