Finley: Media must look to itself to restore trust
Our feelings are hurt in the news media. The president of the United States is calling us the Enemy of the People and we don’t like it.
So across the nation today, newspapers are publishing editorials telling Donald Trump, “We are not, you are!” and reminding readers of our own importance.
Let me join them: The free press is not the people’s enemy. It is a vital pillar of our democracy and was assigned by the Founders the role of watch-dogging the nation’s institutions. It’s a mission we usually carry out quite well, even in this era of technological disruptions, changing consumer tastes and eroding resources.
But who really cares if Donald Trump is using us as a whipping boy to mask his many deficiencies? Presidents have done that before, and often.
Trump may be both more relentless and obnoxious than his predecessors, but cries of “Fake News!” from the Oval Office are old hat. Presidents always blame the messenger. Even Barack Obama, the object of so much media fawning, groused about distorted coverage.
This time, though, we are taking it personally. Striking at the bait Trump dangles. Joining the war he’s declared. Allowing him to goad us into abandoning the fundamental principles of our profession.
Donald Trump is not responsible for the eroding trust in the media. He lacks the credibility to pull that off. The damage to our standing is self-inflicted.
The independent press was built on a foundation of objectivity. Through a tradition of conscientious commitment to telling all sides of a story we convinced our readers, listeners, viewers that we were the source of fair and balanced coverage. We were equal opportunity scourges of scoundrels on both sides of the political aisle.
Now, too many of us are following the websites, cable networks and blogosphere into point-of-view journalism that presents the news with equal parts fact and opinion. We’ve infused our reports with commentary and call it context.
Journalists once kept their personal views personal, lest anyone challenge the motives behind their reporting. Now reporters post their opinions on Facebook and Twitter. They sob in newsrooms over the results of an election. News meetings and editorial boards are often indistinguishable.
Respected journalists openly question whether remaining objective in the Donald Trump era is a sell-out rather than a virtue. Some have joined the resistance movement, blending journalism with activism.
No one in our profession can say with a straight face that we cover Donald Trump the same way we have past presidents. We are not only giving him more scrutiny — rightly so — but we are making more mistakes in our haste to discredit him. Our accuracy ratings have fallen as we turn to poorly vetted anonymous sources and repeat every rumor that fits the narrative that Trump is a disaster.
Yes, Trump is an extraordinary case. Chaos is the hallmark of his governing style. His personal conduct falls well short of presidential. But his administration has had successes, and the press is not as eager to cover those as it is his failures.
Journalism seems to have turned a corner in search of some higher purpose beyond simply digging out the truth, presenting it to our readers and letting them decide what to do with it.
Nothing about Donald Trump justifies tossing aside the standards that have allowed journalists to remain the trusted eyes and ears of the people.
We are not their enemy. But nor can we claim, until we chase our own bias out of the news, to be the honest watchdogs they need us to be.
Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.