We will never plug all the holes leaking lies. Our trusted news sources just need to report facts.
By Gary Abernathy
We just need MSM to report the truth, and forget the rest
While he seems like an especially nice person, I seldom think of Steve Doocy, the co-host of “Fox & Friends,” as particularly profound. But he said something Thursday morning that ventures into that territory, in a rather straightforward and simple way.
Discussing the Biden administration’s decision to “pause” its contemplated “Disinformation Governance Board” after it was roundly and rightfully criticized as an Orwellian Ministry of Truth, Doocy said, “We don’t need a government disinformation board. We have a free press.”
So true. The notion that we need anyone or any group in government devoted to sorting out truth from lies is not only nonsense, it’s contrary to the whole reason our founders established the First Amendment and provided strong protections for the news media. It’s the job of the press to sort out truth from lies, not the government. The government is something the press is supposed to be keeping an eye on. We like to think the government is always telling us the truth, but we know from history that’s not always the case, nor will it always be in the future.
We also don’t need to depend on social media companies bothering themselves with monitoring their content for “misinformation.” We just need everyone to be aware that misinformation abounds, and it always has, from tales about catching that big fish to the effectiveness of covid vaccines to election fraud and everything in between, big and small, trivial and important.
When Facebook was created, does anyone think Mark Zuckerberg and company spent much time worrying about people posting false information, and what to do about it? No, they were creating a place where, at first, a limited universe of users could post pictures, later expanding to the public at large where more people could post pictures and personal and business profiles. Eventually, of course, people began expressing opinions, having conversations and so on — making it a true “social media.” Was Facebook monitoring it all to fact check and separate truth from lies all that time?
Now, the Washington Post reports that “misinformation (is) already testing Facebook in the midterm elections, according to researchers, civil rights advocates and some former employees, who are calling on Facebook to ramp up its policies to prevent the spread of election-related misinformation.”
The Post reports:
Facebook, like many social media platforms, constantly needs to shift and update policies as it learns how its platform has been misused — taking steps to remedy problems for the next election. For instance, Facebook ramped up its programs to address foreign interference after the 2016 election, when Russian operatives were found to have meddled with the presidential race.
Researchers expect misinformation spreading the “big lie,” purporting that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, as well as efforts to suppress voter turnout to affect this cycle. In particular, they fear that misinformation could erode Americans’ faith in the electoral process or even lead to violence or harassment against election officials.
Let’s be clear: Foreign interference in our elections did not start in 2016, nor was it particularly any more or less active or effective in 2016 than 2020, or back in 2012, or 2008, or 1968, or 1948 for that matter. Virtually all countries have tried to influence, undermine or interfere in other countries’ elections and governments for centuries. People point to 2016 as particularly bad mainly because Donald Trump won the election, and there will always be those who want to blame it on Russia, Russia, Russia.
The rise of social media has simply provided one more tool — yes, highly effective — with which to spread propaganda. Pretending that we can stop it is to pretend that a little Dutch boy’s finger in a hole can prevent a dam from breaking and water from flooding a town — a popular myth based on a children’s story, but one, as this explanation from a Dutch genealogy site makes clear, that isn’t possible:
Not even the Little Dutch Boy could have saved the town. You see, when a dike is about to break, a finger just does not cut it. Dikes don’t typically leak—they weaken until whole sections are washed away. No finger will help when that happens.
In essence, we’re demanding that Facebook and others put their fingers in the holes to create the illusion that we’re stopping misinformation from flooding in from foreign actors, something which will never be stopped.
Which brings us back to Doocy’s point: We have a free press.
The job of the free press is for reporters to do the work necessary — to the best of their ability — to report facts. And, in an ideal world, Americans would, by and large, depend on legitimate sources for their news — the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, PBS, the Associated Press, Reuters, etc., etc. Some have more biases than others in their worldview, but I consider all of them (not the cable opinion shows, but their news operations) to be mostly reliable in regard to facts.
