On this day of Love, I want us to start fixing our relationship with the media. Yes, that’s right: the dreaded MSM. The “lamestream” or major media outlets, institutions with long track records that follow journalistic ethics (mostly), have lost America’s faith. Years of reporting without context or explanation mixed with a soul-crushing cynicism has left us apathetic and frustrated. We’re like an abandoned spouse, wondering where the love’s gone.
But before we hoist all of the blame on them, as usual, our citizenship plays a role in this. As the media let us down, we encouraged their worst behavior and attacked them whenever we heard things we didn’t like. We may say that we hate news as entertainment, but we rewarded the most frivolous stories and the clickbait-iest headlines. We operated from partisan assumptions about what was true and what was false, punishing shades of gray with hard lines of black and white (or worse, red and blue).
As any good marriage, it will take work from both parties to get back to a healthy relationship.
We must respect and reward good reporting: articles with clear evidence, context and explanations of why we should care and how the situation developed. We have to eschew sensationalism, even when it would favor our party or ends. We have to challenge reporting we don’t like with facts that are sourced and evidence collected through the scientific method. We should cite studies that scientists can replicate; we should source facts from legitimate news organizations that do things like print retractions and corrections when they make even minor mistakes. We can enjoy horse-race journalism – the competition is part of the interest in campaigns – but we can’t let the appearance of things overshadow substance.
In return, the media should explain exactly why we should care about a story. It might seem obvious on its face, but you know what they say about what happens to those who “assume.” They should promote reporters who have experience and substantial understanding of the subject to lead the reporting and to act as editors: this will catch those pieces built on faulty assumptions or with lackluster context. And it would help quite a bit if they could accept that they too make mistakes, that they are not infallible, and that they’re trying to find the truth as best as they can.
That’s why trust has deteriorated; that’s why we’re not sure about what we can believe. It’s not just willful ignorance on our part (though that is an important factor), but it’s the failure to pursue a truth that aligns with our reality. It’s not enough to say something isn’t real; you have to express why something is true.