SOUTH BEND – I hate “the media.” Judging by polls on trust, so do most Americans. They’re really down on “fake news” these days, blaming “the media” for inventing it and spreading it through irresponsibility or bias or a combination thereof.
My reasons for hating “the media” differ from most of the irate critics, although they certainly are correct to deplore “fake news.” I hate the term, “the media,” not the news media in general, not the real news media providing real news, not the professional journalists in broadcasting and print who seek as best they can, though not perfect, to provide accurate information.
But so often we hear complaints about the vicious falsities spread in this divided nation in a context placing blame on “the media,” a term in general use to include everything that disseminates anything. Everything from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times to the scandal tabloids at supermarket check-out counters.
Everything from the carefully scrutinized work of a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist to the tweets of a “citizen journalist” who sends an unchecked, unedited and untrue report that goes viral.
Everything from the nightly news presented by anchors you know at local TV stations to the ramblings of an unknown blogger making up stuff as a joke or a prank or to be malicious.
All “the media” aren’t spreading “fake news.” All “the media” aren’t irresponsible. All “the media” aren’t created equal. Many Americans, including the president of the United States, don’t differentiate.
Nor did a nice lady who called me frequently to ask why I didn’t write about important stories she found in the Weekly World News, a tabloid she bought at her Martin’s Supermarket. There was the Weekly World News exclusive about the U.S. senators who were aliens from another planet. There was the disclosure that Elvis was still alive. John F. Kennedy, too.
A front-page story told of a woman who was killed by her mink coat. The animals came alive and bit and clawed her to death. Had to be true. There was a photo right there of the woman wearing her fur coat.
Alas, the Weekly World News is published no more. But it’s still available on-line, warning now of a planet crashing into earth on Oct. 17. Looks like no second consecutive World Series win for the Cubs. No World Series. No world.
While many folks laughed at the Weekly World News as entertainment, the lady who called me was not alone in believing the stories. Many now find segments of “the media” that make things up to be more believable than the mainstream, professional news media. Polls on trust show that many Americans, as they hear of “fake news,” believe all “the media” to be tarnished with the same brush. All so dishonest.
President Trump, in that raucous news conference before inauguration, shouted at a network reporter, “You are fake news.” He was miffed that the network reported that intelligence officials provided briefing information to Trump about an unverified dossier alleging that Russia had compromising information about him.
That wasn’t fake. It was fact, now confirmed, that briefers did provide information about the dossier put together by a former British intelligence official. The information in the dossier could well be fake. None of the mainstream news media, although aware of the dossier claims about alleged Trump indiscretions in Moscow, reported about it during the presidential campaign. They checked it out, could find no substantiation and didn’t report the salacious but unproven stuff. They still haven’t.
But BuzzFeed, known for breezy lists, quizzes and tips, as well as some news, ran the entire dossier, all the unproven allegations in detail. Trump had a right to be upset about that. Journalists with operations that showed discretion in refusing to use the salacious and unproven stuff were upset, too. They will be blamed as well for indiscretion by “the media.”
Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.