I studied journalism. I interned in radio, television and print media. I have tried to practice journalism to some degree ever since leaving college way back in 1995. I’ve written continuously in one way or another ever since then whether I got paid for it or not. I like to think I bring a journalistic eye to much of my writing and my photography. I consider myself invested in and fascinated with the practice of journalism.
Many of my personal heroes practice journalism. Consequently, living through a period of time in which I see journalism and the practitioners of news reporting maligned on a daily basis by prominent political figures and their followers proves deeply concerning to me. The press is often referred to as “the fourth estate” because even if unelected, they serve in a vital and powerful way to contribute to our system of checks and balances. Although it’s true that they may be influenced by money and by power, and that many of them may need to hone their skills as practitioners, overall, they provide an incredibly valuable service to our society.
Without journalists, there’s so much we wouldn’t know. It’s almost unfathomable how much we wouldn’t know. How much we would be suckers for. How much we could all fall prey to.
I follow dozens, possibly hundreds of journalists on Twitter (a symptom of my own peculiar combination of OCD and ADHD tendencies, I suppose). Few of them if any practice anything I could begin to describe as “fake news.” They may make mistakes. In which case they typically correct them. That’s an important characteristic of the very practice of journalism.
However, in order for something to truly qualify as “fake news,” surely it should be, first, knowingly (or ignorantly) disseminated as misinformation and second, remain uncorrected even after the inaccuracies (and lies) have been highlighted.
I can think of a few media channels which regularly, demonstrably broadcast this sort of misinformation. But they shouldn’t even be considered news outlets or practitioners of journalism. Increasingly, too, I see government employees — all the way up to the nation’s highest office — practicing misinformation. But it goes beyond that. It has lapsed into incitement. When you repeatedly refer to the fourth estate as “the enemy of the people,” you’re not just maligning them, you’re cultivating a culture of violence.
And when these acts of violence are perpetrated, no doubt, some will point to other motivators. But let’s not pretend that, even given earlier grudges, bad actors aren’t going to be triggered by prominent figures who vilify the media. Let’s not pretend that killers won’t hear this despotic language and believe in their twisted minds that their actions have been justified. Even encouraged. Because isn’t that what we’ve been trained to do when we encounter an enemy? Attack?
And these incitements to attack are both escalating and becoming more explicit. Just days ago, white nationalist and professional troll Milo Yiannopoulos texted a journalist at The Observer to tell her, “I can’t wait for vigilante squads to start gunning down journalists.”
And, regularly, often before large crowds or using Twitter as his megaphone to millions, the occupant of our nation’s highest office essentially tells Americans, “You got a problem with the press? So do I! They’re the enemy!”
He’s giving license to people’s worst impulses.
It has to stop.