Journalism has never been better…
The truth is that coverage of American politics, and the capital that revolves around it, is in many ways much better now than ever before – faster, sharper, and far more sophisticated.
Ramachandran responds by wondering why isn’t accuracy in the list of ways to judge the quality of news? It should be at the top of the list.
He first expands on that by saying bias and accuracy are different. It is possible to be biased and accurate and claim to be unbiased and not accurate.
He then looks at a few examples. According to fact-checking sites Clinton was rated as one of the most honest candidates. The nasty guy was rated pathologically dishonest. But news media didn’t report this. They portrayed Clinton as the more dishonest and then used polls to repeat that the public thought she was more dishonest.
Clinton disclosed everything: income and sources, taxes, emails, meetings, Foundation donors, etc. Trump disclosed almost nothing. Electionado provided a table of transparency, shown on the Shareblue page. Yet, Clinton was portrayed as more secretive.
Clinton did nothing illegal with her private email server and with her Foundation. There is documentation that the nasty guy’s Foundation broke laws and was corrupt. Even so, the media led people to believe Clinton’s actions were illegal and the nasty guy’s actions were not.
According to Brian Beutler a key part of journalism is framing and contextualizing – not just providing new data points, but explain what they mean in the larger scheme of things. The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy add that in this election cycle the media reported all the ugly stuff they could find and left analysis to the voter. For example, they did not distinguish between the seriousness and importance of allegations aimed at both the Clinton and Trump Foundations. The public disqualified both candidates and chose not on fitness for office but on such things as unrealistic promises.
These inaccurate portrayals of Clinton – the media ignoring their duty to accuracy – was what prompted many Bernie Sanders supporters to vote for someone other than Clinton, enough to make the difference in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, giving the Electoral College to the nasty guy.
In part 2 Ramachandran expands on that idea of a lack of accuracy by examining the Clinton email “scandal.” With so much coverage of the story – in the news nearly every day for 600 days – one would expect the story to at least be accurate. The media certainly had time to run down every detail to make their reporting accurate – if they chose to.
But the vast majority of the stories were false. Ramachandran reviews nine accurate aspects of the story, such things as Clinton didn’t violate any secrecy or classification laws.
Ramachandran reviews three kinds of reporting that routinely deceive the public.
* Stenographic repetition of claims, such as “Hillary Clinton enters the summer damaged by perceptions that she violated the law...”
* Exclusion of important and pertinent facts from independent analyses and expert sources, such as the fact-checking sites mentioned before.
* Gratuitous stenographic inclusion of comments by partisan Republicans, such as “If that was anyone else in this world, they would have been gone.”
And an example: WikiLeaks hacked the Democratic National Committee and dribbled out the emails it found. Rarely (if at all) was it plainly stated these were not emails from Clinton’s server (which was never hacked).
If the media isn’t interested in accuracy, what drives them? In part 3 Ramachandran says what media organizations crave now is speed and access. In this internet age there is a tremendous rush to be the first to report an event, even if those first reports often change significantly. The scoop is everything.
The big example of this is the pile-on when in the last two weeks of the campaign FBI Director James Comey announced a renewed investigation into Clinton’s emails based on no evidence at all – something Comey himself admitted the following week.
Did the media delve into how inappropriate it was for Comey to say what he did? No, they charged into “fact-free innuendo and scandal-mongering” against Clinton while pushing away the nasty guy’s real scandal of defrauding thousands of people out of tens of millions of dollars through his fake Trump University.
The media’s habit of prioritizing speed over accuracy is a serious impediment to an informed public, especially given that people are much more likely to remember the first, often sensational or striking reports, and not pay attention to follow up stories and corrections.
The media prizes access, being a part of the inner circle. But that access “does not usually produce accurate journalism, but rather the reprinting of self-serving or partisan spin.” In addition, a lack of access means the reporter must do painstaking research, which usually results in superior work. They must be more thoughtful about how they frame a story. An example: David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post uncovered the fraud of the Trump Foundation without having access to Trump.
In contrast, Clinton disclosed all relevant information about the Clinton Foundation – providing access – yet these were some of the most inaccurate stories of the campaign.
The point here is that many people in the media seem to wrongly equate access with significance. The reality is commonly the opposite.
And what did Clinton get by providing all that access? The media combed through it for “clouds” and “shadows” – evidence of scandal. Clinton’s transparency was weaponized against her.
In part 4 Ramachandran takes on “aggressive reporting,” also known as “adversarial journalism,” not much more than propagating he-said, she-said claims. Rarely is there an attempt to sort innuendo from truth, to present relevant facts, or add critical context so the reader could understand the facts and their significance. The public has no way to judge the significance of such stories.
Ramachandran lays out the details of the WikiLeaks/Russian email hacks to explain why aggressive reporting is bad reporting. He explains how WikiLeaks worked:
* First, they published hacked emails that deceptively looked damaging to those who had no time to research the emails or the full context behind them.All this to “annihilate truth.” This technique is only possible when media relies on aggressive reporting and doesn’t look for the relevant facts.
* Second, specific words, phrases, or sentences were taken out of context and highlighted to falsely make the content seem nefarious or corrupt.
* Third, they enlisted a very willing, compliant press corps to distribute their propaganda in the form of misleading headlines, social media posts, and stories.
* Fourth, when challenged, they used the argument that the emails were “not fake”— a tactic that compliant media organizations reinforced by claiming that anything not fake was “newsworthy.”
Ramachandran notes that only Clinton was a target of WikiLeaks and Russia and that the nasty guy knew what was going on.
We’ve heard a lot lately about the role that fake news had in this campaign. Facebook is now thinking about what to do about it. But fake news needs mainstream media to supply deceptive “legitimate” news for the fake stuff to stand on. And this deceptive news was far more damaging than the fake stuff.
So, modern media prizes speed and access over accuracy. They believe presenting he-said, she-said claims without facts or context to be great journalism.
There are now lots of calls for media accountability. That’s not likely to go very far. Media companies aren’t interested in self-examination. Reason: money.
* It seems the nasty guy made deals with media companies to transmit his propaganda unfiltered.
* Candidates often have to run ads to erase distortions – and that money is ad revenue to the same companies that spread the distortions.
The issue becomes how to fund journalism so that it prizes accuracy without losing money. That may be hard to do. Even so, the first step is knowing what the mainstream media is doing.
Ramachandran makes a point that I want to reinforce. Media companies chose speed over accuracy. Media companies chose to use adversarial journalism. Media companies chose to not provide context and significance. Media companies chose to be pawns of WikiLeaks and the Russians. Media companies chose to turn Clinton’s transparency against her. Media companies chose to enter deals with the nasty guy to not filter his rants. Media companies chose to portray Clinton as a liar worse than the nasty guy. Media companies chose to profit from the Clinton campaign having to give them ad money to combat the distortions they spread. Media companies chose they nasty guy over Clinton and did all they could to make sure she lost. Media companies chose to work against democracy and against the health of the nation and the world. Media companies chose profit over sound journalism. They did not have to make those choices.