You can’t yell “fake” in a crowded theater any more

I closed down The Carolina Ledger last fall and have been enjoying a quiet break from the frenetic news cycle.

One story I can’t ignore is the ongoing obsession with a CNN article revealing that Fox News had killed its own report, which detailed allegations of a bribe to silence Stormy Daniels about her alleged relationship with then-candidate Donald Trump.

It sticks in my craw when news outlets and their foot soldiers make broad claims that Fox News viewers are getting a lot of misinformation, which is a claim I heard on a NPR talk show last week. I haven’t been able to find a link to the transcript.

That interview, which addressed Fox’s tabled story and prompted this post, bugged me at the time because of what I perceived to be the inappropriate use of the word, misinformation. The term is generally understood to mean an out-right lie.

It also sticks in my craw when viewers tell me they only trust Fox News, because they are, in fact, absorbing only one slant, under-informed and likely missing out on the bigger picture.

Here’s the thing. Organizations, run by biased people, have a slant. Often the slant is revealed by what is printed or said (or not said) in a report. Other times, the slant is less obvious, but still apparent according to what clears the publisher.

On the market are a glut of tell-alls by news reporters who crossed publication lines into perceived partisan enemy territory. Pretty much any one of them (I’ve thumbed through a handful) will tell you horrors of filed stories, dead on arrival, and various other impediments to what journos really want to do—find the truth.

Anyone covering the news will tell you media bias isn’t new. To some degree, it’s unavoidable. What they’ll also say is the influence the Trump White House seems to have on Fox, and the pipeline between the news organization and the administration, are unprecedented.

So, what’s an information-seeking citizen to do?

Ending the “fake news” cycle

First, we need to establish what is meant by news, because the ever-growing number of electronic sources seem to leave people confused over what information is reliable and what isn’t.

Here are three sign posts to look for—

Statement of news values—Any reliable news outlet should make a statement of their news values easily available.

The news wire service, The Associated Press is often considered to set the standard for style in journalism. The AP’s statement of news values aims to prevent journalistic bias. Traditional media ethics aim to present the story accurately, which means printing corrections when necessary, providing context, and giving a fair hearing to both sides in a story.

Established credibility—This statement helps establish credibility. Any reliable source of information should also cite sources as a means of establishing trust. Having stated the truth doesn’t lend inherent credibility. Reporters need to show their work.

Those sources should also be credible.

News as a business—Media outlets are businesses with business interests—audiences come with their own sets of preformed notions about the world, and in the case of media conglomerates, shareholders are also a factor. These people want do be kept happy (don’t you?)

That doesn’t mean we need to be cynical about our ability to glean truth from the news. But we do need to be wise about what we’re reading, knowing who owns the news.

Read widely

I know. It’s hard. I want to read only Reason Magazine daily, too. But while on some days, the story of The Fantastic Flying Elephant makes headlines across all U.S.-based outlets, most available headlines will vary across news outlets. If you’re reading, or listening to, only one or two, you will tend to be under-informed.

Reading from sources that reinforce our own beliefs is not sufficient. I once shared an article from the Middle East-based Al Jazeera Media Network on Facebook and was teased about it. But it was a good article about a topic that was untouched by most U.S. media, and I thought it needed to be shared.

It’s time consuming and uncomfortable, but informed readers will do the extra work.


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