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.
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?
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?