It may be for the benefit of those contemporaries who feel the need to boisterously cry “Fake News” if they encounter information or stories (what the difference is we will discuss below) which they are inclined to disbelieve or to ignore without making an effort to educate themselves of the matters at hand.
Such education requires a number of different understandings and abilities – of capital importance an understanding of what journalism as the profession of reporting, discussing or judging the news is on one side, and muckracking is on the other side – of making up stories to promote certain points of view or to expedite political leverage.
Journalism has always been a balancing act between the editor and the reporter – the editor handing out assigments to investigate whatever matter seems to be of present importance and the journalist researching the stories kindled by his or her own interest. Both activities are necessarily of reactive nature – something happens, and sense must be made of it. There are exemptions to this nature – but they are not truly a matter of reporting, they are of preventive or argumentative character.
One may report about present issues, say, Congressional legislation, natural disasters, economic developments, the conditions of other nations, about cultural, artistic or athletic events – one may discuss and evaluate – yet the question of what happens if this development continues or is stopped, and by what means, is on the fringe of classic journalism, although every writer worth his or her salt will comment on it. But this is the rub – commentary is of a different nature than reporting.
It has been the rule of the great news presses of the world to observe the distinction – and papers or magazines who are lax in this regard over time acquire an “Hautgout”, if you pardon the French, the taste of being less than fair.
To a degree, this is hard to avoid, and we become accustomed to it and allow for it. We know that the “New York Times” is more often than not on the liberal side, as is the British “Independent” or the “Spiegel” or “Sueddeutsche Zeitung” in Germany. Among the more conservative media houses we would count the “Wall Street Journal” or the “New York Post”, as far as the USA are concerned, with the “Chicago Tribune” or the “Los Angeles Times” in a middle position. We may recall here that the WSJ for the longest time respected the destinction between reporting and editorials until Rupert Murdoch brought this wall down in his effort to destroy the NYT. In the UK, much the same Murdoch right-wing regime has happened to the “Times”, while the “Sun”, “Daily Mail” and “Telegraph” remain the mouthpieces of the Conservative Party – not recently to their favour. The “Guardian” has moved a bit left from its liberal pedigree, while the “Financial Times” remains a business paper and thus has perhaps an unavoidable penchant for the Status Quo and is skeptical of the experiments of the do-gooders.
In France, the “Figaro” (cenre-right) and “Le Monde” (cerntre-left) cover most of the ground. In Italy, we have a somewhat differnt sitution in that papers like “L’Unita'” or “Secolo d’Italia” are controlled by political parties, yet the “Corriere della Sera”, “La Repubblica” and “La Stampa” cover the middle spectrum from centre-right to centre-left.
Many other examples may easily be found all over the globe. Yet the attentive reader may have caught on – why have we spoken only of print-media yet?
The advent of radio and television, and recently the internet, has had the most serios repercussions not only to the time-honoured business of the printing press – which, we remember, is the sole profession mentioned in and protected by the U.S. Constitution – but upon the receptionists – us – ourselves.
The changes have occurred chiefly as follows:
Radio and television news is much less dense than printed news in subject concentration (i.e. content per time unit). Hence they provide very little factual information – usually just a soundbite – followed by the interpretations, ruminations or disputations of more or less qualified non-journalists. Why non-journalists?
Because the game of television news has changed. Typically, modern (American-way) television news programs are shows, not vehicles of factual information or educated illumination. The underlying principle is Muckracking. The people you see on the screen do not investigate the stories – neither by assigment nor of their own volition. They are presenters of stories made up by people you never see, you do not know their names, and their job is not information or elucidation but propaganda, slanted stories designed to, here we are again, political leverage.
Why are they so successful that hardly any of the Americans I talk to are even aware that there is no journalism in the normal television news show – no research, comparison, or evaluation at all, but pure make-believe.
I don`t know about you, but in doubt I always check out the origin of the story, if possible who researched or wrote it, the reputation of the outlet – and endeavour to evaluate it through my knowledge – which I practise to elevate every day.
Is it that the average Americans,Turks, Iranians, Arabs or Russians are simply too busy from paycheck to paycheck to care? Or is that a double-edged sword? Now in the latter countries it is not easy, often dangerous, to make up one`s own mind – but,say, in America it is not. And if there is no time to think his own thoughts, why do, as Nielsen says, Americans spend somewhat over four hours a day watching television? Thus it would not appear that it would be a matter of available time.
Is it a matter of the bliss of cognitive bias? Psychologists call it the Dunning–Kruger Effect, a ” a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority comes from the inability of low-ability people to recognize their lack of ability; without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence (see Wiki).”
In other words, many of us are thus not interested to scrutinize their beliefs or challende their certitudes, because it might be result in losing face.
This fear in itself is a psychological and/or sociological phenomenon. Lets have a look: ” The term ‘face’ idiomatically refers to one’s own sense of self-image, dignity or prestige in social contexts. In the English-speaking world and the West, the expression `to save face’ describes the lengths that an individual may go to in order to preserve their established position in society, taking action to ensure that one is not thought badly of by his or her peers. It is a fundamental concept in the fields of sociology, sociolinguistics, semantics, politeness theory, psychology, political science, communication, and face negotiation theory, and translates at least somewhat equivalently into many world languages, both Germanic and otherwise. (Wiki).”
As a matter of course, this has most grave political consequences. Not by accident is the tradition of a free press and, necessarily linked, the volition (and availability) of critical though most severe abrogated the more illiberal and oppressive the given political system is.
Thus we may understand and symphatise with those who live in oppressive circumstances – but for my part I am left completely dazzled by the deplorable condition of present American public knowledge and appreciation of information, evaluation and critical thought.
And who would, needing to find out as much as could be found out about a present subject, rely on Sinclair News (who hide their agenda on seemingly “local” stations), Fox News or One America News rather than, to have a balanced menu of say, the “Times”, the “New York Times”, the “Spiegel”, “Le Figaro”, the “Independent” and the “Wall Street Journal”?
As Titleist says it: “If you compare, there is just no comparison!”
(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/18)