In 2016 I made a conscious choice to start paying more attention to politics and the issues facing our country in an effort to have a more informed opinion when November 8th came. A main theme of the 2016 election was the idea of “fake news” coming from the mainstream media (i.e CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, etc.). It is something that is still debated today. As someone who had just recently dedicated time to studying politics and inadvertently developing a passion for it, I was put in somewhat of a unique situation.
Though I admittedly had doubts in the ability of the media to report in an unbiased manner, I had not had years of reading and watching them to form my own bias towards one source over another. By watching FoxNews, CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and reading their online presence along with The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Washington Post and other print news articles I was soon able to suss out for myself which way a particular outlet tilted. Further more, I was able to see the bits of truth in all of the stories and then how each would manipulate the smallest of facts to suit their own narrative.
Media outlets I had previously trusted to provide honest and unbiased reports on politics and world events were betraying that trust in order to suit a narrative aimed to benefit a political party or business affiliate. Sadly this was something I should have paid attention to long ago and that is an indictment of my laziness. However, owning that shame is what continues to drive my focus on understanding politics to the best of my ability today and moving forward. My motivation is simple. Find the facts as we know them to be today, regardless of who they favor, and make decisions and formulate opinions based on their foundation.
It was shortly after my epiphany regarding the mainstream media when I also discovered something else that was disturbing. It became clear that there were many people who only cared about the narrative of one party over another. It seemed facts didn’t matter to them in the war against the opposition party. It was all about the narrative and who could deliver theirs the loudest on a given day. An “Us vs. Them” mentality that in my life has been reserved for the realm of PC gaming was being applied to real world politics and issues. Both of which have real consequences.
I began to see articles on Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard and the like that justified the disdain or affection for one political narrative over another. Creative headlines aimed at the current administration or the resistance alike were in an abundance of click-bait that I couldn’t resist. When I read the stories they would contain just enough partial truths to support their claims made in those headlines in an effort to demonize or celebrate their party over the other. In some cases there was no truth at all, only hypothetical scenarios that could potentially play out if given the right set of circumstances or actions by the opposing party.
Any attempt to debate the issues with those who would share the articles would often result in heated conversations. When asked for facts to substantiate the claims they were supporting, rarely were there any offered – though a few actually did. I also found when people were confronted with substantiated facts that debunk their claim, that more often then not it would result in name calling and a general dismissal of the truth. They would chose the narrative over truth and would continue their path based purely on emotion and not the facts provided. To them, they were sharing a story that was written by a credible news source and therefore it had to be true, which unfortunately is not necessarily the case.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees, along with many other rights, the right to free speech and the freedom of the press. But nowhere does it guarantee that what is reported is 100% true. Of course there are protections around slander, libel, defamation of character and you can’t yell “fire!” in a theater without getting arrested if there isn’t one – so there are efforts to ensure truth to a degree. But proving or disproving facts is sometimes difficult. Additionally as I alluded to earlier in this piece, what we know as being true today could very well change tomorrow. This appears to give the press a lot of wiggle room in regards to factual reporting. That is how it seems to me, at least.
Additionally, what about the stories or facts that are not reported by a news source because it doesn’t suit their narrative? Take for one example the recent allegation by the Trump Administration where many of the mainstream media outlets simply refused to run a paid for ad they had outlying what they believed to be achievements of their first 100 days in office. Another example is go to CNN.COM and FOXNEWS.COM and do a search for Aya Hijazi and compare the results. As you can see, one outlet reports a story on her and the other does not. Is an omission of a story against the First Amendment because it went against the administrations right to free speech?
In considering this overall subject of journalism, fair unbiased reporting of the facts and then doing some subsequent research I found that in 1914 there was a “Journalist’s Creed” written by Walter Williams. I realize that a call for a return to the ideals of something written over a century ago that references gentlemanly values and invokes the word of God will be viewed by some as regressive and strongly conservative. But it would be nice to be able to trust in the news being broadcast and written. Or at the very least have it provide both sides to the issue at hand and leave it to the reader/audience to formulate their own opinions based on the facts. I suppose for now, we’ll have to simply continue on with another adage of equal or greater age.
“Trust, but verify.”