Disentangling The Many Media Failures Of 2016

Photo by Mike Cogh

In the wake of the 2016 election, Shadowproof believes it is worthwhile to assess the state of journalism and the need for contrition, especially from those with the most influence and power in the press who failed citizens so miserably.

Donald Trump’s election was aided and abetted by liberal journalists, who accelerated the decline of their trade and replaced traditions of muckraking with scolding citizens that did not approach voting the way they do.

Several journalists allowed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign to enlist them as “friendly reporters” in their efforts to win the election and became mouthpieces for Clinton campaign propaganda. The coziness would have continued into the White House except Trump won the Electoral College. Now, the press must confront the reality that this president does not want to have genial relationships with members of the press unless he can dictate the terms.

More importantly, the ongoing decimation of the journalism industry and its increasing subservience to a corporate agenda is deepening the disconnect between the public opinion and the thrust of reporting. Widespread media failures generally disgust citizens, who we should not forget are needed to fund and support journalism.

With that said, here are some views we have that we think fellow journalists and avid news readers should consider:

1. We are troubled by journalists, who feel it’s their place to shame voters for their choices and tell them what they should and should not do with their vote. By informing the public, we trust individuals will be able to make their own conclusions about how to represent their best interests and take actions that will bolster social movements or help them improve their lives.

2. Journalists and commentators spend an inordinate amount of time on what citizens are doing wrong rather than keeping the focus on people in power. Officials in power make racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and any other form of bigotry and hate legitimate through their actions or inactions, through their participation or indifference. When raising concerns about the rise of bigotry and hate, structures should be the target of reporting and writing first and foremost.

3. Journalism can be useful in smashing prejudice by telling the truth through a narrative that helps people understand their world, their community, and themselves. Naming prejudices and affirming their wrongness is important, but all too often this tends to devolve into useless and self-righteous scolding. If there is to be any hope of changing minds and advancing human rights and equality, people need to better understand the intersection of specific social and economic realities and the powerful forces that define the world in which they live.

4. Over the past year and a half, we were accused of supporting Trump because we wrote more articles about Clinton’s campaign. But lack of coverage does not indicate support. We find Trump to be just as odious as most people. The reason why there is little coverage is because we do not find a need to expend resources and add to an echo chamber. The entire establishment media was focused on Donald Trump, but in most cases refused to seriously interrogate Clinton’s problems with working class and young voters. We worked to fill that space, covering aspects of the election that were indefensibly ignored because Clinton’s victory was considered inevitable.

5. Dear journalists and editor-in-chiefs, the President of the United States is not your friend. We note prominent journalists, who had an off-the-record meeting with Trump were frustrated Trump did not want to seriously discuss terms for working with his administration. They hoped to hear recommendations from Trump on how they should cover him.

This is so topsy-turvy. We cannot imagine ever supporting the idea that press should establish an understanding with a presidential administration to establish spoken or unspoken terms for coverage. The press should hold power accountable, regardless of whether it hurts the feelings of the powerful or makes it difficult for certain media organizations to receive invitations to the White House, or in this case, Trump Tower.

6. We need journalism that is adversarial to power and in the public’s interest, not journalism that promotes preening displays of virtuosity and moral superiority directed at citizens. Media outlets should play a role in bringing the needs of the public to the eyes of the powerful and spend far, far less time rationalizing the actions of the powerful to concerned citizens.

7. It is especially irritating to read story after story in which commentators treat the public as stupid and demean the poor, working class, or middle class for their righteous outrage against normalized corruption or the politics of the status quo. Many of these stories seem written for fellow journalists or political insiders only.

8. There are quite a few columnists out there, who seem insecure with dissent against establishment politics from the left. But we find it imperative to put forward and create space for such critiques. On one hand, we have a commitment to social, racial, economic, and environmental justice that fuels this imperative. On the other hand, without this journalism, we allow centrist and right wing critiques of Democrats and the left to dominate our conversation. When that happens, hippie punching, unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, and irrational fears, which are destructive to social movements hold way too much influence over our politics.

9. Much time was spent by journalists killing the messenger and hyping wild and strange theories about how caches of documents were obtained and whether documents were authentic. However, the outlets paradoxically published stories based on the documents. In our view, if it is clear documents are not forged, then there should be zero tolerance for hyperbole, misdirection, or propaganda.

10. All too often we see current events addressed in terms of whether something is “shocking” or “surprising.” This is a dangerous frame that not only normalizes rank corruption and unethical behavior but confines journalism to a narrow track. We believe journalism should provide the public with a comprehensive a view of power and how it operates, regardless of how the political class feels about it.

11. This one definitely bears repeating. Journalists should always be skeptical of government claims, which lack direct evidence and attribution. We should not engage in speculation, which uncritically gives legitimacy to these claims. We should demand concrete evidence and transparency while attacking the government’s inclination toward secrecy, which allows rumors to coalesce into a narrative. Let us not forget this is how momentum for a war with Iraq developed, and the same kind of dynamic can play out when fueling rounds of McCarthyism fostered by a political campaign against targets that are sympathetic or unsympathetic victims

12. For all the ranting against media institutions for bias and blackouts or for generally getting a story wrong, there should be a recognition of those journalists and media outlets, who do get it right. They should be supported and taken seriously regardless of their size or legacy.

13. There is a need for solidarity with journalists, particularly when they are targeted by law enforcement and prosecutors as they attempt to perform a job that should be protected by the First Amendment. However, if most outlets ignore what is happening because the targets are not from establishment outlets, they too may find themselves at risk in the future.

14. When journalists travel to war zones or countries ruled by repressive regimes, they may have to submit to government procedures, which are necessary to gain access for reporting. They should not be unfairly shamed unless their reporting excuses government brutality and repression, giving a regime a pass so officials can continue to carry out state-sanctioned violence.

15. We noticed quite a few outlets and writers routinely fail to give hat-tips or credit to alternative or independent press when relying on their work to produce their own. It is never good to act too elite or too good to acknowledge others’ work. Alternative and independent media play a critical role in the media economy and publish quality journalism just like other more well-established outlets.

16. There are those with one standard for progressive media and a lower standard for corporate media, because they expect corporate media to poorly cover important stories. We do not accept this dynamic. Both should be held to the same standards, and we should expect the same journalism from corporate-owned outlets that we expect from independent outlets.

If an outlet or journalist deserves criticism, they should be criticized because they betrayed a tradition of reporting or violated some kind of ethic. When we ascribe junk news to the nature of an outlet, we inappropriately normalize shoddy journalism.

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