Dis-alterna-facts? and Media Today

The following two pieces examine some of the most recent buzz in the media about “fake news” and “disinformation.” The first describes the “alternative facts” coming from the White House Press Secretary and the second describes BuzzFeed’s recent decision to post an unverified dossier on President Trump.

White House pushes disinformation
by David Plazas (The Tennessean)
This piece discusses how “alternative facts” — or simply lies — can be harmful to individuals from newspaper editors to the President of the United State and ultimately, the nation.
The author discusses Kellyanne Conway’s appearance on “Meet the Press.” Just one day after the inauguration, Press Secretary Sean Spicer went on to claim that the inauguration was the biggest in history. The media rebuffed that statement and when pressed about it on “Meet the Press,” Conway claimed that Sean Spicer had offered “alternative facts.”
A few days after that, in the first official White House press conference, Spicer stated, “I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts…There are certain things that we may not fully understand when we come out. But our intention’s never to lie to you.”

In Plazas piece, he contemplates on if we can expect a change from “alternative facts” to truth in Trump’s presidency. He sees little indication. Because of that, he says citizens should start to questions each other in person and on social media — not just politicians or the press.

This then brings into question the role of the media in “Trump’s America,” which brings me to the next piece.

Why BuzzFeed Published the Dossier: Commentary
by Ben Smith (for The New York Times)
This piece comes from the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed and is a defense of his decision to publish a 35-page dossier on unverified claims on President Trump. Smith states that they did so with appropriate context and caveats only after they had spent weeks with reporters in the U.S. and Europe trying to confirm or disprove certain claims. He states two reasons for doing so. First, the documents were in wide circulation among top intelligence and elected officials and news organizations and they were being fought over and acted upon at the highest levels of power. Secondly, the contents of the dossier were brought into the spotlight when CNN broke the news that both President Obama and President Trump had received an intelligence briefing that included a synopsis of the document. The dossier itself remained secret, and that’s where BuzzFeed comes in.

This piece emphasizes the medias role of surveillance, interpretation, and manipulation. BuzzFeed seems to take the stance of public surveillance, in that by releasing the dossier, they would be serving the nation as a whole. Smith stated, “Our audience inhabits a complex, polluted information environment; our role is to help them navigate it — not pretend it doesn’t exist.”

If only Smith practiced what he preached. CNN reported that classified documents were presented to President Obama and President Trump on potentially compromising materials. BuzzFeed then took it upon themselves to pollute the information environment with “unverified allegations that may contain some errors.” This was the same company that blasted the White House for peddling in “alternative facts.” To the public, this dossier never existed. In fact, in CNN’s breaking report of it, the term dossier was never even used. BuzzFeed wasn’t helping the public navigate the muddied waters, they were throwing mud into it.

Since its release, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released a statement on the dossier. In part it reads, “The IC (Intelligence Community) has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions.”

Did BuzzFeed report on that? Take a guess.

In discussing the reasoning for media manipulation, the book (Mass Media and Politics) states, “…the chief purpose may be to present sensational information that attracts large media audiences and enhances profits.” If I had to guess, that might have been a big part of publishing such unverified information.

So what is the role of media in “Trump’s America?” With BuzzFeed’s decision to publish the dossier, the role of the media as a “gatekeeper” has gone and now it will be harder for legit, investigative journalism to get by.