Shooting the messenger won’t help your cause
By Bob Berwyn
Rarely in the modern age has the American media been vilified as it has in the past few months during the presidential campaign, with the vaporous pall of despise occasionally even manifesting as direct threats of violence. Some of the criticism is probably deserved, especially if you main source of information is cable or network television, both of which where early enablers of the Trump candidacy for its entertainment and ratings values. But in the end, we can’t blame the media for the dangerous rise of Trump. We have to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
Demonizing the media is a dangerous road. Delegitimizing, then criminalizing, the press is a big step on the way to authoritarianism — just ask citizens of Hungary and Turkey, who have lost many independent media voices in the past year, or look back at Germany in the 1930s, when the Nazis launched their ruthless state-controlled propaganda campaign by discrediting the existing media with constant accusations of Lügenpresse (lying press). Undermining the objectivity of a free press destabilizes an important part of the democratic system of checks and balances.
Hating on the media isn’t going to solve any of your problems, it’s only going to make them worse. And I’m not trying to sound defensive here. I’ve had my experiences with corporate, for-profit media, and they were not good. It would be easy for me to jump on the anti-media bandwagon, but it’s not that simple.
That doesn’t mean everything you read is true or 100 percent accurate. And there’s always room for improvement. But it’s important to know that, for the most part, the “media” is made up of thousands of hard-working honest people doing their best to give you as much information as possible. And never before have journalists been as accessible as today. Most of the people who write the news reports you read are available and willing to engage with you via social media, especially via Twitter. That means the public has the ability to fact-check and hold reporters accountable nearly in real-time, and even to help shape stories by offering input and information and pointers.
As well, in the era of online journalism, it’s easier than ever to track what your fellow citizens think about the new stories they are reading by following comment threads. Sadly, many of those threads are often hijacked, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If news organizations want to be serious about moving into the digital era, they should encourage the public exchange of ideas, rather than shutting down comment forums and they should devote resources to monitoring those conversations and enforcing the rules of civil discourse. Does that cost money? Yes, a bit but it’s possible to do, as shown by the German publication, Die Zeit, which judiciously deletes comments and offers a short explanation of why, and offers constructive suggestions on how to civilly participate in an online discussion.
In fact, many American citizens could benefit from at least scanning other news sources from around the world from time to time. There’s good journalism being done in many countries, and many news websites have English translations. And if you’re so narrowminded as to believe that what other countries are thinking is unimportant, it just means you’re out of touch with the globalized world of the 21st century.
There’s more you can do. Be a responsible reader use good judgment when you consider a source. Ignore those trash newsfeeds on your Facebook stream. And most importantly, support nonprofit, non-corporate independent journalism like your life depends on it — that’s where much of the good journalism is coming from these days. A couple of suggestions: ProPublica, The Intercept, Mother Jones, and Grist. Support their missions to do watchdog journalism in the public interest.
We’re on your side.
Stop reading everything through an ideological lens, learn to sort through the facts and and use those to form your own opinion. Make sure your kids are literate and able to distinguish between fact and fiction, between news and propaganda. I know that’s a tall order that gets into other areas of society (primarily education) but it all goes together. Don’t be afraid of the truth — in fact, embrace it. Don’t embrace lies just because they fit your preconceived ideas of how the world should be.
The reality is that there’s never been more information available to citizens and voters, and the campaign has spurred some of the best political reporting I’ve seen in the past few decades, starting, for example, with the collaborative @electionland project, which combines the power of social media with the resources of traditional and information-age newsrooms to create a real-time way of tracking voter-access issues. It would be great to see this collaboration continue beyond the election, perhaps with an expanded mission to ensure widespread improvements in voting access for upcoming elections.
Areas of coverage could include Gerrymandering by both parties, as well as the now-infamous voter-suppression efforts aimed at people of color and mostly orchestrated by Republican-controlled state legislatures. Ensuring voter rights should be an ongoing priority for the media. Focusing on last-minute election-related lawsuits means the system is failing; time to make sure it gets fixed for the next election.
Sure, it’s not as easy as it once was, when you could pick up a hometown paper and get a reasonably well-rounded view of the news. That’s just not the case anymore, as some (many?) mainstream publications have, for financial reasons, fallen under the spell of corporate power.
But if you look at the totality of the media landscape, it’s pretty clear there’s been some remarkable journalism done this past year. Once again, ProPublica’s ongoing coverage of the political circus has been exemplary, and then there’s David Farenthold, of the Washington Post, who made it his mission to track Trump’s charitable record, proving again and again and again and again how how much the GOP candidate lies. You could read the recent stories by Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek, who delved deep into Trump’s possible ties with Russia, a connection that can’t be discounted in the era of global capitalist pirates who easily transcend the national boundaries that they themselves claim are so important.
The reason transnational institutions want those borders is really pretty simple — it’s divide, conquer and control. The media is far from perfect, but it’s still your best ally.