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The irrelevant press?

December 16, 2016

The Constitution provides for a free press, meaning that no matter what they choose to disseminate, the media in general  pretty much gets a pass, as long as it doesn’t violate libel laws.

The idea is that the public will decide, by either viewing or ignoring a news outlet, what news they consider useful.

That usefulness presupposes that the people on whom the press reports will actually talk to the news outlets.

America does not demand an unbiased press, only an honest one.

So why would the mainstream press put themselves in the position of being shut out of the White House news stream by consistently feeding into  dishonest narratives?

Administrations control the access for journalists on the White House beat by issuing press credentials. No credentials, no access.

The problem for most of the media is that there are apparently precious few journalists on their payrolls.

Opinion does have a place in the media, but lately everything is an opinion. Straight reporting seems to have become a lost art.

It’s disturbing when even relatively mundane news becomes an instant platform for opinion over factual reporting. Things that belong in the opinion section consistently show up on page one, above the fold.

Take the Trump cabinet appointments, and look at two different treatments of one of them.

News Slant:  Rex Tillerson was selected as the nominee for Secretary of State.  His background is defined by his lifelong employment with ExxonMobil, where he worked his way up from being a neophyte engineer to become the top man in the company, overseeing operations in numerous foreign countries.

Opinion Slant:  Rex Tillerson was selected as the nominee for Secretary of State.  He is widely regarded as a climate change denier, and has made his fortune with ExxonMobil through aggressive exploitation of fossil fuels, often with the aid of questionable ties to world leaders like Vladimir Putin.

Same basic information, totally different tone. Which one usually shows up on page one of your favorite paper, leads your evening news broadcast, or streams on a website like NBCNews.com?

The public has a right to be informed via creditable reporting even when the news is not favorable to someone or something.

It also has a right to make up its own mind about what that news means to each reader or viewer, which is hard when there is only one viewpoint reported.

Lately, social media has been the vehicle of choice for PEOTUS Trump. While that’s very immediate and interesting, it doesn’t allow for opposing points of view, and leaves a lot of room for unscrupulous click-baiters to skew reality even further.

That’s supposed to be where journalism comes into the picture.

Professional reportage should provide a sort of buffer between the public and the source. By taking a few minutes or even hours to fact check* details, a good reporter can provide a level of context for the reader.

This White House is setting up to be one that has a more than normally adversarial relationship with the press corps, given that press conferences have been few and far between.  It’s highly likely that the daily press briefing will turn into “if we need you, we’ll call you,” a possibility for which the media has only itself to blame.

That’s bad for everyone, because it can easily become a totally one-sided conversation, but in the case of the Trump White House it is highly understandable.

There’s an old journalism adage that goes ” reporters should never be the story.”

It’s way beyond time for that to be the case again.

* Kudos to Facebook for making an attempt to winnow out the totally fake news from the merely biased reporting.

From → op-ed

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