I was struck by reading columns this weekend by Debra DeAngelo and Tanya Perez in the local newspaper, that posit newspapers as the solution to fake news. I am a supporter of newspapers – I subscribe to three of them digitally (New York Times, Washington Post and LA Times) – but I think we need to acknowledge that the traditional news was just as much a problem this election cycle as “fake news.”
Writes Debra DeAngelo: “I’m having a grand chuckle over all the hand-wringing about ‘fake news.’ You know where you find real news? Newspapers. Boom. Mic drop.”
She goes on to argue that the editor is the line between real news and fake news. “You know where you can always find editors? Newspapers. Oh, the bitter irony. The whining and wailing over ‘fake news’ and, meanwhile, we can’t be bothered to read real newspapers, let alone subscribe to them. We’ve certainly come full circle, haven’t we. Newspapers. You’ll miss us when we’re gone. And we almost are.”
Tanya Perez in her column says, “Yep, traditional media outlets are struggling ‘against economic and other pressures’ — fake news sites being one of those pressures, but that’s a story for another day.”
“Today, let’s talk economic pressures,” she writes. “Not that this is a big revelation, but the internet has caused people to believe that information should be free. Somehow this has translated to mean that news outlets should not charge anything. I’m not sure how people justify that trained professional reporters, photographers, editors, support staff, pricey equipment and many other business-related expenses should not cost anything, but that’s where we seem to be.”
She adds, “Bringing this closer to home, I’m really, really tired of people telling me that The Enterprise is too expensive.”
Let me start out with this: The Enterprise should pump away at the value of their paper and local news, and, as an oft-time critic of the paper, I would be sorry to see it go because it fills a much wider range of news than something like the Vanguard can fill.
The Vanguard focuses narrowly on a segment of the local news, but it is not intended to compete with the Enterprise or replace it. We have our niche and our audience and it’s different from the local paper.
But I’m rubbed the wrong way that the paper is arguing that they are the antidote to “Fake News.”
Ms. Perez, whom I had the pleasure to sit next to last week at the council meeting, writes, “We don’t give you our opinion of what happened at a meeting; we give you facts, quotes and the news.”
But part of the problem is that, during the election, the mainstream news – both the papers and broadcast media – mixed punditry, fact checks and, yes, I think their opinions, into the news coverage in a way that the lines got blurred.
I have often scoffed at the notion of a liberal press – in fact, I continue to – but there is no doubt that the mainstream news was anti-Trump. I’m not sure they were pro-Clinton, as I will point out shortly, but they were definitely anti-Trump.
In the end, the national polls will turn out to be largely correct in predicting that Hillary Clinton would win the popular vote. However, the state polls were wrong, and they missed badly in some cases.
As Maggie Haberman of the New York Times pointed out in the hours after Trump’s stunning victory, “We don’t know what happened, because the tools that we would normally use to help us assess what happened failed. The polling on both sides was wrong.”
Jim Rutenberg of the Times has written a story about how the media had missed Mr. Trump’s wide appeal, and what that misfire says about journalists’ flawed understanding of major swaths of our country. “What we now know is that a huge part of the country is far more upset about the ills that he was pointing to and promising to fix than any of the flaws that we were pointing out about him as a candidate,” Mr. Rutenberg said.
Mr. Rutenberg added, “The news media by and large missed what was happening all around it, and it was the story of a lifetime. The numbers weren’t just a poor guide for election night — they were an off-ramp away from what was actually happening.”
Nicholas Confessore added, “What we are seeing is in part a revolt of the country that people had written off as the country of the past, against the country that most people thought they were living in: a country of the future, of a multicultural future, of a globalized world. This was a revolt of people who did not feel vested in that future America.”
I could go on from here – but I think my point is made – the mainstream media, the antidote to Fake News, got the election wrong, their polling missed huge swaths of voters that were angry at the status quo and, even though Clinton won the popular vote, the electoral college required her to win key swing states and, narrowly, she failed to do so.
But it is not just the right that is upset these days with the mainstream media.
A few days ago, the liberal group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) lambasted the mainstream media for creating “false equivalencies.” They write, “For all the dangers the rise of Donald Trump poses—to vulnerable communities, to world peace, to the planet’s ecosystem—the one silver lining of Trump’s candidacy is that it has completely exposed the limits and ideological impotence of established media’s ‘objectivity’ myth. Faced with a unique and unprecedented threat in Trump, attempts to find ‘balance’ between Trumpism and wholly unrelated phenomena to its left were tone deaf, and at times bordered on apologies for fascism.”
I’m quoting FAIR to illustrate the door swings both ways. FAIR, certainly no apologist for Clinton, nevertheless pointed out, “The general election was a tale of two scandals, often lumped side by side: the ongoing FBI investigation into Clinton’s mishandling of government emails and Donald Trump’s ever-expanding list of alleged sexual assault victims. While Clinton’s email scandal was certainly newsworthy (most FBI investigations of candidates are), its relative importance to her fitness for office was dwarfed by the torrent of allegations against the GOP nominee.”
Nevertheless, they argue, “extreme center pundits like ABC’s Matthew Dowd could not resist equating the two. Here they quote him tweeting out, “Either you care both about Trump being sexual predator & Clinton emails, or u care about neither. But don’t talk about one without the other.”
“After getting pushback, Dowd doubled down with an equally dubious take: ‘The response to my tweet is what is wrong with the country. Partisans of each side are unwilling to look at the faults of their own candidate.’”
My take is this: the mainstream news was largely anti-Trump but they did not like Hillary Clinton much either. In fact, often the narrative was the two most unpopular candidates. But their bias colored and damaged their analysis and they failed to see the real story – which was huge and largely missed.
So yes, I’m a supporter of newspapers, but I think the idea that they are the antidote to “fake news” in a time of massive failure by the mainstream news in this election cycle – including newspapers – is a bit misplaced.
—David M. Greenwald reporting