Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

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On journalists not being ‘loudspeakers for liars’

Veteran U.S. journalist and j-prof Dan Gillmor has written an essay on how to respond to the challenges to truth posed by the President Donald Trump era.

From Medium (“Dear Journalists: Stop being loudspeakers for liars“):

Please, just stop.

Please stop giving live airtime to liars. Stop publishing their lies.

Please examine what you’re doing. You are letting liars use your traditional norms — which made sense in different times and situations — to turn you into amplifiers of deceit. You know you are doing this, and sometimes you even defend it.

Please stop.

But but but but, you say, he’s the president and we have to publish what he says, because by definition what the president says is news. We have to put Kellyanne Conway on our programs, and quote her in our tweets and stories, because she has the president’s ear and knows what’s going on inside the White House.

No, you don’t. And what’s more, you shouldn’t.

Politicians have always told some lies. This is different. The people running our government, and their key supporters, have launched a war on honest journalism, on facts, and on freedom of expression in general. They are using misinformation as strategy. They want the public to become so confused by what is true and what is false that people will give up even on the idea that journalism can help sort things out. This is not business as usual. You may wish otherwise — and the relentless normalizing journalists still do of this abnormal crew shows how much you wish otherwise — but at some point you have to recognize reality and react to it.

Your job is not to uncritically “report” — that is, do stenography and call it journalism — when the people you’re covering are deceiving the public. Your job is, in part, to help the public be informed about what powerful people and institutions are doing with our money and in our names.

But but but but, you say, we call them out on the lies. We let them lie and then we refute it.

Yes, sometimes you do that, but not consistently. And you almost always refuse to call the lies what they are, resorting instead to mushy words like “falsehood” in order to seem more “objective” even when it’s blatantly clear that the statement was a knowing lie.

But even if you did that every time, and in real time, which you absolutely do not, it wouldn’t be sufficient. Researchers have shown conclusively that repeating the lie tends to reinforce it. There’s some evidence that challenging lies can help in some circumstances, but most of what you’re doing is amplifying lies.

Here are some of his suggestions for addressing the problem:

  • Stop putting known liars on live TV and radio programs
  • Banning known liars means you’ll need new talking heads
  • Establish a zero tolerance policy for those new talking heads
  • Do some fact-checking and say no to publishing the lies
  • Don’t put Trump on live TV
  • If you’re doing TV, mute the sound output. Do a voice-over saying what the truth is
  • In other words, do what misinformation experts suggest: Don’t repeat the lie.

Sat, June 16 2018 » Main Page, Media, politics