We can’t trust the media.
Those five words reflect a nationwide sentiment that most individuals share. About 37 percent of Americans, as observed by the Pew Research Center in 2012, believe that media outlets show a “great deal” of political bias in their reporting. Another 30 percent believe there is a “fair amount” of bias. This indicates that a sizeable number of Americans share some cynicism as they watch the news or read articles on their phones.
However, the sentiment that the media are not trustworthy is not true. Clinging to that belief may make it difficult to find fact among a media landscape teeming with fake news and inaccuracy.
When critiquing the media, it’s important to understand that the term “media” itself is widely inclusive. The media are defined simply as a means of mass communication, primarily through publication or broadcast online. When someone therefore refers to “the media,” they are not just talking about supposed crooked news networks. They are also referencing every newspaper, radio station, television news network and any kind of professional online publisher.
There are thousands of companies and publications that fall under that umbrella term of the media. It is too broad of a statement to say that each of those publications are biased and untrustworthy.
Still, media bias itself is not as rampant as many Americans may think. Dave D’Alessio is a professor at the University of Connecticut and formally studies media bias. According to him, there is no clear evidence indicating liberal or conservative bias, particularly in the newspaper industry and during presidential elections.
D’Alessio also told Poynter.org, a journalistic institute that reports on journalistic news and teaches young reporters, that people’s perceptions drive their cynical views of the media. He said, “Everybody thinks the media should do something but that something varies from person to person to person. And that means we’ll never stop talking about it.”
In fact, Americans have talked about media bias for decades. D’Alessio says the origins of the media bias outcry can be traced back to Jim Farley, the campaign manager of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It is also important to always remember that journalists and broadcasters cannot make up stories or tell lies through their reporting with malicious intent. While most forms of speech are protected by the First Amendment, intentional defamation of another person’s reputation can trigger a libel lawsuit. Libel suits are rarely successful. However, if it can be proven that the intent behind the defamation of a public figure was purposeful or with reckless disregard for the truth, reporters can lose the suit.
However, more likely and more frightening than the possibility of a lawsuit is the possibility of unemployment. Lying has ended the careers of many journalists who made up facts, embellished stories or disregarded complete accuracy. There is truth behind all professional news stories reported as fact, because writers and broadcasters simply cannot afford to lie.
In a piece about reestablishing trust in the media, The Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan acknowledges that people are more critical of news sources in modern society. She advocates for repairing the relationship between the media and the public. To do this, media outlets do need to try harder.
Sullivan states that trust in journalists was reaffirmed as a result of newspapers holding the government accountable for actions that threaten the interests and livelihoods of citizens. For example, it was The Washington Post that heavily investigated Watergate and the Richard Nixon administration.
That dedication to informing the public must be maintained. For many publications, it has been.
However, that does not mean that news outlets do not slant their stories or try to influence their readers’ opinions. Last semester, The Rider News published a guide to navigating the media landscape and to avoiding fake or overly biased news.
Stay away from websites that clearly advertise their bias, whether liberal or conservative, and do not trust any news stories with blatant opinions woven between facts. News stories should also be grammatically correct, completely accurate and should draw information from multiple reputable sources.
As a society, we cannot be engulfed in the idea that all forms of media and reporting are biased. Journalistic integrity is linked to the ideal that it is our duty as the media to accurately inform the public on important news, events and occurrences. There are many sources that still adhere to that ideal.
Readers and viewers need to learn to identify and trust those sources, as they are the only publications and broadcasts that circulate the truth in the face of fake or biased news. If we stop trusting all forms of media, then we will all become less careful and conscientious when choosing what sources to consult.
But it’s about more than trusting the media. We all must also trust ourselves and our better judgment as we search for the truth in this evolving media landscape.
The weekly editorial expresses the majority opinion of The Rider News. This week’s editorial was written by the Opinion Editor, Samantha Sawh.
Printed in the 2/8/17 issue.