Balancing Act

There may not be any sport in America more popular than media-bashing, and I am a frequent participant. We do live in a confusing, changing and sometimes overwhelming media environment; it sometimes seems we are “marinating” in information. In such an environment, it’s easy to lose sight of the differences between journalism, entertainment and propaganda– to forget what journalists are supposed to do and why it is that what they are supposed to do is so important.

The reason this country’s founders specifically protected journalism in the First Amendment is that we depend upon reporters to tell us what government is doing. If we don’t know what decisions are being made, what actions are being taken and who is taking them, we have no basis upon which to evaluate our elected officials, cast our votes or otherwise participate in self-government.

And that brings me to Fox News.

It’s bad enough that Fox is little more than a propaganda arm of the GOP, but I want to argue that slanting and misrepresenting reality isn’t the worst thing Fox has done. Fox has misrepresented the essential task of journalists. Its slogan, “Fair and Balanced” has led to a widespread understanding of journalism as stenography (he said/she said) and a belief that if a story isn’t “balanced,” it isn’t fair.

Should reporters investigate the claims of all sides of a dispute or controversy? Certainly. But they should do so in order to determine what the facts actually are, so that they can produce an accurate accounting of those facts. We count on reporters to investigate contending claims and perspectives  because we citizens have neither the time nor expertise to do so, and we rely on them to tell us whose claims are verifiable and accurate.

As British reporter Gavin Esler recently argued, how can any news organization “balance” the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion about vaccines or climate change with the crackpot anti-vaccine theories of Andrew Wakefield, or those who claim that climate change is “fake news”?  We don’t “balance” arguments on child protection by giving equal time and space to advocates of pedophilia.

Esler writes that we face a crisis in democracy, “because maintaining quaint ideas of ‘balance’ in a world filled with systematic disinformation is now an existential threat to the country we love, the Britain of the Enlightenment, a place of facts, science and reasoned argument.” That observation applies with equal force to the United States.

The Fox News version of balance plays to the anti-intellectualism that, as Isaac Asimov tellingly observed, has long been a part of American culture, “nourished by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

As David Niose wrote a few years ago in Psychology Today, anti-intellectualism is killing America.

In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel brought a snowball into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president, it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.

Americans desperately need good, responsible journalism. We also need to understand that good journalism strives for accuracy rather than “balance.”

And a little respect for competence and knowledge wouldn’t hurt.

 

16 thoughts on “Balancing Act

  1. We were informed of the facts that Trump completed his frenzied campaign rally, with fans who waited all night to view his wonderfulness whipped up to shout “Put her in jail!” (this time it is Sen. Feinstein, not Hillary); as Hurricane Michael destroyed much of the Florida Panhandle. He returned to the White House, our historic Oval Office, to welcome Kayne West whose foolish performance while wearing his original red “MAGA” cap, upstaged Trump who could only sit and look on. And Ivanka wore a new dress for the occasion! When they do report facts; they aren’t worth watching.

    Was – IS – it a fact that Fox News did not televise Trump’s rally as he praised their always faithful journalists? That must be easy to Fact Check. And Melania now considers herself the be “the most bullied person in the world”.

    “And a little respect for competence and knowledge wouldn’t hurt.”

    Also; resetting priorities wouldn’t hurt, either.

    VOTE BLUE!

  2. While you were assembling this piece, more truth-telling journalists were censored by both Facebook and Twitter. Their FB pages were literally “unpublished.” From the most recent reports, it looks like 800 FB pages were literally wiped off the map.

    “Thought police” anyone?

    This is the second wave of censorship focusing on journalists who are not part of the mainstream media circus. Outlets that use their independence to bring truth to power.

    As you point out, the real purpose of the free press has been lost due to profit motives of entertainment complexes. When Disney becomes a major player in the “news industry”, you know we are in a very strange world.

    Meanwhile, capitalists like the Koch brothers are playing the game of win at any cost and “liberals” are being told to “act more civilized.”

    Alice in Wonderland quotes come to mind…

    The timing before the elections is suspect along with the massive voter purging taking place across the country. It would seem Jeff Sessions has been busy trying to win back favor from the Boss.

    Meanwhile, on every major channel is Kanye West meets with tRump.

    Without checks and balances on power, we don’t have anything resembling a representative republic which also means both political parties are a farce. Their only purpose in 2018 is to give voters the illusion of choice and representation while obstructing third parties from rising to represent the people against power. The people won’t tolerate oppression which is exactly what we’ve been experiencing for decades.

    Might want to invest money in pitchfork and guillotine manufacturers.

