Media bias: Engendering distrust in the press

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I have to put up with some of the most dishonest people in the world — the media,” President-elect Donald Trump said on Nov. 2. This statement, made at a rally in Pensacola, Fla., parallels a number of others Trump and his campaign made regarding “the media.” He and his campaign did not clarify who “the media” refers to — not the New York Times, Fox News, remote online websites or student-run newspapers like the University News. He tossed all of it under the bus. Apparently, all of “the media” was against him and his campaign.

Whether he was generalizing or intended to frame all of journalism as biased, his claim is dangerous. By labeling “the media” as a group of lying journalists out to get him, he spreads misinformation and reinforces distrust of legitimate sources. What’s more, Trump’s words against “the media” spell danger for other news platforms, introducing the idea of corruption in any source that disagrees with one’s worldview.

“People increasingly don’t believe or trust the news media and fact-checking and instead resort to less reliable sources of information that reaffirm their own views,” wrote Domenico Montanaro, NPR’s lead editor for politics and digital audience.

Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher noted how politics “has become tribal” in the U.S. “People seek out media outlets which confirm their views rather than challenge them.”

The criticism of the “mainstream” media opens the door for all platforms to be discredited if they disagree with one’s views. The New York Times and a high school newspaper are on the same level of “mainstream” when they present the facts in a certain way.

Social media has become an effective way to spread information and to also spread misinformation. The question remains: Does Trump place popular social media figures within the bundle known as “the media”? Trump has singled out Katy Tur, a journalist who works for NBC News, so it would not be impossible for social media personalities to be similarly attacked.

Social media platforms like Twitter have also become pathways for “mainstream” information sources to report the news. Twitter history reveals how “the media” has, against Trump’s claims, portrayed Trump’s campaign events accurately. Trump has claimed that “the media never show crowds.” However, various reporters, such as CNN’s Ashley Killough, the Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith and BuzzFeed News’ Rosie Gray tweeted pictures and videos of Trump’s crowds. Danielle Waugh of the New England Cable News even tweeted a photo of a Trump rally with the caption: “Here’s a look at the packed gym for Trump rally in Lisbon, Maine — in case he says media never shows crowds.”

The main issue Trump had with reporters was their fact-checking. In a Washington Post article from Oct. 29, the article read: “During the primaries, Trump’s head counts were nearly always larger than those of his Republican rivals or Clinton’s, whose audiences back then usually topped out at 1,000. But instead of celebrating the actual size of these crowds, Trump has routinely exaggerated the already large numbers.”

Journalists cover Trump accurately, but the businessman takes offense to accurate representations of his deceptive behavior. His petulance manifests in his cries of bias in reporting by “the media.”

New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet explained how his newspaper has begun to cover Trump’s claims not as falsehoods but as lies. Referring to Trump’s claim that Obama was not born in the United States, Baquet said, “I think to have called it just a falsehood would have put it in the category of, to be frank, ‘usual political fare,’ where politicians say, ‘My tax plan will save a billion dollars,’ but it’s actually a half a billion and they’re using the wrong analysis. This was something else. And I think we owed it to our readers to just call it out for what it was.”

NPR and CNN are among the media organizations that  fact-checked the candidates, at times while they spoke. While reporting on Trump, CNN used a graphic that read: “Trump calls Obama founder of ISIS (He’s not).” What may seem to some like media bias simply is telling the truth — but if you disagree with the truth, it’s easy to claim media bias.

Using the term “the media” creates a loose definition of information distributors and allows candidates like Trump to define the truth. By cherry-picking sources and dismissing “mainstream” sources as rigged, Trump shapes the public perception of “the media.” He takes issue when journalists describe his statements as lies, as the New York Times has begun to do, and he loathes fact-checking. He has created a world in which his word is the only word, as if his voice is the divine mandate.

Trump bends the concept of truth and appeals to one’s lack of knowledge and deep-seated distrust of powerful institutions. “You can’t review 650,000 emails in eight days,” Trump said in a Sunday campaign speech in Michigan, referring to the FBI statement reaffirming that Clinton would not receive an indictment. However, because of the filtering tools and advanced technology the FBI possesses, this is entirely possible.

Trump manipulates information presented by the FBI in the same way that he manipulates information presented by news organizations. His claims of rigging were made to engender distrust of our elections, in our government institutions and in our press. There is not one media. His comments cheapen our freedom to publish freely and create a divide between the public at large and the truth.