Who do you believe?

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

In an era some are calling “post-truth”, who do you believe?

Whose media voice(s) do you listen to and trust?

Personally, I listen most often to BBC (television and radio,), NPR, read The New York Times and the Financial Times. I also listen to other news sources, albeit mostly those leaning to the left.

I suspect some of you read my blog because (?) I’m a career journalist working for decades as a freelancer for The New York Times, which which many consider a great and trustworthy newspaper.

 

A career journalist who actually hopes to keep working in our industry (even as it’s in chaos!) simply can’t afford to make shit up because you get found out and you lose your job and you lose your reputation for honesty and…you’re done, son!

 

I don’t make shit up, here or elsewhere.

I adhere to the unofficial motto of the Canadian Press, a wire service, who taught me in my early 20s: “When in doubt, leave it out.”

That was also pre-Internet when the pressure to publish was less frenzied, and no one cared about likes or clicks or whether an algorithm favored your work above that of your competitors.

Back in Toronto recently, I visited the new newsroom of my first newspaper job, the Globe & Mail — which, like most major newsrooms now, has screens visible to everyone showing them data on what’s being read, for how long and how often.

 

GLOBE

A recent take on this issue from the front page of The New York Times:

Last week, President Trump promoted new, unconfirmed accusations to suit his political narrative: that a “criminal deep state” element within Mr. Obama’s government planted a spy deep inside his presidential campaign to help his rival, Hillary Clinton, win — a scheme he branded “Spygate.” It was the latest indication that a president who has for decades trafficked in conspiracy theories has brought them from the fringes of public discourse to the Oval Office.

Now that he is president, Mr. Trump’s baseless stories of secret plots by powerful interests appear to be having a distinct effect. Among critics, they have fanned fears that he is eroding public trust in institutions, undermining the idea of objective truth and sowing widespread suspicions about the government and news media that mirror his own.

“The effect on the life of the nation of a president inventing conspiracy theories in order to distract attention from legitimate investigations or other things he dislikes is corrosive,” said Jon Meacham, a presidential historian and biographer. “The diabolical brilliance of the Trump strategy of disinformation is that many people are simply going to hear the charges and countercharges, and decide that there must be something to them because the president of the United States is saying them.” (emphasis mine)

In an era of blame and recrimination, who are we to believe?

If not those given the highest authority (and who does now, whether religious or political) who?

Some thoughts from wired.com:

What we politely call “fake news”—a formulation that presupposes some antecedent credible truth called “news” that we’re now abandoning—is just the tribal folklore of a certain (and usually opposing) tribe. Our exhausting and constant absorption in a transitory but completely overwhelming media cycle is our own preliterate eternal present. Who thinks now of Cecil the Lion and the villainous dentist who shot him, whose practice was promptly ruined by an online mob? We’re too busy dealing with the third huge Trump scandal this week, which we’ll forget in due course thanks to next week’s school shooting….

The post-internet generation, weaned almost since birth on touchscreens and fractious digital media, navigates this raucous world with an equanimity that we dinosaurs beholden to a dead-tree age find impossible to muster. It is a different world, one where the universally acclaimed expert or editor has been replaced by internet-enabled rumor and hearsay arbitrated only by algorithms. There are some dominant media outlets with a claim to primacy, just as every village has a particularly well-informed local gossip, but the capital-T Truth, so beloved by the French encyclopedists, will no longer exist across a broad spectrum of society.

Are there official news sources you still actually trust and believe?

 

Which ones, and why those?

27 thoughts on “Who do you believe?

  1. I read and watch a number of news outlets but I regard them all with a certain amount of suspicion. To my mind, news reporting is like stand-up comedy: Delivery is everything. It is not really necessary to make shit up, just to present the facts in a way that makes your readers or listeners feel smart. Then, next thing you know, you’re selling tampons and pimple cream like they’re going out of style. Journalism is not a zero-sum game (Preaching to the choir) and challenging the thinking of your audience too aggressively isn’t just bad for business, it’s absolutely futile.Have you ever tried to change someone’s mind on facebook? So, I look at a lot of different news in the hope that I will glean enough solid information to form a truly informed opinion.
    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    1. I agree.

