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Editorial: Don’t subscribe to the ‘media is dishonest’ mantra

Journalism is not the enemy.

Washington Post Editor Marty Baron is one of the premier names in American journalism. Best known as the figurehead of the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” findings, Baron’s Post has gone head-to-head with President Donald Trump throughout the last two years.

Trump calls the media dishonest, an agenda-filled group of reporters who take aim at him and his administration. Baron disagrees.

In an interview with Recode, Baron said reporters aren’t engaged in war with Trump. He said they’re performing their function.

“The way I view it is, we’re not at war with the administration,” he said. “We’re at work. We’re doing our jobs. To use language that says we’re scum, that we’re garbage. You know, at one point, [Trump] said we’re the lowest form of humanity. That wasn’t enough, so he said we’re the lowest form of life itself. So I don’t know where we go from there. That’s apparently where we are.”

Perhaps Trump views journalism as a threat. If something goes bad on his end, already establishing a precedent of “dishonest media” provides a diversion. His attacks on reporters have become one of his signature traits.

The issue is it compromises the fourth estate. The nemesis of power is accountability.

If you’re taking over a small country, the first to be annihilated are reporters. They are the ones who hold the higher ups accountable. Former President George W. Bush said as much on the “Today” show this week.

“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy,” he said. “We need the media to hold people like me to account. I mean, power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”

The New York Times responded to Trump with a new marketing campaign: ‘The Truth.’ The campaign focused on the increased need for accurate reporting. It emphasizes the everlasting search for truth.

Interestingly, to concede a point to Trump, truth is in perception. We can’t speak for every journalist. There’s no question some publicly oppose him. There are exceptions to everything. Trump is allowing the exception to influence perception of the entire field.

The key doesn’t necessarily lie in truth, but in fact.

Truth is built from analysis of fact. Social truth is created by one’s perception of the facts. But if the individual disregards fact, how can he call the media dishonest? The truth he holds is jaded by analysis (or lack thereof) of fact.

Be it CNN, The Post, The Times or any other outlet, there is a shared purpose: to inform the public. The media’s job isn’t to alter feelings, it’s to keep the public “in the know.” Barring specific outlets from press briefings is simply counterintuitive to not just the nation’s power balance, but to the First Amendment.

The confrontation between Trump and media won’t halt until he accepts reporters’ social roles, as Bush said. On the flip side, running constant stories attacking Trump and stirring the pot won’t help relations either.

Ultimately, as the most powerful man in the country, Trump should embrace the media. Whether he likes it or not, that is his No. 1 connection to civilians. The press, meanwhile, will continue to do its job as it has for centuries.

If it’s in the public interest, the story will be told. Investigations will be launched, research conducted and public figure after public figure interviewed. Trump has, at most, eight years in office. The media will continue for the rest of time.

Journalism is not the enemy. And he needs to acknowledge that sooner rather than later.

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One comment

  1. A quote from the article, above: “Trump calls the media dishonest, an agenda-filled group of reporters who take aim at him and his administration. Baron disagrees. In an interview with Recode, Baron said reporters aren’t engaged in war with Trump. He said they’re performing their function.”

    The evidence that the media are owned/operated by people who are fundamentally dishonest isn’t their adversarial relationship to a president, although you can gather hints of their dishonesty from the fact that they are more adversarial to center-right presidents than they are to presidents so far to the left that they are next door neighbors with communism.

    No, rather the evidence that the media are owned/operated by people who are fundamentally dishonest is found in the lies they tell, in their choices of what to cover and to what to turn a blind eye, by their abuses of emphasis, by their inexcusable omissions of important details, by the way they sometimes deceive their audiences by speaking the truth as if through a mouthful of garbage, so that it comes out of their mouths with a stinking odor that makes most people want to disbelieve it. And so on. I’ve observed the mass media for many years, and I will readily concede that I don’t know all of their propaganda tricks.

    Having said that, I will also admit that a (probably small) proportion of journalists are honest people who want to do a good job. But even this group can’t behave honestly. Not if they want to keep their jobs, that is.

    It is a fact that most of the treason, both grand and petty, occurs for no reason more than the traitor’s desire to keep his regular paycheck. A threat to the paycheck will make most people pretend to believe every lie they ever heard — including the majority of that minority of journalists who are, or rather who want to be, honest as they do their jobs.

    The media’s bosses impose a spectrum of allowed opinion, outside of which special techniques of presentation must be used. These special techniques include mockery, ridicule, spoofing, sarcasm, insults, shouting down, turning off microphones, tricks of lighting, using camera angles to make a little group look like a big group or vice versa, taking photos when someone’s facial expression is least charismatic, using an old photo of a child to garner sympathy for the criminal that the child later became, breaking for a commercial and then losing the interviewee, studio audience shills who applaud or boo according to prompt, etc.

    The media’s bosses, also, have political goals that they pursue without regard to whether the most expedient means of pursuit is by truth or by falsehood. One of those goals is gun control. For whatever reason, the bosses of the mass media want Congress to pass nationwide gun control legislation. They take advantage of controversial news stories that offer themselves a chance to create an narrative, almost always substantially false, that they think will lead the American public to favor gun control, so that more members of Congress will vote in favor of gun control.

    And, furthermore, the media are effectively a monopoly. They aren’t (quite) a business monopoly, since there are still a number of telecommunications conglomerates at the top of the corporate food chain. But a financial basis is not unique to monopolies. Other bases can be found. Like shared ethnicity, for example. Anything that causes the whole edifice of the mass media to proceed in policy lockstep can be construed as a monopoly adverse to the interests of the general public.

    There are videos that YouTubers put together that illustrate the fact that policy lockstep really is a media phenomenon. They consist of segments in which different news anchorpersons introduce a news story, and all of them start off with EXACTLY THE SAME WORDS. Different channels. Different networks. But the same words.

    The mainstream media should long ago have been broken up under the Sherman and Clayton Acts, and laws made pursuant to them. That the media have not been so treated ranks as one of the largest failures of government in the history of the United States.

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