Journalists Are Eroding Their Own Credibility

Image via Huff Post

Journalism is supposed to be about reporting facts not writing misleading stories about those one disagrees with politically.

Within my first week as a journalism student at Penn State, I was taught the old media adage that reporters should, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That certainly seems noble on the face of it, but for some reason it bothered me. Shouldn’t the agenda of the reporter be to bring facts and the truth to light, no matter who is comforted or afflicted?

Nevertheless, I didn’t pay it too much mind. I figured that any reporter would assume all this comforting and afflicting should be done using the truth rather than fabrications or misrepresentations.

Every day I learn how wrong I was.

Just look at what happened in Poland the other day. President Trump and his wife were meeting that country’s president and first lady. Poland’s first lady reached out to shake her counterpart’s hand while the two heads of state shook hands. Mr. Trump finished his handshake with the president a tad early and when he reached out to shake the Polish first lady’s hand, his arm lingered for a second before she grasped it.

When watching the exchange in its entirety, it appears completely normal. However, if you dishonestly cut the video at just the right spot, it looks like Poland’s first lady dissed Mr. Trump by leaving him hanging and instead only paying attention to his wife. It’s not surprising that somebody cut the video that way. For every Pepe the frog on the alt-right trolling Reddit, Twitter and Facebook, there’s a member of the resistance doing the exact same thing. What was shocking was how the media gleefully distributed the clip.

“Journalists” from The AP, The Guardian, The Hill, New York Daily News, Time, CNN (color me shocked), The Huffington Post, The New York Times and more all beclowned themselves by covering the exchange. Thousands and thousands of shares ensured the lie would reach as many of the gullible masses as possible.

This news was so fake the Polish President himself came out to decry the false narrative, but the damage was already done.

In a column on healthcare earlier this year, the New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote, “the modern G.O.P. always wants to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.”  This quote says something about the psychology of many the media.

They don’t care about truth or principles. They have no idea why people would want to – on principle – get the government out of one sixth of the U.S. economy. They can’t fathom that others would want to cut taxes because letting people keep the money they earned is right. The idea of seeing the world through any prism but class warfare is completely foreign to them.

Sticking it to the comfortable, whoever it may be that day, is their principle. It is their truth. And if they must bend the facts a little bit to make their point, so be it.

That’s why media members were so willing to ignore the obvious context of the handshake video and mislead their audiences to embarrass Trump. He is the comfortable, so it’s their job to afflict him.

This is no isolated incident either.

In January, The New York Times published a pathetic hit piece insinuating that Rick Perry had no idea when he was first nominated to head the Department of Energy that he would be in charge of safeguarding our nuclear arsenal.

This, of course, was not true. The entire story relied on a single quote from a man who had left the Trump transition team in November and came out to say that the Times misconstrued his words shortly after the story was up. Also, Perry had publicly acknowledged the role of the DoE in caring for our nukes as far back as 2011 and as recently as December 14, the day he was nominated for the DoE post.

None of this prevented a slew of other news organizations – from Slate to MSNBC to Business Insider and more – from parroting the lie. The article remains up on the Times’ website without correction.

Need some more examples?

  • The Times and others falsely reported in June that all 17 agencies in the US intelligence community agreed that Russia orchestrated hacking attacks during the 2016 election. The real number was four.
  • Everyone lost their minds last week when several outlets reported that Paul Ryan banned women from wearing sleeveless dresses in the Speakers’ Lobby in the capitol. Except he didn’t. This rule has been in place and enforced for a long time, since well before Ryan became speaker. The New York Times sleeveless dress outrage piece was so off base that the correction to it was basically a retraction of the whole thing. It reads, “CORRECTION: The headline of this story has been updated to indicate that the dress code rule being enforced is not new. And further context has been added to the story on the nature of the House dress code, specifically that it also applies to men.”
  • CNN published an exclusive story in late June, accusing Anthony Scaramucci, a former Trump advisor, of having ties to a Russian investment firm. The piece relied on a single anonymous source and was pulled soon after it was published. The breech of editorial standards was so bad that three individuals, including the reporter who wrote the story and an editor, resigned from the network.
  • Just this Saturday, The Washington Post attempted to link James T. Hodgkinson – the uber-liberal Bernie Sanders volunteer who shot Rep. Steve Scalise – to a pro-Trump radio host in the area where he lived, with literally no evidence besides geographical proximity. This is a real sentence from the story: “…the out-of-work politically frustrated home inspector who up and left, drove a van to the Washington area, and then shot four people at a congressional baseball practice.” It fails to mention the people he was trying to kill (Republican members of Congress), probably because that inconvenient little fact would destroy the entire narrative. The author of this story, Peter Holley, and any editors who laid eyes on it, should be immediately canned.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but you get the point.

While stories like these may serve some journalists’ purpose to mislead gullible people and to afflict people they judge deserving of affliction, they fundamentally erode the profession of journalism itself. The next time someone comes out with a legitimate scoop on some scandal in the Trump administration – and I do believe there are Trump administration scandals to be found – they will be seen as yet another politically motivated hack bending the truth.

If we hope to have a credible and free press that can hold our institutions accountable now and in the future, journalists need to start taking their job to honestly report facts more seriously. Journalism is not about relentlessly going after those one disagrees with politically.

Tyler Olson is a student at the Pennsylvania State University studying broadcast journalism and political science. He has written for The Daily Collegian.

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