      But I don’t argue on Facebook. It’s not “news” but a cesspool of opinion.

      I find Canadian and UK news (BBC, CBC) much less hyped, more global and less obsessed with crime and violence. The “news”, certainly from legacy American media, is so narrowly defined as to be a sick joke — so if you do care about the world, you have to read and listen widely.

      1. No facebook for me, even though it is a fantastic resource for pictures of cute little kitties.
        When Disney bought ABC, I felt their news had finally come home. It’s straight up formula: Trump, international unrest and violence, natural disasters, local and national violence and social unrest and a feel good cherry on top like a glass of ginger ale when you have the flu.

  2. Is there any conversation down there about “Shallow State”? There’s not a lot out there but it explains so much. Ontario is potentially going to fall victim to it as well.

  3. I bring a healthy dose of skepticism to everything I read and hear, although anything that comes from the BBC, The Guardian, the New York Times, the Globe & Mail and Le Monde automatically gets a level of credibility. Like you, I have an education in the media and understand the importance of who is talking and what (point of view) they are selling. These days, every school kid should get this as part of their basic education. Great post!

    1. Thanks!

      Until or unless you have a varied media diet (and even US/Canadian/French is MUCH more varied than most people’s) you can have no real idea how disastrously skewed each outlet is in its own way — including the venerable NYT which now sucks up HARD to the wealthy and doesn’t really cover certain issues at all now.

  4. Robert Lerose

    Primarily, I read and subscribe to the print edition of The New York Times, listen to NPR, and watch the PBS News Hour. I gather news from other outlets, too, but these three are my go-to sources. I trust them because they have a legacy of trying to get the story right. To tell it “honestly.” I also get the sense that they have a mission of trying to serve the country and the citizenry, that they have some higher calling beyond just getting the facts straight or aiming for ratings or high circulation numbers. Maybe I’m being naive. I know that they make mistakes and get things wrong, too. But I think they truly aspire to dogged reporting that also serves some higher purpose and gives context and understanding that yes–I do trust. The question sounds deceptively simple and straightforward, but could actually lead to an in-depth, far-ranging discussion beyond the limits of a blog conversation.

    1. Indeed!

      My greatest gripe about American media is how myopic it is — you can easily go a long long time without hearing news from Asia, India, Latin America, MidEast. In a global economy??!!! I read the Financial Times 7 days a week now, and every single day find a story that I would not find in U.S. media, reported by smart people.

      And PLEASE could someone in the leadership of NPR explain that the pronunciation of Macron is Mah-Krohn — NOT MacKrone???!!!!!

      I agree that there is some larger sense of purpose from those organizations you name, and thank heaven for that.

  5. I personally do not need to be spoonfed, but it would seem as though many do. Great post.

    My daily news consumption sources have not changed, as my use of my discernment skills of vetted sources I learned in College has never steered me wrong. I mean, WP, NYT, G & M, NPR, The Guardian, have their journalistic integrity hats on straight.

    I also follow certain journalists work, such as yourself, but also Paul Krugman. I also follow Rachel Maddow, as I value the research and background that goes into her stories, the deep dive she takes, and her style of presenting, and personality, I trust her.

    But, ugh, then I talk to my southern U.S. born and raised Father and wonder how on earth that man had anything to do with me, Trump supporter that he is. I could really get into it with him if I wanted, but I decided last time we got into it (as I avoid politics with him, if I can) to not get tangled up in the details he believes but rather tried to refocus him onto the BIGGER picture…and asked him who profits from a divided America? He didn’t like that…got all grumbly. : )

    1. I’m flattered that you read my work…thanks!

      I’m officially in mourning today since Eduardo Porter ran his last NYT column yesterday; by far my favorite writer there (and Floyd Norris retired years ago.) I want and need lucid commentary on the wider economy; much as Krugman is smart, I wish for less predictable reads. I love Charles Blow’s outrage…but how many times a week can you fulminate?

