The once clear line between opinion and news has become more blurred than ever. The old rules for gathering and presenting the news are considerably different from “the news with commentary” today. The public expects the news to be factual and timely, but they have become indistinguishable as of late, as partisan opinion increasingly intermingles with news alerts or breaking news narratives on cable news networks, talk radio shows and social networks that are fertile ground for talking heads who lean left or right in commentary, with their innuendo and anonymous sources.
Journalism schools teach that the public should never know where the news reporter stands on an issue. Hard news reporters don’t engage in conjecture. But as we’re all witnessing, objective news reporting in the United States has sold out to supposition and commentary on such networks as CNN, MSNBC and Fox. As a result, the public’s right-to-know has been compromised as news content or story construction is skewed, and deception by omission occurs.
Thus, we have witnessed journalism increasingly sliding toward subjectivity. In the meantime, Nero fiddles as Rome’s republic burns.
Consider the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer report published recently.
In the face of a record stock market expansion and a record low in unemployment, the United States has experienced a dramatic drop in public trust in our government and the media. In the report Mr. Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman Inc. says, “The source of this unprecedented crisis of trust is the lack of objective facts and rational discourse.”
In 2017, the Freedom of the Press Foundation report ranked the U.S. as 33rd out of 198 countries worldwide for freedom of the press on 109 objective measurements. Norway ranked first, Costa Rica ranked 13th and Canada ranked 20th, with North Korea at 198th.
A 2016 Gallup poll survey showed that 32 percent of Americans said they have a “great or fair amount of trust” in the mass media.
The 2018 Edelman report for the first time showed further decline in the trust levels of the American people in their free press, with 63 percent of the survey responders saying they do not know how to tell creditable journalism from rumor or falsehood.
All this does not bode well for our republic, which requires that citizens make informed decisions based on facts. A free press was meant to strengthen our republic by being a responsible press. What we’re witnessing is a press persuading the public that’s resulting in political bifurcation.
Where do we find hard, unbiased news today? Where do we find news that unites us as a nation? Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas asked it this way: “I don’t know what Americans have in common anymore. We always talk about E Pluribus Unum. What’s our Unum now?”
This guest column was written by Michael Bennett, who is a resident of Miramar Beach. If you would like to respond to this guest column with a letter to the editor, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org .