Joe Gandelman: News media faces bigger challenges this election year
PUEBLO, Colo. — Welcome to election year, when each party’s candidates will be pilloried by partisans, but the consistent target of the most tiresome clichés will be the news media.
Yes, that mean old news media that conservatives call the “liberal news media.” Yes, that mean old news media that some liberals insist isn’t a “liberal news media,” but rather a part of the “conservative noise machine” owned by big corporations, rich local businessmen and megabucks billionaires such as Rupert Murdoch.
But partisans seemingly agree on one point: The media somehow conspires to promote bad news about their candidate and good news about the other and shouldn’t be trusted — unless the media reports good news about their candidate and bad news about the other. They also suggest that the media as a group tries to bring down a candidate and hype another. (Oh.)
And the media isn’t polling well. A November Gallup Poll on honesty/ethics in professions found journalists coming in at 26 percent— tied with building contractors and one point higher than bankers. TV news has suffered a big hit, too. At least journalists came in higher than lawyers and telemarketers.
Last month, Gallup reported: “Americans’ confidence in television news is at a new low by one percentage point, with 21 percent of adults expressing a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in it. This marks a decline from 27 percent last year and from 46 percent when Gallup started tracking confidence in television news in 1993.”
And this month the Pew Research Center found a “significant decline” in the credibility of 13 news organizations it tests. It reported, “the falloff in credibility affects news organizations in most sectors: national newspapers, such as The New York Times and USA Today, all three cable news outlets, as well as the broadcast TV networks and NPR.” The most trusted outlet: local TV news. Tied at the bottom: Fox News and USA Today.
Yet, I’d bet if people who watch ideological cable talk shows or listen to ideological radio talk were polled, their favorite hosts and talkers who say everything they already believe would zoom high in credibility rankings. Many partisans get their news — and belief systems reinforced — from Fox News’ Sean Hannity and MSNBC’s Al Sharpton. Many young people have wised up and gone to a more credible news source: Jon Stewart.
But in this new political culture where people will only read, listen to and watch what they already agree with before they read, listen to or watch it — and where repetition of a false sentence makes it fact for some partisans — reporters are faced with a serious challenge. The traditional role of gatekeeper of what is fact, inaccuracy or lie is being tested more than ever before with little backup from the country’s talk-radio influenced political culture.
Here’s the issue summarized by NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen: “Those who think you’re not entitled to your own facts vs. those who dispute that sentence. Or feel unbound from it. Or they simply run right over it trying to win today’s battle or deliver today’s news. “Hey, you’re not entitled to your own facts...” vs.: That’s your opinion. Kiss my ad. Read my poll.”
Rosen’s piece was immediately proven to be prophetic when a Romney advisor was later quoted by Buzzfeed as saying: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”
Rosen asks how journalists traditionally trained to be even-handled now deal with this divide. “And what if the problem isn’t evenly distributed across the landscape or within a party, but pools and concentrates in certain spots? Do journalists go to those (malignant) spots and fight?”
It’s challenging to do when some already suggest some kind of Media Devil coordinates coverage to bring down their candidate. That belief is as silly as if someone had suggested that the Hurricane Center did the political bidding of President Barack Obama to rig weather reports to wreak havoc with the Republican convention.
Oh, wait: Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh suggested that already.
There an old, trite — and inaccurate — saying: “Those who can’t do, teach.” So let’s add this new, accurate saying:
“Those who don’t want to think, blindly accept — and parrot.”
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.