Defending the Press

President Trump has taken a lot of flack from nearly the beginning of his presidency for his dismissal of the press.  Humanly speaking, it’s hard to blame him.  The press has not exactly been kind to him, constantly seeking for some malfeasance or other transgression to invalidate his election, his presidency, his existence.  His public and sometimes official policy of ignoring representatives from certain press outlets infuriated some people and resulted in allegations that President Trump is anti-press.  Dan Rather now routinely writes on Facebook posting his dismay and disgust on this topic as well as many other issues wherein he disagrees with conservatives and President Trump.  So be it.  He’s entitled to his say.

But I believe there is a distinction to be made between having a press badge and being what the press has always supposed to be – an unbiased and investigative community reporting the news in as objective a manner as possible.  This is a press I think most people – conservative and liberal alike – can get behind and support.  This is the press at it’s finest.  You want to uncover the misdoings of Watergate and topple a president?  Go for it – but be objective!  You want to defend wantonly criminal actions of a sitting official or candidate because you agree with them ideologically?  I’m not nearly as impressed.  Press representatives on both ends of the spectrum fall into this dangerous pit repeatedly.  At this point, I don’t think I’m the only American who thinks that ideological bias has been institutionalized in most major media outlets.  The press is not free and objective, but rather dedicated to fostering a particular view of events that support their ideological leanings.

So it was that I turned on NPR the other morning for the first time in months.  I want to like NPR.  I really do.  Hell, as a taxpayer I pay for it.  But I can’t listen to it for too long before the inherent bias’ in their reporting leaves me frustrated and I have to turn it off.  This particular morning it was discussing President Trump’s upcoming visit to hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico.

Of course, most of the initial discussion was about the anticipated tenseness sure to be present at his meeting with local officials, some of whom were loudly critical of his response (and our nation’s response as a whole) to the devastation suffered in Puerto Rico.  The reporter and the radio anchor person eagerly opined about how it would be awkward indeed.  The reporter then duly reported about how there was no power in Puerto Rico and the situation was dire.

But the more you listened, the more you realized she was only telling part of the story, the part that accented her desire to make President Trump look bad.  A few minutes later, she lamented that not many people in Puerto Rico would know about the President’s visit, though some would, because, actually, there were some radio stations broadcasting.  And if you have radio stations broadcasting and people picking up their broadcasts, there is likely at least *some* power on the island.  But rather than talk about how some power is being restored – whether through the grid or through shared or individual generators, the narrative is simply that there is no electricity to speak of.

Furthermore, discussion was about how aid was being distributed.  Meaning the materials and aid were already present, but there were difficulties or delays in distributing it.  Which sounds a lot different from the impression I’ve had in the news that we haven’t done anything.  Things are happening, but it’s difficult.  That’s news I can understand, but it doesn’t happen to make Trump look bad and so the presentation needs spin, apparently.

I want a free press.  I need a free press.  And frankly I have no problem with a president or anyone else who wants to point out that our press isn’t exactly objective and unbiased.  I’m not naive to think that it has ever been – or ever could be 100% objective and free from bias.  But it could do a lot better.  That’s what I was taught as a news reporter and then news editor way back in the Dark Ages of high school.  Report the facts.  Leave the interpretation to the Op-Ed pages.  Make sure readers can trust there is a clear distinction between what happens on the news pages and what happens on the Editorial pages.

Maybe our press outlets could use a reminder of this basic fact that undergirds the American concept of a free press, yet seems to regularly get ignored.  Educate the people on the facts and let them draw their conclusions, don’t presume you have to pre-package the facts to make sure that people reach the conclusion you want them to reach.  You’ll find your readers and hearers more appreciative and more supportive.

At least this one.

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