Journalism is dead. It wasn’t killed by anything President Donald Trump tweeted. It committed suicide because President Trump exists.
On Aug. 16, more than 200 newspapers and many local television stations showed solidarity with one another by editorializing against the president’s criticism of the press—his calling many of them “fake news.” That editorializing is exactly the problem, and why the president’s criticism carries weight with so many Americans.
When I was in college, you couldn’t tear me away from the news. It was the height of the Clinton years, specifically the Monica Lewinski scandal and the impeachment, and journalism was in its element. Americans who wanted to know what was happening had all the information they could need at their fingertips—through cable news, not yet the internet—or in newspapers and magazines.
The public was split on what to do about a president who had committed perjury, but not over the fact that he had, because they’d been given the information and allowed to draw their own conclusions. That’s how journalism is supposed to work. That’s not how it works anymore.
News has given way to opinion, and the op-ed page now bleeds throughout the paper. There are fewer “hard news” shows on cable, replaced by panel discussions in which pundits and journalists alike speculate wildly about motives and what the news means.
Remember back in December when the rumor was that the president would fire special counsel Robert Mueller over the Christmas break? It was an unfounded rumor started by a backbench Democratic member of Congress, but it was treated as if it were carved into a stone tablet by a burning bush. The lack of facts behind it and denials across the board didn’t stop CNN from leading hours of coverage and discussion about it and what the reaction would be should it turn out to be true.
The equivalent of bathroom graffiti was treated as news and reported and repeated for weeks. If that isn’t “fake news,” nothing is.
Rumormongering used to be the domain of pundits, and it was difficult to get an opinion out of a journalist. Now they intermingle to the point that a journalist for The New York Times can be found on CNN pontificating at all hours of the day. These contributors are paid by both outlets for diametrically opposed jobs. And we’re supposed to pretend their silence, agreement with, or simply stating themselves that, for example, the situation on the southern border is akin to Nazi Germany, doesn’t color their “straight news” reporting? It’s impossible.
No New York Yankees fan would feel comfortable getting their news about the team from a Boston Red Sox fan. Half the country views journalists as wearing the uniform of the other half under their suits, not because of manipulation but because of observation.
Corrections and retractions are not new. That each and every one of them has been in one direction—where the original story made the president or the Republicans look bad and the “update” negated it—is. Trump didn’t create animosity toward the media; he highlighted it.
Loss of Trust
During the 2012 Republican primary, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich got the biggest applause line of the entire campaign by attacking the press over a question about his personal life. Conservatives remember how scandal after scandal during the Obama administration was ignored, downplayed, or attributed to the department involved in such a way that you might think that department wasn’t part of the administration.
When President Barack Obama left office, his claim of a “scandal free” administration was parroted, without question, to people who remembered Operation Fast and Furious, the IRS targeting of Americans for their political beliefs, the four Americans killed in Benghazi waiting for help that was never on its way, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s unprecedented use of a secret, unsecured private email server, and so on. Why would anyone trust people spitting in their faces while telling them it’s raining?
In the buildup to the Globe’s coordinated publicity stunt (and media organizations, particularly newspapers, need the publicity as their circulation is dwindling), journalists should find a reflective surface if they want to know why fewer Americans trust what they say than they do President Trump. It has nothing to do with charisma; it’s a reaction to years of observation.
CNN reporter Hadas Gold thinks the problem is simply that the American people don’t understand what reporters do. Of the Globe’s organized “protest,” Gold wrote, “These efforts should be commended—but what will actually move the needle is greater news literacy—starting in school—and more on the ground education campaigns that show how and why reporters do what they do.”
Again, the fault, as Gold sees it, lies not with the practitioners of the profession, but with the American people. All they need is to be educated, she says.
The American people are educated. We understand the job of a reporter is supposed to be to convey the who, what, where, and when of important events. We also understand we aren’t getting that anymore. We’re getting wild speculation, talking points, opinions, and desires peppered with emotion. Physician, heal thyself.
Fairly and Honestly
When these self-proclaimed champions of the First Amendment ignore or justify the silencing of speech on college campuses because the speaker is conservative, or excuse violence because they agree with the cause, the American people take note. The president doesn’t need to point it out.
It’s tempting and easy to blame others for your problems, which is why so many of these outlets decrying Trump’s criticism of them routinely call Fox News “state-run media.” But Fox News didn’t create, for example, the murder of Kate Steinle by an illegal alien or the horrors of Kermit Gosnell, the abortionist whose office was lined with baby parts in formaldehyde.
All Fox did was report these stories. The “mainstream” media didn’t do so until forced. Yet they send teams of reporters and entire shows to anywhere a story enforcing a favored narrative may have happened.
None of this has gone unnoticed.
No one event or Trump tweet has caused the public to distrust journalists; it has been the actions of journalists themselves. Reporters who went into the profession “to make a difference” go on TV or social media, expose their beliefs, and then pretend they have no opinions. They’ve cost their profession its credibility and audience.
The best way for journalists and their employers to combat the charge of fake news, and whatever fear that derives from it, is not to protest, not to complain, and certainly not to band together publicly against the president, but to do their jobs fairly and honestly.
Journalism is important: People need to know what their government is actually doing. If journalists want to gain the trust of the American people, they need to stop dealing in rumors and speculation while keeping their opinions to themselves. But no one ever got rich or famous doing that.
Derek Hunter is a contributing editor at The Daily Caller, where he hosts a daily podcast; a columnist at Townhall.com; and the author of “Outrage, INC.: How the Liberal Mob Ruined Science, Journalism, and Hollywood.” Follow him on Twitter at @derekahunter