Media Trust and Consumption
Call out facts that are not true. But support those that are.
March 4, 2019
In mid-January, BuzzFeed released a story that, if true, would have had enormous implications on the Trump presidency’s legitimacy. If true, it would have meant that Trump told lawyer Michael Cohen to lie under oath. If true, the story would have proved that the president had obstructed justice – in other words, that he had broken the law.
The only issue was the “if true” part because later in the day, the Office of the Special Council told the American people that this information was not correct. Trump was quick to attack BuzzFeed as well as the press itself. “A very sad day for journalism, but a great day for our Country!” he tweeted that evening. He followed up by reminding followers that “fake news is truly the ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE.” Rudy Giuliani, an attorney of Trump, tweeted that “I ask the press to take heed that their hysterical desire to destroy this President has gone too far.”
Interestingly, Trump’s labeling of the BuzzFeed situation as “fake news” is one of the few times that he’s used the phrase to mean news that is wrong. Because the story was, at least according to the Special Council, false.
Joshua Habgood-Coote of the Conversation noted that fake news as a term is used in a number of different ways – from something that is mistakenly not true, to a blatant lie, to news that someone doesn’t like. “We would be better off if we stopped using it,” he said. Habgood-Coote argued that fake news can on a surface level be a democratic phrase: it holds accountable those who do not give the people access to the truth.
But fake news is used by people like Trump and Giuliani describe news they disagree with, news that doesn’t paint pretty pictures of them, and news that makes them angry. Trump has used the phrase as a weapon. And he’s not even hiding it. In May he tweeted that “The Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?”
CNN was quick to point out the shady juxtaposition of “negative” and “fake.” By putting fake in parenthesis after negative, Trump admitted that he sees news that depicts him negatively as fake news.
This is why Habgood-Coote argued for the elimination of “fake news” as a phrase. While you may be using it to describe journalism that is not factually supported, someone else is using it to attack the free press itself. The Editorial Board urges readers to consider how they use the term.
” border=”none” shadow=”off”]While you may be using it to describe journalism that is not factually supported, someone else is using it to attack the free press itself. The Editorial Board urges readers to consider how they use the term.
Teenagers consume news in different ways than past generations have. They have constant access to cell phones, which can mean constant access the news. Scrolling through Instagram, teens are closer to the greater world than they have ever been.
But while teens may have greater access to the news, they do not trust it. In a Knight Foundation report on news consumption, “lack of trust and perceived bias in the news was an important theme” for all groups surveyed. “Teens and young adults expressed widespread skepticism about the news and assume that much of the information they encounter may be inaccurate or biased,” the researchers found. Another Knight survey found that 49 percent of high school students don’t trust the media to “accurately and fairly report news.”
The Board stresses that accurate, unbiased media coverage is immensely important, and it’s vital to a functional democracy. So is the ability of a press to function. And if you aren’t happy with how the press is giving you news because it is not giving you the unfiltered, democratic, truthful content you seek, know that completely turning your back on the media – abandoning the free press – will contribute to a widespread disintegration of truth as a key American value.
Think about it this way. There is an important difference between Donald Trump and someone who holds the press accountable. The latter will push the media to do the best job it can do, while the President dreams of the media’s death.
Both actors are upset by mass media screw-ups. The end goals of the two are different in the most important ways.
Critic A, we will call it, wishes the press did not exist. Critic A espouses rhetoric that convinces a California man to make threatening phone calls to the staff of the Boston Globe. Critic A praises someone body slamming journalists. Critic A paints the press as the enemy of the people.
Critic B strives to promote fact and eliminate misinformation. Critic B asks publications to correct their mistakes, and to acknowledge them. Critic B seeks a media that people can trust. Critic B understands that trust in the press is crucial, and that sometimes it takes some work to achieve it.
The Board hears the cries of those who feel that media bias makes it hard to read the news. Bias exists and is undesirable. Instead of turning backs, the Board asks students to consider what they do want. A press that reports factual, truthful information? National news outlets that are flawlessly neutral?
The Board proposes that members of the Mt. Greylock community relentlessly examine the news they read. Do these two stories contain the same information? Is this writer’s news story neutral? Is there clear consistency across these several news outlets?
When BuzzFeed’s story is denied by Mueller’s office, consider how BuzzFeed should have acted differently, and make a decision about it. Make sure to clarify what actually happened by reading stories from a variety of sources and questioning their credibility.
You might even decide that you no longer want to read BuzzFeed. These decisions, if calculated and reasoned, often make sense.
However, do not turn your back on the news when BuzzFeed screws up. Because turning your back is giving up on the truth, and the truth is important.