by Professor Joe Goldblatt
For neartly twenty years on the CBS television network Walter Cronkite was the voice of authority in American television journalism. He delivered the news without comment and then ended each broadcast with his unique signature line “And that’s the way it is.”
Contrast this approach with the interview I have just witnessed that was conducted by veteran BBC journalist Andrew Marr with the US scientist Dr Anthony Fauci. Marr repeatedly asked Fauci questions that were salacious and controversial such as “Why does the President of the United States dislike you so much?” At one point, Dr Fauci finally, in frustration, suggested to his questioner look, I am not here to make news, I am here to try and help save lives.
Somewhere during the past forty years, since the retiral of Cronkite, our news reporters have slowly and firmly become news makers. This blurring of the line between reporting and making the news has also caused confusion among consumersas they seek to discern what is actual fact and what is actually opinion skewed toward personal or corporate perspective and self interest.
The challenge those of us who consume news every day face is that it is sometimes difficult to immediately recognize the difference between the cold, objective facts and the warmer or red hot opinions of journalists and their parent organisations.
The German Jewish philospher Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975) wrote in “The Origins of Totaliarism, “In an ever – changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.”
Arendt also argued:
“Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”
My concern, and I believe the concern of many others, is that in an era when consumption of print long form journalism is at an all time low and the consumption of short form, micro bite social media is at an all time high, how may we insure that citizens remain informed and are also educated, enlightened and capable of making rational judgements within a stormy sea of churning vitriolic emotion?
I realise that I am a rare bird in that I consume seven traditional newspapers each day. These newspapers that I read are located in Washington, DC, New York City, Dallas, Texas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, England and Scotland. Much of the international and national news covered by these publications is very similar. However, by consuming news from these far reaching destinations I am able to compare and contrast the unique political pulse of each local community and having witnessed a wide range of reports and opinions then make my own decisions regarding my personal beliefs.
In addition, as is obvious to my thousands of social media followers, I am active daily (and actually hourly) upon social media where I have a front row seat on a number of platforms whose actors through mainstream and individualised groups make their opinions known to me. Once again, I welcome and encourage all of these opinions and then make up my own mind as to what I believe and choose to support.
However, in the twenty – first century that is an ever increasing expansion of what was once unbiased reporting becoming news making in order to increase the numbers of readers, listeners and viewers. I believe we must be very careful regarding this trend or otherwise Hannah Arendt’s warning of the past century may come true in our current time.
To the credit of some news organisations, they are regularly reporting through fact checking investigations what is actually opinion and what is based upon emperical evidence. We need to expand this occassional exercise across all media to insure that those of us that consume news as our part of our daily mental exercise have the opportunity to scrutinise more carefully the reports were see and hear.
Until the inclusion of fact checking becomes the norm for news organisations, we must consume news with a healthy amount of skepticism and then use our own powers of research, analysis and judgement to determine what we believe is truly as Cronkite suggested “the way it is.”