During a year as president, Donald Trump has been vocal in criticism of the media. He has put the term “fake news” into the American lexicon.
While the president derides media, the irony is his reliance upon it. Trump used mass media masterfully to catapult himself to the presidency and has played on public mistrust and outright disdain for the press to deflect criticism and score political points.
The president is second-guessed by friend and foe for his use of Twitter, but he knows well that what he says and when he says it, every time, is going to make news. He openly baits for his own objectives, realizing today’s media with its blend of entertainment, commentary and news will give him miles and miles of publicity and roundly criticize him in the process.
With every critical word from media, the president openly reinforces his contention of anti-Trump bias. And while reporting on a president with a critical eye is a journalistic responsibility, it’s hard to argue with Trump that he does not get fair treatment in many instances.
In the president’s ideal world, he may prefer media feed the Trump ego and pronounce him the greatest. He knows that is not going to happen (and should not happen). Thus the president paints the media as the bad guy, knowing he has an audience in supporters – and potential backers.
Ever the showman, Trump further looks to capitalize on his negative portrayal of media with the promised “Fake News Awards.” He released the list – on Twitter of course – this past week.
The “awards” go to CNN, four; The New York Times, two; and ABC, The Washington Post, Time and Newsweek, one each.
Never mind the accuracy of reports that Trump does not like or the acknowledged errors from news organizations in some of the reporting cited by the president, Trump has an audience as big as the world. And while many may not believe the president in many instances, Americans definitely do not see the media providing an unbiased view.
• A new study from Gallup and the Knight Foundation finds 66 percent of Americans say most news organizations blur opinion and fact, up from 42 percent in 1984.
• “Fake news” is deemed a threat to democracy by a majority of respondents in the study from Gallup and Knight.
• A Pew Research Center report finds nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current affairs.
• Republicans and Democrats are about equally likely to say "fake news" leaves Americans confused about current events, according to Pew.
The unpopularity of media is not new but has reached a troubling level. As pointed out by The Associated Press citing numbers from the General Social Survey by NORC at the University of Chicago, the percentage of people expressing a great deal of confidence in media has fallen from a high of 28 percent in 1976 to 8 percent in 2016.
Media in part have themselves to blame. The aforementioned marriage of entertainment, commentary and news leaves the audience to wonder where one stops and another starts.
So what constitutes good journalism in 2018? Key characteristics are no different now than from days long before cable shows and the internet:
• Truth and accuracy – Determining truth may not always be possible but getting the facts right is.
• Fairness and impartiality – Objectivity is the mission. Tell as many sides of the story as possible.
• Independence – Journalists should not be tied to special interests or work with an agenda, and must avoid conflicts of interest.
• Humanity – Journalists are to be cognizant in their reporting of the harmful impact words and images can have.
• Accountability – Media must listen to concerns of readers, correct mistakes and express regret for errors.
Despite all the president’s portrayals and the media’s self-made problems, journalists as whole in 2018 remain committed to the profession and its ethics and ideals. We say that with confidence. Good journalism is still a part of the national fabric.
And the encouraging note in the world of presidential “fake news” awards is the Pew survey finds more than 8 in 10 Americans feel very or somewhat confident they can recognize news that is fabricated.