  3. “Balancing Act”….Balance this; Indianapolis Star this morning, Brian Slodysko, Associated Press, “AP: Donnelly business imports goods” . Balance it against the article itself which reports “Yet for Donnelly, whose neck-and-neck race with Braun could help determine which party controls the Senate, it ignores one inconvenient detail. Stewart Superior, Corp., a family business that he owned stock in, has also received repeated shipments of goods from China for much of this decade, records reviewed by the Associated Press show.” The key word in the above quote is “owned”, not owns. The article by Slodysky goes on to say, “Donnelly’s campaign did not directly address the shipments, but noted that the senator sold his stock in the company last year and donated $17,410 in proceeds to charity.” The article goes on to say, “Stewart Superior’s imports from China, which have been referenced in attack ads, are minuscule when compared to the goods Braun regularly receives from the country.”

    Absorb the details in the actual Associated Press article with its own article title; “AP: Donnelly business imports goods”. We do not even need to seek facts from Fact Check to see there is no balance between the title and the actual information in the article. We also do not need to seek facts from Fact Check to KNOW we can no longer trust the Associated Press to fully report truth in journalism; how very sad that is…not only for Donnelly but for the abuse of freedom of the press.

    Regular readers here know I have not been a fan of Senator Donnelly but do stress the importance of his reelection to the the U.S. Senate. Local readers; PLEASE remember these facts why watching both Donnelly and Braun campaign ads over the next few days before the vital mid-term election on November 6th.

    VOTE BLUE!

  4. I am not sure that “good” journalism is achievable anymore. On what platform will that occur? I don’t see this correcting itself anytime soon… “above average” would be significantly better for me.

  5. Those who have tried to warn us, like Asimov or Mencken, have been voices crying in the wilderness. We like having our own beliefs reinforced. We’re comforted by the sure and certain knowledge that we are right and they, whoever they are, are wrong.

    We are not going to solve all of our problems overnight, but if we don’t vote to change the House and Senate, we are liable to continue on this path that is so destructive of our constitutional democracy.

    VOTE BLUE!

  6. As Sheila so often asks, what can we do?

    First we can unleash democracy by doing everything that can be to get the maximum number of folks to the polls on November 6. We need definitive data on the magnitude of the threat. Who is the minority and majority? How far has the contagion progressed? Can the country be saved with what we have at our disposal?

    It may well be that the next two years can be no more than a standoff between those we elect this November and those who have been recruited by entertainment media to take over the country for oligarchs. Even a standoff at this point is progress.

    The next chapter will be harder to write. I believe that we the people are going to have to take on the cult brought to us by the entertainment business. We now have a tool, social media, that rivals the power of broadcast media the difference being that they are professionals and we are amateurs at selling.

    Another difficulty over the next two years is that we will be someplace between depression and recession due to the damage already done added to the reality that our economic system is no longer adequate for the world we are moving into. 2020 will be a year of accountability for those whose actions brought that on and we know who they are but we also know that lying is their biggest political asset. Ask yourself, how can we the people counter the Republican lies that will spread from Washington to the heartland via entertainment media?

    It’s going to take an army of citizen reporters.

    This blog is a necessary but insufficient soldier in the army that’s necessary. How can we make what happens here daily a bigger more influential source of citizen journalism?

    The first Revolution was won by citiizen soldiers. Now the need is for citizen journalists. Can we become that with the necessary strength to turn the tide back to a functional country?

  7. As a former science teacher, I can provide first-hand experience to how much churches have added to the disinformation and institutionalized ignorance of our people. These raving lunatics passing themselves off as messengers of God denigrate science and critical thinking all day long. The children, when confronted by facts and the scientific method are confused and frightened by this conflict.

    Fear of the truth has replaced fear of the unknown.

  8. Pete:

    I like your image of “citizen journalists,” yet I am uncertain that they will turn the tide. My interactions–and there have literally been thousands of them–with Trump supporters have shown me time and again that they consist of the following types:

    1. Stupid, hateful, angry people–and I would (probably unnecessarily) remind everyone that stupid cannot be altered. It is a fixed condition.
    2. The willfully ignorant racist, misogynist, homophobic, etc. who, while technically could be taught, absolutely refuse to learn. In fact these are the most incorrigible of all. Confronting them with facts only prompts them to scream louder.
    3. Those who laugh at and manipulate the above two categories, the rich, the corporatists, capitalists and the politicians (nowadays a synonym for rich, e.g. Mitch McConnell)

    The first two groups are just angry and, willfully or not, ill-informed. The third group are the real villains and are for all intents and purposes untouchable. They control the media, the house, the senate, the white house, most state legislatures, and now for the foreseeable future the courts.

    Yesterday Schumer the Enabler made another “deal” with McConnell. He allowed confirmation of another 15 white male right-wingers in return for an early recess–which the Republicans wanted anyway. HE HAS TO GO!

  9. President Agent Orange on October 10 had a guest editorial published in USA Today. President Agent Orange seeks to discredit HR 676 Enhanced Medicare for All.

    Donald Trump: Democrats ‘Medicare for All’ plan will demolish promises to seniors. The whole editorial is filled with mis-information. Well actually it goes beyond mis-information, with the usual scare tactics.

