Solid Reporting Still Reigns In a ‘Post-Truth’ Age, Journalists Tell Congregants
Solid reporting, fact checking, informed sources, and, yes, truth, continue to matter even in an age that some call the post-truth era. So suggested print journalists at a panel on the subject this morning. Judging from the fact that the sanctuary of Temple Micah was at capacity at 10:15 a.m. Sunday, media consumers were quite interested. We watched the event from an overflow room.
Another truism that continues to hold even in this age: presidents and their administrations stretch the truth. It’s just that now this president, Donald Trump, has Twitter, with his 27 million followers, at his disposal to directly amplify his message. Whether he uses Twitter and other mediums to lie or to just twist the facts was up for some debate.
The value of reporting is borne out by the increases in subscriptions and consumer interest in the very organizations represented on the panel, the representatives said. New York Times Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller called this the “golden years” for journalists, who are reenergized, too.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank is in the camp that thinks Trump isn’t necessarily an outright liar. Not that that view is helped him much with this administration. “I was fairly friendly with Sean Spicer before he became a madman,” Milbank said of the White House press secretary.
One point where Milbank is in good company is his contention that most if not all presidents stretch the truth. He noted to some laughter his oft-told anecdote from the campaign trail a few presidential elections ago when moderator Jodi Enda of CNN had to lift up her shirt — revealing her belly at eight months pregnant — when she set off a Secret Service magnetometer. Panelists pointed to a past election some felt was stolen, from Al Gore.
One point of difference between then and now is that the Times has branded a lie Trump’s contention that 3 million to 5 million people illegally voted for Hillary Clinton this election. There is no evidence of that. Bumiller said that this is one of two times her paper, with the authorization of executive editor Dean Baquet, labeled Trump an outright liar.
One journalistic challenge of the internet age is fact-checking on the fly, said Naftali Bendavid of the Wall Street Journal. When reporting on falsehoods, with maybe minutes to write, the trick is to put the fibs quickly in context, he said. Bumiller noted that her paper recently hired a staffer in Washington whose sole job is fact checking. The efforts of which generate several stories every week. That’s a new thing brought on by this administration.
To a question about the Journal’s ownership by Rupert Murdoch, who has aligned himself with Trump, Bendavid said that hasn’t affected straight news at the paper, which he noted is separate from the editorials. “We’ve been pretty tough on Trump,” the editor said. “We’ve held him to account as much as we could.”
Panelists agreed that this administration, for all its faults, generally engages with the news media. Even though Trump and key aides have suggested the media is not trustworthy and the enemy. Said Bumiller: “If we’re the fake news media, they’re certainly taking us seriously.”
Asked by Enda about what would quickly bring forth a post-post-truth era, Milbank said it might need to be something cataclysmic. Until then, journalists indicated, they need to keep doing their jobs, holding those in power accountable regardless of political party.