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Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Archive for October, 2016

Private Lies Exposed

Posted by prof e on October 12, 2016

A journalist’s job is to find and report the truth. Assuming for a moment that “the truth” exists and can be found and identified as such, journalists still face a plethora of challenges as they go about their work. For starters, the truth can be inconvenient. Thanks to Al Gore, the inconvenience of truth is now forever linked to a particular issue; global warming. But every issue has its inconvenient aspects. For example, a journalist may uncover a fact that runs counter to her personal values or beliefs. Or, a discovery may reveal a truth that defies simple explanation.

Of course a truth revealed can also be terribly inconvenient for the news maker. Celebrities, politicians, and others in the public eye are constantly trying to manage their public perception…which is often at odds with their private reality. Last week’s revelations from Wikileaks and NBC/Access Hollywood have been very inconvenient for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump respectively for obvious reasons. The leaks, while damaging, do not break new ground but rather reinforce existing concerns about Clinton’s propensity for lying and Trump’s sexist and demeaning behavior towards women.

In each case the public figure is damaged when the private self is suddenly revealed. This is, of course, most pronounced when the public and private selves are substantially at odds with each other. The greater the difference, the more pronounced the conflict when the private self is exposed. This kind of hypocrisy, of which we are all guilty on some level, can derail a public figure when it spins out of control. The public demands authenticity, or at least something closely resembling it, from their leaders.

Journalists are often the ones who have the dirty job of pointing out hypocrisy wherever and whenever it exists…even when it is found in “their” candidate…or themselves.


Posted in ethics, journalism, media industry, politics | 13 Comments »

Fact Checking the Fact Checkers

Posted by prof e on October 4, 2016

truthmeterMass media are essential to the process of democracy. “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” only works if the people know what’s going on…and the media provide the primary channels for that information. Of course the implication is that the mass media do their jobs in a responsible way, avoiding partisan bias and manipulation by outside interests. The brunt of this responsibility falls on journalists. Whether they work for newspapers, TV networks, or internet websites, reporters who cover the political beat are the eyes and ears of the American electorate. Ideally they report what they see and hear without speculation or conjecture.

In a political season such as this, journalists must be particularly careful when covering candidates who use every trick in the book to manipulate the media and advance their message. When candidates stretch the truth (often to the breaking point) journalists in a live reporting situation must make an effort to call out the error.

But fact checking candidates and their surrogates can be tricky business. While partisans may think that every statement by their political opponents is a flat-out lie, it is seldom that clear-cut. Journalists must have enough command of the facts to catch the easy calls, and the aid of researchers, aka fact-checkers, to parse the more difficult cases. This is not easy. NBC’s Matt Lauer was heavily criticized for pushing back too hard when interviewing Hillary Clinton for the Commander-In-Chief Forum, and NBC’s Lester Holt was criticized for fact-checking Donald Trump but not Hillary Clinton in the first presidential debate last week.

Fortunately journalists, and the public, have additional resources at their disposal. Independent fact-checking organizations have stepped up to provide non-partisan, independent fact-checking of politicians and other news-makers. Politifact’s Truth-O-Meter is one example. Here’s a short (light-hearted) video that explains how it works.

Posted in ethics, journalism, politics | 6 Comments »