    The counter attack is here: Fact Check: Trump Is Dead Wrong on Medicare-for-All. Note: Today, USA Today published an op-ed by President Donald Trump that included several falsehoods about single-payer health care. http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/robert-weissman/81498/fact-check-trump-is-dead-wrong-on-medicare-for-all

    **********************************************************
    An examination of the president’s claims by FactCheck.org, a partner of USA TODAY, showed several instances where he misrepresented the facts and made misleading statements about Medicare and health insurance in general.

    WOW, what a surprise President Agent Orange ” misrepresented the facts and made misleading statements”. As usual President Agent Orange and the Republicans have no plan, or If you cannot afford Health Care – Go Home and Die.

    Bernie Sanders was allowed a counter point in USA Today > Bernie Sanders: Trump lies about ‘Medicare for All’ and he’s made health care worse.

  10. Just a minor dissent. Folks shouldn’t be learning about evolution, climate change, or vaccines etc. from journalists.

  11. I suppose what I like about Bernie Sanders rebuttal to President Agent Orange was: “Medicare for All is popular because it would save people money and assure them the health care they need. Trump’s only defense is to lie about my bill.”

    Others would dance around President Agent Orange’s dis-information, mis-information, Sanders robustly calls it out for what is Lies.

  12. Outstanding as usual, Sheila. One other outrageous thing about Fox, which I prefer to call “Faux News”, is that they have a commentator whose show is entitled: “Justice With Judge Janine”. This woman is the most-rabid pro-Trumpster on Faux News, and that’s saying a lot. She was literally screaming about the injustice of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee questioning Kavanaugh on the meaning of his yearbook entries. Not only does she claim to be a “judge”, but that her comments constitute “justice’. You cannot tell me that use of this title this does not mislead the unsophisticated rubes that watch this network for the latest dig at Hillary Clinton, Democrats, Robert Mueller and others on Trump’s hit list.

    Assuming that woman used to be a judge, but is no longer, could disciplinary proceedings be brought against her for trading on her former status as a judge to sell commercials and to unfairly portray her political views as having some sort of judicial blessing? While we’re at it, how about whatever jurisdiction that holds Kavanaugh’s law license taking action over his obvious perjury? I am assuming that to be a Justice on the SCOTUS, one must hold a valid law license someplace. Could Maryland or whatever states he is licensed in conduct an investigation into whether he committed perjury, and having found perjury, suspend his license or otherwise discipline him? I think they could. What do you think, Sheila?

  13. Sheila-This is agonizingly true. Even my beloved Public Radio station wandered into the weeds of “balanced” news for a time. They are still reporting from the trenches of election campaigns with comments from supporters of each side without pointing out that a speaker doesn’t have the facts. Public funding may be the reason for this, although they are getting less and less money from the government. Which points up another aspect of news from any source, it must be paid for. In our current divided state, paying for news increasingly means paying for the news we want to hear.

    John Neal– What did you mean in your comment? Who else would supply that sort of information other than journalists? The word itself from the French for “day” means a supply of information to keep us up to date.

  14. Mary Beth,

    I get my information on evolution from Darwin, Gould and Dawkins; information on vaccines from the CDC and my doctor; information on climate change from Michael E. Mann Professor of Atmospheric Science writings and Science magazine.

    I concede the point that there is such a thing a scientific journalism, and I was painting with too broad a stoke. But one certainly shouldn’t get such information from television broadcast news reporters to which Ms. Kennedy was referring.

    Respectfully,

    John

  15. on direct t.v. theres been a move to get right wing prop,newsmax,one america news, to border freespeech t.v. a non profit,progressive channel long befor those two loosers came on. seems att who owns this media of direct,t.v. has apits own agenda. link t,v. is also progressive,and has a nice foreign content. though i miss al jezera,and bbc could use more articles,instead of rehashing the same ol,every few hours. if i was to make a plan,and to in effect,would show the horrors of war in the mid east,afganistan. its too sanitized for america,because weve become engrossed in sanitary news. sure we dont like it,but like climate change,unless the eyes see it, those of who look at headlines only,and amass opinion,maybe some real time news is needed,and some real time comment. fake news,im sure we all have the intelligence to sort this one out,as humans,and as being able to still speak out. after november,we may see less,and maybe none,depnding on who,wins. its too close in my boom,and i see the senate as a game. hietkamp has lost alot of votes over her stand,and comments about the dapl pipeline protesters. if, the real reason why, that pipeline drew such attention,was because of corprate america,energy partners, and the army corp, decided to cross soverign indian land,without permission,we may have may have gotten a few more votes for hietkamp. sure water is important,but outside issues,overtook what and why the protest was started. .. hietkamp is middle road,fossel and corprate pioneer, but we hold our nose,and vote

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