Picking up where I left off….

These are some notes:

1. I have been on contact with Kristen Welker to conduct my interview, but timing is difficult. Once that interview is complete, I will determine whether I want to pursue further interviews. A sampling of questions is below.

QUESTIONS FOR WELKER/TUR

(specific questions that need to be formed in the wake of our loss of credibility)

How do you believe the circumstances surrounding Trump’s candidacy & election and the media’s failure to correctly predict the election have impacted the mainstream media’s credibility?

What is the role of a journalist today?

When you were out on the campaign trail, you experienced firsthand the anger that some people aim at the media. By and large, what did people tell you was the reason they were angry?

How did you respond?

By and large, do you believe people are open to information that conflicts with their beliefs and, as a consequence, to change their minds about how they see things?

We’ve heard people say we are in a “post-truth” society – do you believe that?

How did what you experienced out on the road, covering the election, change the way you feel about your job and your ability to break through to people?

Last fall, Gallup found that trust of the mass media was at an all-time low – just 40%. What do you think journalists like yourself can do to change that?

How has digital media helped you do your job?

At the same time, digital media has leveled the playing field in terms of the average person’s ability to reach millions of people without a job on TV, without even having to reveal their own name.  What challenges does that present for a journalist like yourself?

You’ve seen the rise of fake news.  How much effort does the mainstream media needs to expend actively pushing back against fake news and trying to correct the record?

Can we maintain a vibrant democracy without traditional journalism holding its traditional place?

Do you believe the relative comfort of our society insulates Americans from critical thinking about the world around them?

President Obama said recently without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point… we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.  Why has it become so difficult to establish or agree on that common baseline of facts?

How has the President’s reliance on social media to communicate changed your ability to do your job?

 

2. Playing off of this piece in the original thesis: In that same year, Scott Goodstein, who help Obama increase his presence on more than dozen social networks said, “These social networks are shopping malls that have millions of people already hanging out in them. So the question becomes, how to find the people that are going to be your advocates and have them talk about your message?” It was a lesson that Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, would learn well.

I will add more reflection on social media and how it has shaped the early weeks of this administration, the level of communication with the public and how it allows Trump to communicate without an interpreter (which typically is the role of the press, for better or for worse.)

Also this article can provide insight:

http://time.com/4657665/steve-bannon-donald-trump/?xid=homepage&pcd=hp-magmod

“Technology has placed a communications revolution in nearly every American palm. When mixed with the economic frustrations of a globalized economy, this power unleashed a new populism. In the history of human beings, it has never been easier to organize groups, for good or ill, or to communicate both truth and lies, to question authority and to undermine the answers that authority gives.”

 

3. Some more rough notes from where I am….

While the responsibilities of journalists have not changed in recent weeks and months, the contrast with the new political reality has thrown them into sharp relief.  No more is it a question of checking facts against appearance to massage the full truth out of a semblance or version of the truth.  In this new reality, it seems the responsibility of journalists to suss out the truth from behind what, at times, appears to be flat-out falsehoods, or as one advisor described them “alternative facts”. Before taking power, those running the government often spun the facts to their advantage.  But this was something different. From coverage of the inauguration, to coverage of the immigration travel restrictions (which the press secretary himself called a ban, then blamed the “dishonest media” for incorrectly calling it a ban), the default position seemed to be to blame the press for any coverage at all that wasn’t fawning and complimentary.  One of the President’s top advisors called the media the “opposition party”. So what to do? One option would be to hunker down and engage, turning press briefings into snipe-fests filled with angry back-and-forths. That likely wouldn’t get us anywhere closer to the truth and would simply end up reinforcing the public’s antipathy (or animosity) towards the government and the press. You could simply refuse to cover the topics or issues that are controversial or that may lead to standoffs and confrontations. When the subject is the federal government and the President of the United States, that clearly isn’t an option. The third option is one described by journalists themselves – the ones searching for answers in their new environment. Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the Washington Post, wrote “Our answer must be professionalism: to do our jobs according to the highest standards, as always. If the president makes a statement, we report it. If it is false, we report the evidence of its falsehood. If the president’s critics say he is a totalitarian, we report that. If their charge is exaggerated, we provide the evidence of exaggeration. We investigate relentlessly.”

 

But there is another part to this: the message that ti sends. If it is ok for the federal government to denigrate the press, then why should anyone else respect it. President Obama, before he left office, said in his final press conference that “In the course of a healthy debate, we’ll prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point… we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.” And that’s the problem. The press is, and has always been, the best source for that baseline of facts. It is not a perfect keeper of the flame. Not by any means. But the mainstream press, with all its faults, still has the transparency and the track-record that make it the public’s best hope for fact and truth. To demonize the press is to push away any hopes for compromise, because when you negate the traditional provider of fact and truth in a society and present yourself as the keeper of said truth, then you must bring the transparency and the track-record that gives you credibility. So far, that has not happened.  As just one example, the President tweeted in late January that he had evidence of millions of illegal votes. He provided no source in making the claim and, after digging, the only potential source that the media could find was a single man who said he had the evidence but then refused to present it. These actions do not put the government in a credible position to replace the media as society’s truth tellers. And it’s not just the current administration. In 2013, Politifact declared that the Lie of the Year was President Obama’s declaration that the ACA would allow you to keep your health care plan if you liked it. It points out that he continued to repeat the claim even after it was clear his statements were exaggerated at best.
When called on it, his administration’s response was essentially: trust us. Ultimately, the press and the reality of the situation proved Obama was wrong and he apologized. The point is that the press has a real role to play to force officials to hew as close to honesty as possible and call them on it when they don’t.  Dismissing the press, not as wrong or inaccurate in a particular case, but declaring them to be fundamentally unfair is to deprive the public of a counterweight to the government’s own statements. There are reports that the current administration is even freezing certain networks out of White House coverage, sending a chilling message to the rest of the press corps: if you want any access at all, you should play by our rules.
It is  the fact of an oppressive, unfair government that would treat the press this way. It is shows that, now in power, officials have opted for a full-frontal assault rather the kind of guerrilla warfare they’ve engaged in, up to this point. So how do you confront it?  Well, when it comes to facing the issue head on, doing your best to have truth and fact and triple-checking sources is likely the best way to go. When dealing with the more insidious practices, like  mixing lies and truth to muddy the waters, or obscuring news by changing the subject, the public needs to be aware of what’s happening in order to combat it.