Of course, in the Year of our Lord 2022, we know the reality is that those news sources have sadly lost much of the influence and respect they once had, especially the print publications and the broadcast networks, which have been around for decades (or more). Some of that lost respect and influence are due to decisions and mistakes of their own doing (bias and partisanship), while other reasons are simply related to the rise of the Internet, leading to the emergence of more information sources, resulting in people often choosing to get their news and information only from sources — left or right — that reflect their political and cultural beliefs, regardless of the level of truthfulness.
The focus on disinformation introduced from afar — Russia, China, etc. — is misleading when, in fact, the most effective and entrenched falsehoods spring from homegrown media. It’s the fault of no one political party, no one politician, and no evil puppet master from the left or right.
There is no hopeful note on which to end this thought. Information will continue to come from an ever-expanding pool of sources. As much as I often disagree with their political leanings, I continue to trust the Washington Post, New York Times, etc. to be factual in their reporting. So I go there for the facts, even if I have to weed through the left-leaning premises in which they are often woven. But I’m older, and it’s hard to imagine anyone under 45 or 50 sharing that old-school devotion to legacy media. Still, that’s our best hope.
We will waste so much time reading or hearing about how Facebook, Twitter, etc. aren’t doing enough to stop misinformation from flooding their platforms when, in fact, that’s not their job. It’s the job of our legacy, mainstream news sources to simply keep getting it right — and to get it right doesn’t mean they have to spend so much time reporting on who got it wrong, by repeating the wrong information and then disavowing, disowning or “fact checking” it. That’s completely ineffective, anyway. No one who doesn’t trust the mainstream media is going to start trusting it when they tell us that other sources are wrong.
The mainstream, legacy media should just report the truth, and let those who care about it come their way. But the sad reality is, more and more people will depend on information coming from unreliable sources. The greatest thing about the internet is that it gives everyone a voice. And that’s also the worst thing about it.
Talking status of covid & pandemic funding on NewsHour
It was a pleasure to again fill in for David Brooks on the PBS NewsHour last Friday with Judy Woodruff and Jonathan Capehart. We discussed the state of covid and President Biden’s push for more pandemic funding.
My appearance happened to occur the same day that Judy announced her plans to step aside as host of the NewsHour at the end of the year. She plans to keep working and contributing to the program, which her staff was glad to hear. She’s held in high regard by everyone who works with her in the NewsHour’s Washington studio, and it’s a real honor and pleasure to be associated with her, even as just an occasional presence. She’s a brilliant journalist and a class act.
Let’s don’t push out our elder statesmen too soon
In my new Washington Post column, I take on David Gergen’s suggestion that it’s time for older people in politics to step aside.
I note that old people are one of the last groups who remain OK to target with ridicule:
America’s “youth culture” began to take root after World War II, when teenagers gained more disposable income. Eventually, the 18-34 demographic became the target of Madison Avenue. Today, old people typically are not only considered irrelevant, they’re fair game for public mockery. Being a racist, misogynist or homophobe is considered appalling, but ageist put-downs are common from comedians to greeting cards.
I also point out that the younger members of Congress are good at drawing attention to themselves, but hardly demonstrate the ability to step in as leaders:
Certain members of the House are frequently in the news for outlandish or provocative behavior. Unsurprisingly, they tend to be younger than the average congressional member. It’s hard to imagine Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), 32, posting an online video of herself bizarrely whispering into her phone about socialism when she’s 50. And the immature ignorance of Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), 26, manifested itself in several episodes — including wild claims of invitations to Washington orgies — and undoubtedly played a part in his primary defeat at the hands of 61-year-old Chuck Edwards. Many younger House members know how to get attention, but they’re clearly not ready to lead.
You can read it here.
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Excellent piece on the MSM and the need for them to return to the foundations of good journalism. I remember speaking with you at one of our Rotary meetings in Greenfield and I will always remember you saying that the job of a true journalist is to report the facts, without the reporters spin or viewpoints, then let the reader decide their own take on the matter. It is most disappointing to see what many in the field have devolved into now, being merely puppets that feel the need to add their own views to a story.
Also, keep up the good work on your Capehart & Abernathy appearances on PBS, they bring a refreshing change of pace and I very much enjoy them.