Recently, I saw a CNN story about the way the media is covering President Donald Trump and the guest, Michael Wolff, criticized the host, Brian Stelter, for regularly defending the media. Wolff said that the media “does not need defending by the media” and I agree. The media should be so truthful and obviously unbiased that the reporting itself speaks to the fairness and truthfulness of the mainstream media (MSM).
Individual reporters should not have to defend how truthful they or their media outlets are, the news coverage should show it. As the saying goes – “talk is cheap.” The media needs to regain the viewer’s trust with fully, unbiased coverage of supposed controversies and also not act like tabloid journalism by focusing on every slip-up or seemingly juicy story full of scandalous details that do not have a huge bearing on the world-at-large or the lives of regular people in the country it is based in, i.e. America, or the people of the world. Also, they need to be willing to focus time and resources on the stories that may seem boring or dry, because they are not full of intrigue, scandal or other sensationalism. These “boring” stories may not gain the kind of ratings that the other controversial stories may garner, but are important to report on so the public will be aware of the issues or events that affect them. The news media should not be like a restaurant offering the most-liked foods or a clothing store offering the most popular outfits, but should be seen as a public service that offers what is important to having a well-informed public not a public that has been indoctrinated or brainwashed into a particular ideology or toward a particular political, commercial or other interest.
Also, it is important to have these issues or events discussed and debated by expert panels that reflect different perspectives. Since these stories have a real impact on the lives of the public, it is a part of journalistic integrity to report on these issues, investigate every possible angle and rigorously debate all sides of the topic at hand. Journalism is not supposed to be a mere entertainment show trying to get ratings but a communications tool that informs the public and stands as a pillar of a healthy democracy. This is crucial because an informed public can hold the government and other powerful organizations accountable. This is a key purpose of the media that transcends something as superficial as the financial gain or loss for the media outlet or incurring the anger of powerful groups, i.e. the pharmaceutical industry that helps to fund the news media. Anything less than this is not journalism but a neglect of duty to the public who depend on the media and a blow to democracy itself.
People have a good reason to be skeptical of the media given the obvious corporate bias, which I find especially glaring when it comes to the pharmaceutical industry, which seems to be a major media sponsor of CNN with its many drug commercials. It seems that the media is a gigantic spokesperson for corporate interests and other major interests and not completely independent and committed to fully unbiased reporting. This conflict of interest within the media reduces the media to a mere propaganda tool, not a responsible conduit of information for the public or a voice for the concerns of everyday men, women and children.
I truly believe this frustration has led to the extreme segmentation we see among viewership/readership with different people preferring media that aligns with their worldview, for example, conservative-minded viewers/readers preferring certain media outlets and those who are liberal-minded preferring others. The Internet has opened the eyes of many people as to how unreliable the traditional sources of information really are, which are summed up in the term mainstream media (MSM).
The mainstream media’s problem with trust is not something surprising, since not all the public are mindless people who could be led anywhere like sheep. People have noticed clear and at times disturbing bias in what is covered and the attitude of the reporters toward guests who go against their preferred narrative. Instead of being journalists who calmly and fairly allow the guests to give evidence to support their opposing viewpoints, these journalists act like conformity police whose main focus is to block or attack viewpoints that don’t fit their preferred position on a particular issue. This is not journalism but propaganda and indoctrination and has no place in a supposedly free press and real democracy.
However, this leads to another problem where one of the main groups for holding the government accountable and shaping the public’s knowledge of reality, not just in politics, but many other areas, is compromised and cannot be trusted to give the full picture or even to always tell the truth. Also, another huge problem is that the public becomes so skeptical about what is truth that they do not know how to come to a fair conclusion about an issue because they do not know if the facts they are being presented are really facts, fiction or contextually manipulated – meaning they are technically true but being taken out of context or overemphasized compared to other details and therefore given a false colouring.
In my opinion, this leads me to a few clear problems:
- Governments and other organizations can get away with false narratives because the corporate-funded, special-interest, tainted MSM that has the resources to cover stories that the small, independent news sites do not have, are not trusted and their stories are constantly doubted; therefore, even if they identify real frauds and other problems, it is easier for the accused people/entities to blame media bias and push their own biased narrative; therefore the media’s lack of trustworthiness serves as an excuse for dishonest governments and other organizations and gives them the ability to deny the facts under the guise of false reporting. It is like the boy who cried wolf – the media is so biased and has a record of false reporting so when it does present the truth, people do not believe them or are skeptical of their reporting. As a result, the transgressions of the media serve as a cloak of concealment for the transgressions of the ones they are covering. The MSM’s self-inflicted wounds have led to more than a potential decline in audience numbers and loss of revenue, but a loss of accountability for the people and institutions like the government they are covering. Therefore, media incompetence aids corruption and leaves the public more vulnerable to the abuse of power when it occurs.
- The decrease in MSM credbility among the public and increased ease of transmitting content due to the Internet has given rise to influential independent news sites that may present more real news than their MSM counterparts, but may also cater to the built-in biases and personal interests of various demographic segments. While they may not be beholden to commercial or political interests like the MSM outlets, they may be pressured to present certain news stories that play to the biases of their audiences and refrain from reporting perspectives or whole stories that present an affront to those biases, because they want to grow their audience and make a profit from the products they sell on their sites, get more donations and/or get more revenue from advertising or affiliate programs of which they may be a part. Also, they may be pressured to spin controversies in a certain direction, more like a public relations agency for a preferred politician, organization or cause that they want to promote for whatever reason rather than acting as a fair news site, accurately presenting both sides of the controversy.
- As a result of the furthering ideological segmentation of the media and lack of a truly fair and balanced alternative in the MSM and among the independent, Internet news sites, the public is further polarized, because they only listen to the perspectives that favour their ideology, favourite politicians, causes, etc. and do not get the full set of facts on the topic being discussed. While people have strongly held religious, political and other viewpoints that shape their stances on different topics and there is nothing wrong with media outlets looking at things from a certain perspective, i.e. a conservative perspective, the trouble lies in media purposely reporting something favourable to an audience’s biases and failing to report or present all the facts in their proper context. Selective reporting is dangerous because it shapes the audience’s worldview through incomplete information and the unnecessary vilification of those who have the opposite view of an issue and leads the audience to make decisions based on incomplete information.
Overall, we are witnessing a grassroots erosion in society with respect to various institutions that are supposed to be upholding high standards in society and the mainstream media is part of that erosion. Sadly, when it comes to the mainstream media we are seeing not just complacency in telling the truth but an active participation in the manipulation and even suppression of truth for whatever reason(s). The public must not just crawl into safe spaces based upon his/her personal ideological preferences, but must expect media, both mainstream and independent/alternative to give the full story and cover stories that are not scandalous or sensationalistic, but important to the lives of ordinary people in the world.