Moyers & Co, a fine source of journalism from outside the deeply consolidated mainstream, ran a piece today, Mistakes in the News Are Not Fake News. It’s an occasionally scathing article, but it’s not wrong.
Meanwhile, what journalists market is credibility, which they do by doing an honest job trying to tell true stories. In the process, journalists make mistakes. (I know, it’s a shocker.) As the historian David Greenberg points out in his book Nixon’s Shadow, the AP, ABC’s Sam Donaldson and CBS’ Walter Cronkite made mistakes in their Watergate coverage. (Donaldson apologized.) Woodward and Bernstein made a mistake that landed on the front page of The Washington Post. Nixon’s minions pounced, and kept pouncing.
Sadly, it’s not only an important point to make, it’s timely. Tragically timely. We’re in a mess like none we’ve seen before. But the author managed to leave a hole in their presentation large enough to drive a truckload of tabloids through. I commented thus:
The problem such a position as this elides, even while being correct in broad terms, is the narrative framing that necessarily occurs, especially when so many of the “true” stories, true or otherwise, are sensational pursuits of ratings, clicks, viewers, and listeners. What gets elevated to status of “most covered” is itself a story. What gets relegated to “no time for that” speaks to the press’s priorities. Patterns in those two topics reveal whatever actual bias is present. There’s no point in pretending it doesn’t exist.
We are buffeted on all sides by “media” of varying credibility, each pitching its product as, at the very least, informative. Thanks to Trump and those who benefit from muddying the waters of journalistic integrity, “fake news!” is the war cry du jour. Errors in reporting just serve to validate the attack. Retractions are important, but they just become a chance for the attackers to put entire media brands through a perp walk. But that’s not the only type of thing that drives the fringe media to cry “fake news!”
It’s the bias. Intentionally or otherwise, it’s there. It’s visible in the number of minutes and column inches granted a subject, often one or two key issues that dominate the day’s news to the exclusion of a host of other issues. It’s also visible in what we don’t see covered. Some things seem important, like they would merit coverage, and end up receiving the crickets of a blog post. When those issues are silenced, innocently or otherwise, it brings up images of closeted skeletons in my mind. “We just don’t talk about that, dear.”
It really is enough to make a person wonder sometimes. Why the silence? That’s why I at least skim through the outrages du jour from various fringe sources. It’s not important that they’re talking about something, necessarily. But it might be important if the other side doesn’t also talk about it. When they don’t, why? Is it beneath the dignity of a response beyond mockery, as in Alex Jones’ guest claiming NASA has a child sex slavery ring on Mars? Is it really no big deal? Or is the silence actually damning somehow. Is it the damning silence of one form of privilege or another? Or the cynical silence of conflicted interests? Or is it the framed silence of a finely tuned narrative?
As a case in point, I offer you the biggest actual news I’ve seen in some time now, a piece of information with ramifications that reach across the decades, either filling mass graves or preventing them. From ThinkProgress, since that’s where I first spotted this news, here is the biggest news you might have missed:
This isn’t merely bi-partisan. That was a very generous characterization. This was a GOP-led committee letting the absolutely necessary and utterly unthinkable for the last sixteen years actually see the light of day and the hope of passage. This isn’t just not obstruction, this is a full-on greasing of skids. Whatever my cynical side thinks or feels about how the centrist GOP must feel about their re-election odds while #fakepresident is at the helm is beside the point. The substance and the strategy speak clearly to the concerns Rep. Lee first raised when she was the sole courageous Congressperson to oppose the AUMF, and to their immediate relevance. A president like an uncharismatic version of Zaphod Beeblebrox should simply not have a blank check to act on North Korea, China, Russia, Syria, Iran, or any other potential endless long, hard slog without first getting the greenlight from Congress, however broken it may seem most days. It’s the best Congress we’ve got because it’s the only one we’ve got. We, or they, can “fix” it in 2018, and I’m sure we will.
But for now, Trump’s absolute authority to wreak global havoc, even if only by being perversely stupid, must be truncated. We couldn’t find the will to clip Bush 43’s wings when it needed to happen. We couldn’t find the will to do it when our man was in Havana. There’s surely no reason to think the Democratic party would have found its spine and blocked Hillary from such whimsies.
But a GOP-led committee heeded the wisdom, if once only, first trumpeted by a self-styled progressive to limit the harms of this particularly unitary executive.
This is huge.
This is a victory we’ve been hoping for for so long I think we lost hope.
Let’s see, for news outlets we’ve got:
Alabama Today • Antiwar.com • AOL • AppsforPCdaily • BuzzFeed News • CNN • Common Dreams • Daily Beast • DefenseNews.com • Esquire.com • Foreign Policy • IHS Jane’s 360 • Just Security • Knoe.com • Lawfare • LawNewz • MinnPost • My Champlain Valley FOX44 • ABC22 • Newsline • Newsy • Personal Liberty Digest • Politico • Rare.us • Raw Story • RealClearPolitics • Salon • San Francisco Chronicle • Stars and Stripes • Talk Media News • Task & Purpose • The Daily Dot • The Hill • The Hill • The Independent • The Nation. • The Week Magazine • ThinkProgress • TPM • U.S. News & World Report • UPI.com • Washington Examiner • Washington Examiner • Washington Examiner • Washington Free Beacon • Washington Post • Washington Times • WBUR • Western Journalism
Is that a decent amount of coverage? Is it wide enough coverage? Is it frequent enough coverage? For an event and a possibility of this magnitude?
I’m glad for the coverage it’s received, but I have to wonder about the silence. There’s a lot of silence not showing up in that list. That’s how it shows up…in its absence. What kind of silence is it? Is it partisan silence? “Fake news” silence? Narrative framing silence? Or is it a cynical silence hoping to squelch an outcome of one sort or another by hoping nobody notices what’s happening.
Is this kind of silence to our advantage or disadvantage?
Does granting this issue 24/7 coverage going into a holiday weekend enhance or diminish the DOD bill’s chance of working its way through to a presidential signature? Are we hoping Trump doesn’t see his wings getting clipped? Or are financial forces beyond our control hoping we don’t notice?
In any case, this is exactly my issue with the legitimate point Moyers & Co makes, however tepidly. The sort of person that will seize on Trump’s “fake news!” battle cry is generally not going to be terribly interested in nuance, but I really think they notice more than the occasional error. They see silences, too. They see framing, even if they don’t bother to know it’s a thing with a name.
This would be a fine time for others to notice the silence, too. Or would it? It’s too soon for a victory lap. Paul Ryan opposes the amendment. Does silence aid or hinder the possibility of finally repealing the AUMF? If so, are we right to frame the narrative with silence on this point?
And would that make us fake?