The president is being grossly irresponsible when he describes the national media’s work product as “fake news.” He should stop.
He and others who attack the media are doing the country a disservice. People are left wondering, what media sources can be trusted? Who tells the truth?
It is, frankly, offensive. I know so many journalists, from long-time colleagues to former bright-eyed interns who are now out there in the world doing great work. What they’ve all got in common is that they want their news reporting to reflect reality. They want to speak the truth and only the truth.
The other day, I was speaking to students at Milwaukee Jewish Day School about how to put together a newspaper. I got to be the kick-off to a wonderful initiative at the school, where they get to they try their hand at making a newspaper. I did this, too, in classrooms at Racine Unified public schools when I worked at the newspaper in Racine. I’ve got some good news from the experience – young people do tend to find the newspaper interesting and they often have lots of questions.
At MJDS, I gave them a few principles: Don’t just report the quote accurately. Make sure you don’t take it out of context and that you reflect what the source actually means. Nobody is perfect, but value accuracy immensely. Check all facts, but if a fact is super-important to your story, then be sure to super-check it. And make sure you answer all of the W’s and the H in your article: What? Who? Where? When? Why? How?
I’m just a lil’ journo in Wisconsin. But I believe I’ve got something to offer and here it is. I realize the president does not have the benefit of attending Milwaukee Jewish Day School or Racine Unified public schools, so if he would like me to visit the White House and impart some of these lessons before his next Tweet, let it be known I am available.
Think about it, Mr. President. Why have students know more about these concepts than you do? You should be the best at journalism! Sad!
For the rest of us, in those moments when we’ve had it with Trumpian misdirection, I’d like to suggest a strong antidote. I recommend Politifact.com, which is run by The Poynter Institute, an organization that I have no connection with other than that I admire it.
Poynter is a household word among journalists, evoking thoughts of quality and exactitude. The organization publishes inside-baseball news for journalists online. It writes on journalism ethics. It is renowned for holding continuing education classes for people in the media. It runs a help-wanted board with ads for some of the most prestigious spots in the field.
Its Poltifact.com arm offers an objective examination of public statements to see what’s true and what’s not. To the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s credit, the newspaper contributes to the Politifact universe, in partnership with the organization.
The worst rating one can suffer from Poltifact is “Pants on Fire,” indicating a false statement of impressive weightiness.
Poltifact appraises statements from everybody, both on the right and the left. Here are a few Donald Trump statements since he became president – and their ratings:
Trump: “The murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.”
Poltifact: False – “This is wrong.”
* * *
Trump: Says “109 people out of hundreds of thousands of travelers” were affected by the immigration executive order.
Poltifact: False – “More like 60,000+”
* * *
Trump: “The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia.”
Poltifact: Half-true – “Not thousands, not coming in illegally”
* * *
Trump: “While on FAKE NEWS @CNN, Bernie Sanders was cut off for using the term fake news to describe the network. They said technical difficulties!”
Poltifact: False – “Sanders was mocking Trump”
* * *
Trump: Terrorism and terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe have “gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported.”
Poltifact: Pants on Fire – “An abundance of coverage”
For what it’s worth, I add to this pile Trump’s recent Tweet that calls the media the “FAKE NEWS media.”
Unfortunately, if there’s any fake news in the mainstream media right now, it’s more likely coming from the president.
Rob Golub is editor of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.