This has been a terrible year for the press.
As I recently wrote, Donald Trump’s candidacy tested us, and, for the most part, we failed miserably. Our biggest sin: Many mainstream outlets abandoned core values of fairness, balance, verification and proportionality in covering him — even, in some instances, The New York Times.
But we can learn from mistakes and do better in the future. Or, we can deny and double down — and then we usually do even worse.
The latter is what I see happening since Trump was elected president, and that’s the reason for this year-end post about a few troubling media decisions and moments that I have not had time to explore as they recently unfolded.
In one of the more outrageous media statements of the year, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said it was a “crazy idea” to think all the fake news and disinformation of his platform had any influence on the election.
After he got beat up by just about every thinking media analyst in the world, he came back with a plan to try and combat the fake news, disinformation and lies on Facebook that he said had no impact. One part of the plan involves the use of third-party fact checkers: Snopes, Associated Press, Politifact, FactCheck.org and ABC News.
First off, the plan seems like a Band-Aid for an operation that doesn’t want to spend the money to build an infrastructure for verification and do it the right way.
But that is only part of the problem with Zuckerberg’s judgment here.
I am a fan of the first four fact-checking outfits, but of all the TV news operations, Zuckerberg picks ABC News, an outlet with more political conflicts of interest and bias than any this side of Fox.
In fact, it might be worse than Fox when you think about the fact that former Bill Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos, ABC’s chief anchor of its weekday morning and Sunday public affairs shows, donated a total of $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation and only disclosed it after it was reported in Politico.
He said he didn’t think he had to disclose it.
That’s the face of political news at ABC, if it still has any.
That’s not the news organization I trust to tell Facebook’s millions of users what’s fake and what’s not. Think it might tilt a little Democratic in the great propaganda wars being waged these days throughout the media ecosystem?
My second concern is the way the media seem willing to turn the page and move on from the news that questions were given in advance to candidates in town halls and debates hosted by cable channels.
CNN publicly parted ways with contributor Donna Brazile in October after emails released by Wikileaks indicated that she had given information on questions to the Clinton campaign in advance of two events involving CNN. One was a debate on March 6; the other was a town hall co-hosted by CNN and TV One on March 13.
Both ABC News and CNN had suspended Brazile’s contributor’s agreement in July when she became interim chair of the Democratic National Committee. But only CNN publicly, definitively and permanently severed its relationship with her after the emails became public.
And Brazile was on ABC News last Sunday being interviewed on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos," identified in her role with the DNC.
Look, I don’t care who is involved — feeding questions to candidates in advance of town halls and debates is disgusting.
In the 1950s, when it came to light that TV producers were feeding questions to contestants on quiz shows, viewers were outaged and heads rolled.
You tell me what’s worse: riggging a game show to get a favored contestant or trying to use a TV event to influence a presidential election. Where’s the outrage and contrition today? I don’t see it.
The other problem related to this issue is one I have written about extensively: cable channels like CNN flooding their airwaves with politicos whose loyalty is to their party or super PAC — not viewers and voters.
But my biggest concern currently, and the one for which I see the roughest road ahead, involves the media blindly publishing information without first thoroughly checking it out — especially when it fits biases or stereotypes.
The most recent example involves a report in Politico last week that the Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group cut a special deal with Trump’s campaign on coverage during the 2016 campaign. Sinclair owns or operates 173 stations in 81 markets. It has a history, which I have reported, of supporting conservative candidates.
Not only did the usual run-and-gun websites publish versions of the Politico story without checking it out, Andrew Seaman, chair of the ethics committee of the Society of Professional Journalists, wrote a blog post on Dec. 17 headlined: “We All Lose Thanks to Sinclair’s Deal With Candidates.”
Only "we" didn't "all lose" anything as a result of what Sinclair did in this instance.
Two days later, Seaman published this correction:
I published a post Saturday on this blog based off a Politico story, which alleged the Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group struck a deal with Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election to air interviews with the candidate without added context in exchange for access. The report was repeated by other news organizations.
After hearing from Sinclair’s representatives and viewing emails between the company and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s campaign, I don’t believe the interview arrangements fell outside what would be considered ethical journalism. Therefore, I apologize to Sinclair for assuming the statements reported in Politico story, which was based off third-party reports, were accurate.
From what I can tell, the situation is a victim of a game of telephone. One person makes a statement, another person repeats that statement with some errors and it builds upon itself. Unfortunately, I made myself part of the chain by not reaching out to Sinclair for clarification. I’m sorry.
I think we should be a little better than players in a "game of telephone," don't you?
But, at least, Seaman apologized and publicly tried to correct the record.
Some in the business aren't even doing that anymore.