We have lost something in the past few years. It is clear in the current fabric of media and journalism that we have lost accountability. We have lost the truth of news meaning anything beyond a quick splash that never truly resonates. We have lost the ability to be taken seriously.
Reporting of late has been a steady slide into corporatist concerns sublimating truth and accurate stories. It has been a slow, steady decline that has never been as sharply seen as it has in the past election cycle, where hearsay and opinion become facts by proxy, of not caring enough to refute opinion unless it was more profitable to do so, and research is done only so far as to report on someone else’s reporting until it becomes a layered sinkhole of inaccuracies, where no one knows the truth any longer, and no one really cares.
Our news belongs to the advertisers.
It belongs to the ratings game, of yelling louder, yelling more, reporting on things that can be forgotten in an hour. Does it trouble anyone else that with the right amount of money, our news can shift perspectives, to paint villains as heroes and innocents as criminals? Does it bother anyone that facts no longer matter? Do we truly have freedom of the press when the press is more concerned about the commodity of what’s popular rather than holding those in power to their words and their promises? Do we have the openness of truth when popular opinion matters more than reality?
Many romantic, idealistic things have been said about journalists, but the truth of the matter is that it’s hard work. It’s not easy to go toe-to-toe with powerful people who want you to shut up so they can continue to harm people in peace. People go into the profession thinking it’s how they’ve pictured it in the movies. It’s not. We’ve gotten lazy. We’ve gotten lazy in what we expect from our reporters and what we expect from each other. We’ve decided that a shouting match and a byline is more important than affecting palpable change that shifts the way things are done in our country. We are complicit in nothing worthwhile being said, and nothing important getting done. We’re so concerned with having constant news that shocks and awes that we’ve forgotten to focus on the things that matter.
We’ve forgotten about facts.
The things that matter right now are deeply concerning on a national and global scale. We have at our doorsteps a shift between the usual grey of politics and the outright destruction of personal liberty. Media is being used against us in unparalleled ways, and many seemed absolutely thrilled to watch it happen. Make a bad call? It’s erased by the next day’s supper because our news no longer remembers. Kill innocent people? It’s forgotten as easily as the next popular thing to condemn. Elie Wiesel, in an article for NPR titled ‘A God Who Remembers,’ stated, in talking about the Holocaust, that is the duty of those who were there to remember. They must remember because it holds the world accountable. It keeps the darkness from happening over and over again. To record what it happening with honesty is a necessity for the protection of all. While we have not reached these levels of hate, we are headed there. We have forgotten the lessons of the past. We are watching hate spread and enjoying it because it has the right amount of drama attached.
We have forgotten to remember, and the consequences will be dire.
We are asking the wrong questions. We are focusing on the wrong topics. We are too busy yelling in an attempt to make a quick buck to truly look into the truth of what makes the story human. News shouldn’t come with a slant. It should come with facts. It shouldn’t come with the incredibly rare distinction of allowing viewers and readers to make up their minds. The more you encourage the lies that are being told in the current administration, by giving them airtime and not framing them as lies, the more you validate them. People stop remembering they were lies, because you have repeated it so often. Inaccuracies become things that people can quote to use against others. They use them to prove hate and discrimination. They are insidious beyond all belief. The more you allow the distractions to work, to take away from what is really happening, the more you let the administration get away with it. Our media is doing this to us, and no one really seems to care.
Recently, Ted Koppel was interviewed by a couple men responsible for this decline, and spoke accused sexual-assaulter Bill O’Reilly. In the interview he pointed out how such pundits are contributing to the downfall of the press. He claimed, very strongly, that they are ruining journalism. I agree with him. This willful manipulation of facts to fit ideology is creating a harmful disconnect between what is real and what is opinion meant to incite and sway. Men like accused sexual-assaulter O’Reilly care more about selfish things, about his privilege, than holding those in power responsible in unbiased ways. I also think it goes a step further. I don’t think the pundits on FOX are only to blame, CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets have contributed to this constant stream of irresponsible framing of news. They were all more focused on Clinton’s emails than Trump’s lies and hate speech. They hold panels about the sexism in the election with all male contributors and contribute to the tone-deaf narrative of needing better without actually fixing it. And now, they’re more focused on spreading what misinformation Trump has said last instead of the reality of what he is doing and the effects of his actions on real people. They are feeding into the administration’s distraction techniques, and they are forgetting to report on what is really happening.
They are his allies, and they are doing a good job of doing exactly what he wants.
Where are they reporting in the stock Trump owns in the missiles that were dropped on Syria? Why are they suddenly shifting from Trump the Muslim hater, who refuses refugees access, to Trump the lover of Syrians? Why did dropping a few bombs make people forget? The framing is inconsistent, dependent on the wind, it seems, and utterly exhausting when it comes to reasonable people wanting a decent source of accurate reporting.
Whatever your opinion of Ted Koppel, no one can doubt that he takes his job seriously over his forty plus years as a reporter. He approaches his job with a responsibility to research and accuracy. It isn’t about flaming the anger of the people watching or selling an idea to keep advertisers. It’s about reporting something to the best of his ability in an attempt to inform viewers because he understands the absolute power in knowledge. He minds his words, and he frames the facts as facts, his opinion as opinion, and doesn’t let the two meet.
This is what we need right now. This ability to look at what is really happening and to have the facts instead of the ridiculous (and terrifying) things the administration is saying and doing to divert repeated until they become parody of fact. We have to stop yelling, stop manipulating, and pay attention. The alternative is ignorance that will get a lot of people hurt.
Authoritarians fear the people.
They fear the people being informed, in watching their every step. Keeping us ignorant is a tool used to empower them in their attempts at taking away liberty. Citizens calling their representatives helped stave off the first attempt to cut healthcare. It worked. We need to do it more often. It is not the end of the battle, of course, but it is proof that the people in charge fear what we can do together when our voices are raised. If the media refuses to inform the public in concise, non-partisan ways, then the public could better make decisions about the things being done currently to undermine basic liberty and well-being – to undermine people from all walks of life in the United States – and to undermine the scientific and artistic future of country.
The news is not a toy you get to play with. It is not a thing for clickbait.
If it’s on the news, people assume it’s reality. When it’s not, when it’s a twisted version of the truth, it sends people down the wrong path and makes it easier for the lies to proliferate.
Our world has changed. Social media has shifted how we get our news. This does not change the need to have reality reflected back at us without discrimination. Ted Koppel comes from a different generation of news proliferation, but the core thought of his points remain. You cannot be put into the public arena that allows millions of views and millions of minds to learn, then neglect the obligation you have as a journalist to the people, to facts, and to creating a dialogue that can revolutionize the conversation.
Fake news is a virus, and it did not start simply, but it can be ended as quickly as it takes all outlets to commit to reality as it is instead of reality that sells the most ad dollars.
We cannot afford to be complacent.
We cannot afford to allow the distractions and the misinformation to work. We cannot feed into the narrative the current administration is selling us. Propaganda works. We know it does. We’ve seen it time and time again, and the first step will be to delegitimize the press. There is no need to help them along. Report the facts. Keep it honest. Keep them honest. Be like Ted Koppel.
The world, the United States, needs this honesty more than ever.
Elie Wiesel. ‘A God Who Remembers.’ This I Believe. NPR, April 7, 2008. http://www.npr.org/2008/04/07/89357808/a-god-who-remembers