By Rob Koggan
What is fake news? The most obvious definition is the publishing or transmitting of knowingly false information. It is hard to deny that news outlets have degenerated into mere conduits for “news contributors” and anonymous sources with ulterior motives that spread conjured up, inflammatory information. A compliant press is willing to pass on unsubstantiated “information” because it also fits their political agenda. Corroboration or challenge is nonexistent. How many times did we hear reports of another anti-Trump “bombshell”, proclaiming it’s “ the beginning of the end”, or “the walls are closing in”, only to see the story later fade into the wind like their current ratings. Once the Mueller report was published, the most portentous line uttered was by one of the Presidents harshest critics, John Brennan, which can also serve as an epitaph for most all reporting over the last 3 years. Brennan lamented, “I don’t know if I received bad information, but I think I suspected there was more than there actually was.” This was from the former head of the CIA, who showed no reluctance to go on CNN almost nightly to peddle the false narrative that the President was guilty of treason.
Another form of fake news is omission and bias. In mid-June USA Today conducted a poll showing the President scored his highest approval rating ever in a national poll, 49%. This certainly was a considerable recovery from February 2018 when another USA poll showed his approval was a low of 38%. The reporting on the negative February 2018 poll went on for days. How did the USA report his more favorable June 2019 poll results? They ignored it, saying without mentioning the numbers, that Dems should concentrate on issues, not Trump in the coming debates. Hardly objective journalism.
Biased reporting is not just reserved for the President. Look how the fashion writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer discussed Melania’s RNC convention outfit. “So while [Melania] Trump appeared flawless on the Cleveland stage Monday night, whether she intended it or not, her all-white ensemble displayed the kind of foreignness that is accepted by her husband’s political party. To many, that outfit could be another reminder that in the G.O.P. white is always right…On Monday night, Melania Trump was a not-so-subliminal billboard for what’s looking like the Trumpian view of an ideal America. And if that’s the fashion statement she intended to make, it’s a very scary one.” Interesting analysis to suggest Melania’s clothes choice all but made her an honorary KKK member when she’s not even a Democrat!
One week later the reporter took a very different view when reporting on Hillary’s outfit at the DNC convention. “Hillary Clinton took the stage in a crisp, white and well-fitted pantsuit … it’s rare we see her in all white. White is a hue that’s both soft and strong. But it was appropriate: Her acceptance speech was a coming out of sorts. Clinton’s white pantsuit is telling us she has arrived. Most importantly Clinton’s white suit told America loud and clear that she joyfully accepted the opportunity to run for president of the United States of America.” If this hadn’t been in print who would believe this? It epitomizes biased, fake news and justifies every bit of derision heaped upon the industry.
The real question is when did journalism accelerate its already declining ethics and begin morphing into fake news? By journalism I mean those quaint old ideas espoused by the Society of Professional Journalists, that reporters “should take responsibility for the accuracy of their work; verify information before releasing it; remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy; the public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources; support the open civil exchange of views even those they find repugnant; and label advocacy and commentary.” Many attribute our current one-sided op-ed style of “reporting” to Ron Fournier when he took over as bureau chief of AP in 2008 introducing “accountability journalism”. He believed that traditional journalistic ethics where both sides of an argument are entitled to equal airing is exactly what reporters should stay away from because those ethics stop reporters from telling the truth as they see it. Many fellow journalists took issue with Fournier’s new emotive style. Michael Calderone, currently HuffPost’s senior media reporter and previously at Politico, wrote “since taking over the position, Fournier has led a dramatic shift in the AP’s policy, moving it away from the neutral and objective tone it had become known for and toward a more opinionated style that would make judgments when conflicting opinions were presented in a story.” James Taranto, the popular WSJ Best of the Web columnist for 17 years, wrote about this new style of journalism “The problem is that while you can do opinion journalism and incorporate reporting into it, you can’t say you are doing straight reporting and then add opinion to that”. Aren’t we all now blessed by what Mr. Fournier wrought?