When I transferred schools in my sophomore year of high school I was the new kid on the block. It was a pretty small block since when my classmates and I graduated three years later there were only thirty-six of us in the class. But my high school also educated kids starting with kindergarten so many of my classmates had known each other for their entire educational experience.
In my junior year I was offered the opportunity to join the staff of our school newspaper. Frankly, I was less interested in becoming a reporter than I was in being a member of the debate team which I captained in my senior year. But at that time, colleges made their decisions about new entrants not only based on test scores and grades but on extracurricular activities as well and I accepted the newspaper opportunity as a way to pad my resume.
As it turned out, the editor of the paper was a student who had been at my new school since the first grade. The two of us were academic competitors and some of my reporting assignments struck me as being far less interesting than others which we were covering in our limited, three times a year publication. This was my introduction to the power of the blur pencil. I found the stories that I had written were seriously edited (shortened) and were usually consigned to an obscure place on the third of our four page publication.
Perhaps this abbreviation of my journalism which, naturally, I considered brilliant was due to the enforcement of our newspaper motto, “All The News That Fits We Print”. But I was more inclined to see this as an act of retribution on the part of our paper’s editor for our academic rivalry. Perhaps it was a combination of the two. And while I hadn’t thought about this for many years, the discussion of how genuinely objective the media is or isn’t today, catapulted this to mind.
Most of us are able to recognize what today is characterized as “fake news”. This is not a new phenomenon. When William Randolph Hearst declared, “You bring me the pictures, I’ll give you the war,” he was simply stating what at that the time was obvious. Our newspapers as the primary source of information had the power to manipulate public sentiment. And, apparently, it didn’t bother him for them to be manipulated in the way he chose.
Most of us can recognize “fake news”. Recently someone forwarded an email to me suggesting that Michelle Obama’s mother was going to receive an $80,000 per year government pension for assisting in raising her two grandchildren. And, of course, there is the now infamous story about Hillary Clinton’s “illicit” activities using a pizzeria as a front for her “criminal enterprise.” Any responsible person would exert a little effort to determine the validity of such outrageous stories before passing them along as gospel truth. And the truth is that most of these kinds of stories are generated and disseminated on the internet, not in the press, radio or television.
Disseminating “fake news” is perhaps the least significant way in which public opinion can be manipulated. Most reasonable people are going to be suspicious of a story that on its face is so outrageous that it calls itself into question. And the person who is likely to accept it without verification is unlikely to change his opinion, despite being confronted by the facts. But there is a far more cancerous approach to “journalism” that is now rampant with our press be it print or audio/visual.
Studies show that an alarmingly large number of people get their news information not from the traditional media but from social media. While there are purported standards to which classic journalists adhere, the internet has none. Perhaps that is the reason that so many newspapers, in a rush to get the scoop on a story, are setting aside their prudential verification of facts. That was certainly the case with the “disappearance” of the MLK statue from the Oval Office. And while the story was factually disputed and the paper that reported it issued a ‘correction” the implication that President Trump had the bust removed because he is a “racist” had spread far and wide by the time the correction was printed.
But I can overlook an occasionally badly reported story – if it is accidental. What is worse to me is the intentional suppression of real news stories which are not brought to a medium’s audience because it does not meet the “criteria” of that medium’s political philosophy. And those non-stories are rife within our liberal press and television news shows.
Much has been made of the “historic tie-breaking vote” that Vice President Pence cast to confirm education Secretary Betsy DeVos. This was preceded by weeks of the media’s blasting DeVos as a person with no “experience in education” and who was adamantly opposed to Common Core and who, through her belief in school choice for all students, was attempting to “dismantle the public school system.” And then the day after her confirmation, the media covered all the protesters who prevented her visiting a DC public school. That all was considered newsworthy. But here’s something which slipped by these media stalwarts.
A study of DC schools, using the Common Core testing standards had some shocking results. If Common Core is the platinum level of educational assessment, it seems that many DC students are coming away with lead in their lunchboxes. The test was administered to tenth graders. The results found that only 10% were likely to be “college ready” in geometry and only 25% met that criterion for English. The gaps in measured achievement between white, Hispanic and black students were vast in both subjects.
I actively searched the websites of the major papers to see how they had reported on this subject. The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune all reported on this similarly. That is to say, there was no coverage at all.
There should be no surprise that the media are viewed with an even lower favorability level than Congress. In large measure, they’ve brought it on themselves. Because when they fail to report on real news, they abdicate their roles as prestigious members of a free press. And that’s bad news both for their readership as well as for them.