      I have never watched Rachel Maddow (and know she’s widely respected) — time/energy already so spoken for with trying to keep up and also trying to make a living!

      1. You are most welcome, and this is exactly why I follow certain people, for I trust them, and they lead me to new people : ) Such as Charles Blow, and the others you mentioned, I am always on the hunt for those who challenge, engage, and inspire.

        Cause, I want to change the world, one word at a time. : )

        FOr instance, I’m right now writing this blog post, struggling, as I try to find that balance between op-edish and storytelling vibe/voice I’ve been playing with. You know, that fine line between beat someone over the head with it, and folksy wisdom, lure them in with pictures and stories, lead them off on new paths, new ideas, plant seeds.

        Anywho, thank you, you inspire.

      2. Thanks! 🙂

        Yes, it’s a tough line to walk…if it’s any consolation — I have 100s of unpublished blog posts that didn’t make the cut and I revise the hell out of each one before posting.

  6. I may be completely biased as I’m English but I take the BBC at their word completely. In all of our travels around the world it appears to be the voice of reason and impartiality. So many reasonable educated people in all corners of the world read/watch the BBC. American media never seems to impartial at all. I also like the Guardian website as it has some fabulous journalists and presents news and articles in a very balanced way.

    1. Thanks for this.

      As a Canadian living in the U.S. since 1989 I am increasingly horrified and fed up with the absolute bullshit that passes here — certainly on commercial TV — as “news.” The world beyond only exists as: 1) a threat (N. Korea); 2) natural disasters; 3) celebrities (Royal Wedding.)

      The Guardian leans pretty far to the left but BBC has certainly broken many American stories long before domestic media have even noticed. I give them a lot of respect for that. I also find them unemotional — in a good way — without the breathless HYPE that infects American TV reporting and anchoring.

  7. I sometimes yearn for the days when newspapers openly affiliated with one side or the other. You had the functional equivalent of a democrat and a republican newspaper, which argued opposing views. They didn’t pretend to be neutral, though they would have supported their arguments in an attempt to convince people, and could suffer a loss of credibility if they were found to liars. I yearn for this because sometimes the facts support a liberal view, I think we are harmed by the desire of non-partisan news agencies to appear objective. They give equal time to views no matter how ridiculous and they stop trying to answer questions, relying instead on quoting the opinions of supposed experts, leaving us without the necessary information to make the right decision. It’s because of this that I often think the “left leaning” press is not as left leaning as the “right leaning” press is right leaning. Because the right leaning isn’t really trying to look objective, and the “left leaning” press has an incentive to avoid facts when they think it will make them look biased.

    1. Interesting.

      One of the other issues every journalist (and their bosses) has to grapple with isn’t just how we cover or “play” the news — but even in what we cover, how often (or not) and in what depth.

  8. i have to read/listen to a mix in order to find my balance: npr, nyt, wp, rachel madow (msnbc), bbc, cspan – and sometimes i just have to walk away from all of it for a bit.

    i always teach my kinders to seek out more than one source as well. (expert, print, video, etc. all from different places)

    1. Smart.

      I avoid most mention of T—P and his insanity. It just gets worse every day and I see enough of what I need (from dozens of news sources) on Twitter. There’s nothing I can do about it. and apparently little than anyone else can or will….so all it does is add more stress. I’ve mostly given up watching national news as it’s a bad joke now.

      That’s great. What a gift of literacy you give them early.

  9. I still trust CBC, NY Times, Globe and Mail, PBS and BBC. I’ll read New Yorker, Atlantic when someone links an article from them. There are probably a few others but these were the ones that I think still care about the news. But I’m sure they are feeling a lot of financial pressures too.

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