Op-Ed

Stop discrediting journalists and diverting blame

Posted

It’s everywhere, especially on social media: people bashing the media left and right. You’ll see them proudly exclaiming “Fake news!” when a story breaks on mainstream media.

As a young journalist who has mapped out a career in the media industry, I find the current climate disheartening. I see people undermining the tireless, hard work of reputable reporters. We’ve come a long way since Walter Cronkite was the country’s most revered and trusted voice.

Reporters are being discredited without a second thought, and there’s no doubt that President Trump’s anti-media rhetoric has played a big role. People are writing off facts as untrue simply because they don’t agree with them — Trump makes them comfortable doing so.

He has vilified the “fake news” media, claiming that it’s the “enemy of the people.” I would argue that the free press is the backbone of democracy.

In a country where politicians are in the pockets of greedy corporations and often prioritize personal gain over the needs of their constituents, we need journalism to keep our democracy alive, and root out corruption. We learned this when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein revealed the illegal activities of President Richard Nixon. We had the lesson reinforced when reporters at The Boston Globe investigated systemic child sex abuse by Catholic priests.

When corruption runs rampant, the press holds people accountable in ways government cannot — or does not.

The “fake news” narrative Trump has relentlessly pushed has led to violence against members of the media. At a Trump rally in El Paso, Texas, on Feb. 11, a BBC cameraman was attacked by a Trump supporter in a Make America Great Again hat, yelling, “[Expletive] the media!” The cameraman was shoved, but otherwise unharmed. Still, this shocked me, and it scared me.

And while it’s a journalist’s job to research, investigate and assemble a story, I believe readers need to take more responsibility for being well-informed citizens. In my experience, the people who are quick to trash the media are often the same people who are quick to dismiss responsibility and shift blame.

The reality is that we’re living in the Digital Age, also known as the Information Age. We have the internet at our fingertips. To properly consume news means to read, watch and listen to a variety of media. There are no excuses for being uninformed.

There are plenty of free, readily available resources that aggregate news in easy-to-digest ways: news briefings emailed to you each morning by TheSkimm, Need2Know, The Daily Beast Cheat Sheet and many others. There are no excuses.

We should also remember to take everything we read and hear with a grain of salt. Broadcast news in particular is guilty of sensationalizing stories to attract more viewers, and to inject opinion into stories, straying from the goal of objective journalism. When tabloids print lies, other publications lose credibility, and with hateful rhetoric spreading like wildfire on the internet, the burden falls on the reader and the watcher to sort through it all.

Question the stories you read. Is the publication biased? Does it have an agenda? Don’t blindly trust. Is the author a real person? Is the author even listed? If not, there’s a lack of accountability, and the information could be false. Is there data to support the story? If not, consult a fact-checking website. Be skeptical.

Finally, check your own personal biases. Do your beliefs get in the way of your recognizing the truth? Do your preconceptions affect your judgment?

If you want to be a truly well-rounded consumer of news, gather it from a variety of sources, not just the publications or stations you like. Avoid “confirmation bias.” When you expose yourself only to news outlets you agree with, you might not learn anything new. Broaden your outlook. Watch a segment on the network you hate.

Sometimes when we’re presented with new information, we reject it as a result of cognitive dissonance. If it doesn’t jibe with our views, we disregard it. I would encourage people to move past those impulses and prioritize the truth.

When so many are so quick to dismiss so much news as “fake,” it’s easy to forget the real contributions journalism has made to our great country, and its larger role. It’s time for people to stop viewing the media through Trump’s eyes, and start viewing it as the public service that it is — an important element of a vibrant democracy.

Bridget Downes is the assistant editor of the Long Beach Herald. Comments about this column? Bdownes@liherald.com.