By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
Media is taking it on the chin these days, and for good reason, but as a journalist I have faith in my profession’s longevity. I have to.
It behooves us all, though, to pay attention because there is a lot of chatter out there passing itself off as reality and only the perceptive will survive.
We witnessed media trust implode on a big scale this past month when Facebook was called to task for allowing itself and about 50 million of its users to be duped in an information-sharing scandal that is still unraveling. Supposedly, a British data-collection company, Cambridge Analytica, used personal details in such a way as to influence the conservative vote in the fall election.
To what extent such social media influence differs from how Procter & Gamble once advertised Ivory soap, I’m not sure. Either you buy a product or not. But major media thinks this is a big deal and it probably is. Congress thinks so, too.
In fact, the whole influence question is central to President Trump and the American vote of 2016. There’s not been one iota of evidence that Russians were able to change the numeric vote count, but there seems to be all kinds of evidence that hackers were bent on planting messages to sway public opinion. And with the fast advance of electronic media, there is every likelihood that many people were convinced to vote a certain way because of something they saw or heard — true or not the facts, Republicans and Democrats.
Some of the shallow impressions we gain from social or other media are not that much different than basing votes on how a candidate looks. We’ve all done that. When you get right down to it, every one of the opinions we hold is based on subjective bias, and we pick up an awful lot of that from print, web, TV, radio, movies, etc.
Still, it’s the principle that is causing the fuss here: We decide for ourselves which candidates we elect. Our democracy does not need outsiders tampering around. Period.
I started off talking about journalism, and in our mixed-message world, where every guy with a keyboard can be a “journalist,” it’s easy to get distracted.
We need to stand up for the mainstream news. Its members are protectors of our democracy and they take seriously their responsibility, no matter your persuasion. Things are going on that you need to know, whether you like them or not.
Where would we have been, for instance, without major media to report on events of March 22, 2018, arguably the worst day of President Trump’s tenure? His top lawyer in the Russia probe resigned. His national security advisor quit. His secretary of state said farewell to staff. Joe Biden threatened to clean his clock. The market dropped more than 700 points on news of China tariffs. And, Congress passed one of the largest budgets in history. Oh, and a former Playmate concluded the day by laying out her yesteryear dalliances in an excruciatingly candid CNN interview.
You can’t make this stuff up. Heck, Jacqueline Susann couldn’t make this stuff up, and she was a pretty good hand at it.
Good journalists are sorting it all out. Yet, they are getting hammered in the process. The obvious bias against the president by some outlets and for the president by others doesn’t help.
In my mind, print newspaper reporters and honorable colleagues on TV have done magnificent jobs the last two years — the best I’ve seen since Watergate — and doing it amid the largest outcry against journalists in history.
It takes a person with a good head on his shoulders to recognize fact from fiction — to interpret the information and not take any of it for granted.
There is, as I said, a lot of noise out there, and “fake news” cries are going to continue at a fever pitch, even when most of the stories are accurate.