Money, market share replace the truth
The most important of the commandments of writing opinions is the following: first of all, you are a reporter. Of course, readers will remember the position you took, perhaps who you rebuked, perhaps the questions you asked, or what hypocrisy you unearthed. But if you don’t base your opinion—the commentary—on facts, solid research, solid evidence, and good journalism, chances are readers will take notice and click on something else.
This is not the abolition of culture; this is the market. If you’re selling ideas, observations, or criticisms to news consumers, your best bet is to up your game of truth.
And here’s why: my opinion is mine (and perhaps those who might agree with it), but I have no right to my own facts – I will speak out for the late US Senator Daniel Moynihan, who is known to have said the same most in an article published in the Washington Post. published in 1983. Deliberately lying to readers (or viewers) while drafting my case diminishes my point of view, diminishes my respect for the reader, and corrodes our democracy because citizens must make informed civic decisions based on the truth.
Go ahead, continue. Lie if you want. There is no clause or corollary in the First Amendment requiring speech to be truthful. But whether you adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, the American Press Association’s Principles of Journalism, or the American Press Institute’s Elements of Journalism, the first rule for any disseminator of news or information is truthfulness. It also does not change when that news organization provides an opinion.
Which brings us to the recent revelation that the faces of Fox News were lying on live television. Such disclosures should give thought to anyone in business or anyone who consumes information derived from a business.
The backstory reads like a Netflix series. The opinion-provider group at Fox knew full well that The Big Lie was just massive, solid fiction. However, they urged viewers to raise and maintain the ratings they felt were declining… to protect profits. Wait, there’s more. Rupert Murdach, the owner of Fox News, also knew about it, but did not intervene.
They traded the truth for money and market share. In an industry inextricably linked to consumer confidence, this should be the death knell. The audience will ultimately make that decision.
Some argue that Fox News’ intentional lies to its viewers are not shocking. They argue that Fox is not so much a news organization in the classic sense, but a propaganda weapon of political views found in the most extremist parts of Congress and the Republican Party. This accusation is perhaps the subject of another commentary. However, reports of lies to viewers will not prove otherwise. Whatever the role of Fox News, millions of people tune in every day, so deliberately spreading blatant fabrications is no small feat.
With the rise of the internet and social media, the editorial/commentary side of the house of journalism is dividing the universe with a diverse continuum of writers, influencers, broadcasters, bloggers, and, it seems, anyone with an opinion. I have lived in this part of the industry for many years, offering a point of view meant for further reflection or discussion beyond the reporters who, like the flawless and prolific writers of the Examiner, tell us stories.
In addition, any commentator can be deceived. A few years ago I wrote a few columns praising cyclist Lance Armstrong, detailing his battle with cancer, his journey from a hospital bed to the Champs Elysées to win several Tour de France. In the newspaper press, I publicly denied rumors that he used illegal substances to achieve greatness. I privately argued with email writers who insisted that I was either misinformed or naive or both.
You know how this story ended.
Modern deliberate deception has largely been the preserve of social media, conspiracy theorists, and various Wi-Fi-enabled weirdos. Let the buyer beware must be carved on these platforms. Media outlets from CBS News to The New York Times withdrew the reports because they were based on misinformation, the result of sloppy coverage, poor editing, or duplicitous sources, rather than deliberate lies.
All this turns Fox’s deliberate “burning pants” program into some seriously rarefied and smelly air.
Our information highways – super and otherwise – are rife with so much deceit and misinformation that an entire industry has evolved to help us separate the truth from horse hockey. Fact-checking programs like Politifact, FactCheck.org, and my beloved Snopes are an integral part of the lives of wise consumers of information and journalists.
Mark Twain once said: “… the truth is easy to kill, but a well-spoken lie is immortal.” And think about rankings.
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