What Media Can Do To Combat Fake News Label
On January 28, 1786, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to James Currie this quote, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” Indeed, free dissemination of news is essential to keeping a citizenry informed with the information they need to form opinions and make decisions. An informed population is an empowered one. To that point, news organizations have a huge responsibility when they take on that role. As such, news reporting agencies and journalists should hold themselves to a higher standard. Credibility and ethics are important to say the least.
Currently, the integrity of legitimate news media is being questioned. Normally it wouldn’t be an issue. Even the media isn’t above reproach. However, that credibility is constantly being labeled as “fake news” by Donald Trump and the office of the president of the United States. That is a problem. Especially when it appears to be news that runs counter to what Trump’s administration says or news that challenges the assertions he or they make. Any news that is disagreeable to Trump and his supporters is now branded “fake news”. What makes this dangerous is that it attempts to set up Donald Trump and his administration as the de facto speakers of truth. Many may roll their eyes when yet another easily provable falsehood is delivered by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway, or even the Donald himself but among supporters Trump’s label has become gospel. The phrase has become a quick off-handed way to completely disregard factual evidence because one disagrees with what is said.
As mentioned above, the news media isn’t immune to criticism and there have been a lot of it in recent years. News organizations have played more and more into sensationalist coverage and the lure of increasing readership by way of “click-bait” headlines. NBC News’ Brian Williams will be forever meme’d for reporting a false account of his helicopter experience in Iraq. Biased news reporting, opinionated reporting, and reporting misleading or purposefully omitted information has grown. FoxNews has been the poster child of this type of behavior but they are not alone. Being first to report something without properly vetting the information has bit many organizations in the behind as well. Even known satirical publication The Onion has fooled the New York Times before. Faith in the news has noticeably dipped. Don’t forget that after the passing of well-respected and trusted newsman Walter Cronkite, comedian and political satirist Jon Stewart of the Daily Show was voted most trust newsman in America in a 2009 Time magazine online poll.
Now that actual headlines seem more similar to something from The Onion than before, people have to be more diligent about what they read and share. For readers the News Quality Chart by patent attorney Vanessa Otero is a good start; as well as her explanation of the methodology used to form the diagram. Also, it’s more important than ever that journalists earn that trust back and counter Trump’s “fake news” branding. Of course news media like the New York Times isn’t fake news but branding is powerful and trust isn’t as high as it once was so the press has to bring their “A” game.
What the Media Can Do
Nix Sensationalist Headlines
Specifically, those sensationalist or misleading headlines that aren’t directly in line with the story being reported. This also includes “click bait” titles and misleading images.
Worry less about being first and more about having evidence that backs up the claim being reported. Be factual based on fact not factual from a certain point of view. Provable truth is more difficult to counter without reverting to opinions and feelings. Truth is king.
Curtail Bias and Opinion
Adjectives and adverbs are effective descriptors that convey more detailed information but they can also betray an authors claim of objectivity. A liberal use of these grammar tools are more at home in fiction writing than in evidenced based reporting. When these parts of speech are used to exaggerate a detail credibility will suffer especially with someone who is looking to prove an argument or pick one apart.
Talk “Will” Over “Might”
Again, parts of speech. Speculation is good when reviewing possibilities but not to base a whole news article around.
Stop Over Labeling
Is every act a terrorist act now? Racist? Sexist? Don’t overuse serious descriptors to make something sound more grandiose or dire than it is or when the real acts that deserve the label happen and are reported they will lose their weight or people will just stop caring.
Don’t let lies, falsehoods, and intentionally misleading information stand as fact. “Alternative facts” are not facts and should never be left to linger as a possibility in people’s minds. It is imperative that those making false claims and speaking falsehoods be called out and challenged on the spot. NBC’s Peter Alexander’s confrontation of Trump’s often repeated lie about his electoral college count is a good example of what should be the norm.
Personally I think Peter let Trump off easy by letting Trump dictate the end of the exchanges. I assume he did so out of respect for the office of the president but instead of admitting fault Trump tried to steer the lie to a different meaning. The point wasn’t that Trump won, the point was that he was actively repeating the lies about his victory. Still, he should be challenged like this at every turn.
“The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.
I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.” – Donald Trump The Art of the Deal.
Trump knew it wasn’t true. The lie is part of his playbook. It’s always been The Donald’s strategy. The press need to shut that down with facts and hold his feet to the fire. This doesn’t only apply to Trump, every politician and leader should be called out and not let slide.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 25, 2017
The Trump administration recently excluded known respected news outlets New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the BBC, among others, from a White House briefing and included White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s former organization Breitbart News. This meeting “was held in lieu of the daily televised Q-and-A session in the White House briefing room.”
This is what the media and the population are up against. A war on truth. The most effective artillery against it is to confront those attacks with provable truth.
Let Pharoahe Monch tell it.