Articles about news media bias have been done ad nauseum. I’m not going down that road. I have something much more important to discuss — media credibility. Media bias is disturbing, but not relevant. Professionalism and standards are central to credibility. If news media are credible and their reportage is honest, the information they convey remains valid. We all have biases, but standards and ethics protect our work from those biases. Therefore, I’m not going to approach this topic as right versus left bias, or Republican versus Democrat bias. This article will focus on how the media have lost their credibility, why it matters, and how they can get it back.
Through both commission and omission, the media have repeatedly violated their code of ethics and sacrificed any credibility they once had.
The most galling aspect of this unprofessionalism has been outright deception. I’m not talking about honest mistakes. I’m talking about intentional peddling of untruths.
- Michael Brown did not have his hands up when he was shot. He was shot reaching for a police officer’s gun. Yet news media initially reported otherwise and have rarely challenged the myth of “hands up, don’t shoot.”
- George Zimmerman was not a white racist who killed an innocent youth. He was a Hispanic man who mentored minority children and killed a thug who was attempting to beat him to death.
- Nicholas Sandmann did not harass a native American, the native American harassed him. Rather than retract this false story, the media have chosen to reach settlements with Sandmann for his defamation suits.
- Donald Trump did not collude with Russia. He was cleared of collusion by the Mueller investigation. Yet the New York Times and the Washington Post have accepted Pulitzer awards for reporting otherwise.
I could go on for pages. News organizations can no longer expect us to accept their reportage at face value, as they’ve been demonstrably and unapologetically dishonest far too many times.
The media has been guilty of “spinning” (twisting facts), to make news seem other than what is.
- The Obama administration was not scandal-free. His administration weaponized government agencies against political rivals, provided arms to drug cartels (Operation Fast and Furious), and lied about its role in leaving an American Ambassador to die at the hands of terrorists. Failure to report on scandals does not mean scandals didn’t happen.
- Last summer’s protests were not mostly peaceful. Protesters killed or injured numerous people and we watched the buildings burn while reporters called it mostly peaceful protesting.
- Election fraud has not yet been debunked. Claims can only be debunked through public disclosure of evidence and open debate of its implications. So long as alternate views are censored, there can be no debunking.
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News organizations have presented “evidence” which turns out not to be as presented.
- Anonymous sources have promised Russian collusion bombshells, which never materialized, and provided reports of President Trump disrespecting our military, which turned out to be false.
- Even so-called scientific data cannot be trusted. Nightly, news programming breathlessly reported on COVID-19 cases and deaths. We’ve since learned that positive test results are not the same as COVID-19 cases (not everyone that tests positive gets sick). Even the COVID-19 mortality data was grossly exaggerated. There were even instances of accidental and suicide deaths included in the COVID-19 mortality statistics. How bad was the COVID-19 data? We don’t know, and that’s the problem.
Due to demonstrated failure to adhere to any ethical or journalistic standards, the news media have forfeited their credibility. The American public must now watch the news with a jaundiced eye. Are we being given an honest story, or being fed a “narrative”? History would suggest that the most likely answer is “narrative.” Unfortunately, this has a real world, negative, impact on our society.
We need a professional and reliable news media as they are our primary window into our government. It is the media’s duty to provide checks and balances to our political system. As such, when the media has lost credibility, so has our political leadership. How can we assess a politician’s honesty, when the organization tasked with “keeping him honest” is not?
- Media claims we can trust them. No, we can’t. Reporters have sacrificed their credibility for the sake of the narrative.
- Media posits a few “bad apples” don’t ruin the whole profession. Yes, they do. By failing to take meaningful corrective actions (retractions, employee terminations, etc.), news organizations have tainted the whole profession.
- Media rationalizes that their credibility shouldn’t matter, because they have hard evidence. However, by censoring opposing views, media have prevented the evidence from being vetted. It is thus, unreliable.
So, what are the implications of this to the general public? We no longer believe it when we’re told we need to sacrifice liberties to fight a pandemic – now or in the future. We don’t believe the earth will be damaged if we continue to emit carbon. We don’t believe the police are systemically racist. Joe Biden lacks the moral authority to govern us because we don’t know if he was duly elected. How can legislative and executive initiatives proceed with public support, when the public no longer trusts our leadership? Are you asking us to support a critical initiative, or merely feeding us a “narrative”? How are we to know which it is? When objective reporting morphs into propaganda, we distrust the information and the message. The damage to a functioning society is very real.
Can this sorry state of affairs be corrected? Yes, but only after news organizations realize their credibility is more important than the narrative.
Burn unreliable sources. If an anonymous source provides “evidence” which turns out to be untrue, expose them. The media does not owe anonymity to anyone who would provide false or misleading information. Disclose their identity and let them suffer the consequences. Failure to do so, exposes the media as supportive of the false information.
Retract falsehoods with the same voracity as originally presented. A front-page false story should be corrected with a front-page retraction. If an on-air guest presents false information during prime-time programming, the same guest should be required to issue a retraction during prime-time.
Terminate dishonest reporters. Just as in any other profession, people who are not proficient in their jobs must be terminated. Honesty is a foundational requirement for journalism. Bad apples will spoil the batch, unless the bad apples are removed.
Condemn censorship. News organizations must welcome and embrace opposing views both within their own organizations, and across the whole media water front. Supporting opposing views, and engaging in open debate is the best way to vet information. Organizations that support censorship are effectively admitting that their reportage cannot stand up to public scrutiny. Attempts to censor opposing views (by news or social media organizations) must be met by universal condemnation.
By: John Green. This article originally appeared on Blue State Conservative
John Green is a political refugee from Minnesota, now residing in Star Idaho. He is a retired engineer with over 40 years of experience in the areas of product development, quality assurance, organizational development, and corporate strategic planning. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.