How to Find Good Journalism

Disturbing, but accurate, analysis:

The Russian dissident and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov drew upon long familiarity with that process when he tweeted: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

Mr. Kasparov grasps that the real threat is not merely that a large number of Americans have become accustomed to rejecting factual information, or even that they have become habituated to believing hoaxes. The real danger is that, inundated with “alternative facts,” many voters will simply shrug, asking, “What is truth?” — and not wait for an answer.

In that world, the leader becomes the only reliable source of truth; a familiar phenomenon in an authoritarian state, but a radical departure from the norms of a democratic society. The battle over truth is now central to our politics. NYT

I saw a plea on social media from a right-leaning friend who asked for suggestions about what media to read. She said it’s all slanted, so much so, that the headline “telegraphs” their opinion. She misunderstands, as do most people who are trying to sound fair-minded despite their own disinterest in analyzing arguments. 

Journalism isn’t about reporting mere facts but about reporting facts and providing context. Doing this usually provides the critical thinker with what they need to decide their opinion of the matter. What is happening is that most readers aren’t critical thinkers: they want to be told what to think. 

Two things are happening with media these days. 

As the above opinion piece explains, the right have been convinced that not only are they slanted but mainstream newspapers actually lie. Major newspapers do not. The New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post — these are venerable news outlets that examine the world with people trained in journalism. 

Yes, when these newspapers’ articles seem critical of their subject, they likely are. But you know what? They provide facts and links to facts, and they build a rational argument without inflammatory language or epithets.

That’s the point of a free press, of real journalism: be suspicious, require proof, challenge the story that the powerful in any field are feeding you. Any newspaper that sweeps away the critical aspect of their reporting is not journalism but PR. Supporting outlets that defend the powerful while that power delegitimizes actual fact is the fastest way to bring despotism to the US.

Trump knows this well. That’s why he keeps saying whatever the hell he wants with no facts to back his statements up. The right-leaning will defend him, will want to believe him, which leaves them only the option that mainstream media is lying or — for those tired and despairing — that ALL media is lying or slanted or “telegraphing” their opinions in the headlines.

Trump constantly tweets that the NYT is reporting lies. They are not, of course, and we can verify it easily. But too many of us don’t. We’d rather just tell the naked king we like his clothes. 

The second thing that is happening is that readers conflate the news articles they read with opinion blogs. Every newspaper has them, and when you follow a link to one from social media, all you see is the newspaper’s URL. You think you’re reading a journalist, but you’re not. In addition, news conglomerates like Huffington Post, Drudge Report, and Breitbart mix news and opinion together and push the most popular (i.e. the most sensational) to the top. These are not journalistic sites.

You’re lazy, America. Quit reading conglomerates and you’re half the way there.