Truthful, Not Neutral
December 11, 2016 10:14 pm by Jacob McAllister
I was chilled when [Trump’s] first tweet after the election was about professional protesters incited by the media.” [Because as we all know] “First the media is accused of inciting, then sympathizing, then associating. And then suddenly they find themselves accused of being full-fledged terrorists and subversives. And then they end up in handcuffs, in cages, in kangaroo courts, in prisons, and then who knows what.
I never thought in a million years that I’d be standing up here, after all the times I’ve participated in this ceremony, appealing, really, for the freedom and safety of American journalists at home.[It’s time to] recommit to robust, fact-based reporting, without fear or without favor, on the issues. Don’t stand for being labeled or called ‘lying,’ or ‘crooked,’ or ‘failing.
I learned a long, long time ago…never to equate victim and aggressor. Never to create a false moral or factual equivalence…So I believe in being truthful not neutral. And I believe we must stop banalizing the truth. We have to be prepared to fight especially hard right now for the truth.
[Donald Trump] did a very savvy end run around us and used it to go straight to the people. Combined with the most incredible development ever, which is the tsunami of fake news, aka lies.
Much of the media was tying itself in knots trying to differentiate between balance, between objectivity, neutrality, and crucially, the truth. We cannot continue the old paradigm. We cannot, for instance, keep saying, like it was over global warming. When 99% of the science, the empirical facts, the evidence, is given equal play with the tiny minority of deniers.
-Christiane Amanpour (CNN)
This hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it. Like a lot of us, I have been trying to make sense of all that has transpired in our political system over the past month, and decided that I wanted to start writing about all of my thoughts on these issues. Once I came upon this speech, I immediately knew what the title of my blog would be. Speaking truth to power is something that is always necessary, particularly now, when basic facts are now being called into question almost daily.
He Said, She Said
Unfortunately, the news media in 2016 in is a state of total disarray. Following the totally unexpected victory of Donald Trump, this was made entirely evident to all. It is important to examine exactly how we got to this point, and exactly how we can move forward. By parroting an obsession with “neutrality” and “fairness” for years, and thereby absolving their responsibility to accurately report on the facts, they have helped to create a new, post-fact political reality. Al Jazeera’s Andrew Mitrovica summed it up perfectly here:
Ironically, the establishment media’s lies about the Iraq war had the unintended effect of draining whatever faint faith Americans had in responsible government and an independent fourth estate – institutions it insists are under existential attack by Trump.
If, in this gaping vacuum, Trump has adroitly engineered a “post-truth” world where facts are irrelevant and lies morph with lightning speed into the “truth”, the callow president-elect didn’t do this alone, nor was he the first. He had help.
Indeed, by constantly stepping back from the uneasy position of actually having to stand up for something, the news media has created a climate of cowardice and intellectual dishonesty. When one candidate says “The earth is flat”, and the other says “No, the earth is round”, it is not the prerogative of the media to simply sit back, present information, and let the viewer decide (amidst an ever-growing barrage of propaganda). This has happened far too often in the preceding years, and I would submit that it is one of the major reasons why we are about to enter into the Trump era.
What to Do Now
We are, almost daily, witnessing an all-out assault on truth. It can be totally overwhelming at times. Trump has been able to ride the wave of the Right’s long standing distrust of the media to a narrow electoral college victory. He knows this is red meat for the republican base, and this will always be a winning fight in their eyes. He ramps up the attacks, the base eats it up. Rinse, repeat. The litany of false claims, insinuations, and outright lies is too long to count. It is up to all of us who value truth, freedom, and democracy, to watch out for these falsehoods speak out against them whenever possible. It is imperative to call out lies and mistruths whenever they are encountered, and to not be afraid to stand up and be counted. It is also important to support honest journalism, to support those who seek to shed light on an increasingly dark world. It was through the process of trying to figure out how to move forward as a human being in America in 2016 that I decided to start this blog. The country I love has proven to be a much different place than I had thought just a month ago, and now more than ever, its basic tenants must be guarded at all costs.
Sometimes, taking a stand puts you on one “side” or the other of a particular issue. Setting aside for the moment the sheer lunacy of the two-party political system, there is a very clear line that has been drawn in the sand here. On one side of the issue, you have a group of folks who are being led by an absolute demegogue, whether or not they agree with or even personally like him. It is hardly the fault or the problem of those who oppose his charlatanry if taking such a position appears “partisan”, or offends the sensibilities of someone who resides on the other side of the issue. If their debate has merit, let them defend it based on that, and let the chips fall where they may. It is very tempting to be “fair” to both sides. It feels high minded. The problem is it’s not. It is simply a cop out. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but now, more than ever, it is essential to our democracy. It can be daunting and challenging, but those who care must not stay silent.
Because we are still here. And we are not going anywhere…
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something, If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however a small way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
-Howard Zinn (RIP)