BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE
PUNGO — I recently wrote about what some call “fake news,” a term that is inexact to the point of uselessness. It generally means stories presented to mislead by including fabricated material, whether in whole or in part. Often, those who create this sort of nonsense aim to fool us by catering to our political preferences.
Among other things, President Trump has attacked CNN as “fake news” after it published an erroneous report about a Trump associate and Russia that cited a single unnamed source. Ultimately, the news organization retracted its story, and three journalists lost their jobs.
Did CNN mess up? Big time. Are they fake news? Only to a powerful person who wants to discredit a press that challenges him.
Look, I’m not even going to get into the wrestling video Trump tweeted out. I envy you if you don’t know what that means. If you do, maybe look up who made the video in the first place.
Trump is trolling the national media.
They keep biting.
It is quite, in a word, sad.
But there is an important difference between making an error and fabricating news.
I’m not asking you to love CNN, but consumers should consider that difference. Purveyors of fake news do not retract inaccurate stories, as CNN did, or acknowledge failed processes. People do not lose their jobs. Organizations that admit mistakes are either credible or trying to be credible.
Corrections – and I’ve had a few of my own over the years – signal to a reader that those reporting news care about accuracy enough to acknowledge when they fail to achieve it.
Within the press itself is a another discussion that gives me pause about the journalist’s role within a society that has come to distrust the press. Recently for Politico, Mitchell Stephens wrote an essay called “Goodbye Nonpartisan Journalism. And Good Riddance.”
The headline was less nuanced than the discussion that followed, in which Stephens argued that the Trump administration has inspired large news organizations to ramp up investigative journalism and call out lies as such.
Some members of the press seem to view themselves in terms of Trump, which is reactionary and futile. “An abandonment of the pretense to ‘objectivity’—in many ways a return to American journalism’s roots—is long overdue,” Stephens wrote.
There is a long tradition of political media. What we know now as The Federalist consists of essays supporting our Constitution. Some people may not be aware that these important opinions were first published in newspapers.
To an extent, objectivity is a misleading ideal, but there is an implication in some arguments that journalists should pick a partisan side. That’s garbage. Journalists who put themselves before the story distort the purpose of the work. That especially includes advocating for a political end, which instantly turns off a reader who might disagree.
I never know whether readers value this as I do, but I believe one of the most important things we do is publish extensive candidate questionnaires, regardless of party, as we did before the June primary. Candidates do not have to advertise to participate. If one reader is able to benefit from such things, whatever choice they make, it is worthwhile.
We also write stories so people can see the political process at work, regardless of their favored candidates. We make decisions about what we report. Hopefully, good decisions.
I hope you will read this newspaper, as any media source, with critical thinking skills engaged. You may not like some of what is published, but please consider why journalism matters — and why some tell you it does not.
Thanks for reading.
© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC