Buffington Post: Solving a “fake news” problem

Elizabeth Bouwkamp-Staff Writer

According to the English Oxford Dictionary, when using objectivity, you are “not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.”

But can anyone of us remain objective? Can journalists achieve objectivity? If the facts speak for themselves, objectivity is unneeded. To obtain freedom of speech, you present a bias. To remain credible, you verify facts.

Last month, President Trump addressed the objectivity of the media in his first solo press conference.

Headlines echoed the president’s declarations and opinions about today’s journalists.

Time magazine published an article titled “President Trump Accuses News Media of Being ‘Out of Control,’” written by Darlene Superville and Ken Thomas.

CNN Money revealed “Trump attacks media in lengthy, combative press conference,” while Fox News championed the president’s view of today’s media with personal concern: “Trump’s marathon media-bashing presser: did he go too far?” Fox News opinion writer Howard Kurtz described Trump’s press conference as “the harshest indictment of the media ever delivered from the White House.”

Our magazines, newspapers and broadcasting stations report news from sides, angles, opinions, perspectives – and biases. Objectivity is the name of the game, but competition gets in the way, rules are disregarded and personal opinions expose reporters.

In fact, the American Press Institute published an article by Walter Dean entitled “The lost meaning of ‘objectivity.’”

In the latter part of the 19th century, journalists wrote with a “realist” mind, that is, they focused on gathering and ordering facts. They assumed facts revealed truth naturally if ordered in the right way.

However, beginning in the 1920s, journalists began writing articles full of biases – still prevalent in our news media today.

During this time, Walter Lippmann and Charles Merz investigated a new way to ensure objectivity in journalism.

Lippman’s work produced two key ideas. First, news organizations can use neutral voices to display objectivity. Second, neutral voices without verification produce deception.

According to the American Press Institute, “Journalists who select sources to express what is really their own point of view, and then use the neutral voice to make it seem objective, are engaged in deception.”

How many times have you presented facts, benefits and opinions for one side of an argument, but to appear neutral, you ended the argument with, “but it’s your choice…don’t let me influence your decision.” In this example, you too engage in deception. You present a side of an argument, you organize the facts to lead to a certain conclusion (your bias) and falsely end with acting indifferent to a decision (false objectivity).

Objective news reporting is desired. President Trump wants objectivity and stories free of “fake news,” as shown in his tweet on Feb. 17. However, much of today’s neutral reporting is false objectivity.

Journalists and American citizens should be fact-finders and masters of objectivity. But can they really perform both well? Can people display the facts of an argument on political, social and religious issues without “fake” neutrality?

Today’s journalists include anyone engaged in the act of “informing.” You write Facebook posts presenting facts from one side. You use Twitter videos and characters to tell others what to think on social and political issues.

After gathering facts, you order them according to their perceived importance. Ordering facts welcomes personal bias. However, bias is lessened with verification.

Verify, verify, verify.

Before determining whether the media is biased or your friend’s post on Facebook is lacking objectivity, you must check the facts. Where does the information originate? Who are the sources? What holes need addressing?

The answer to today’s lack of news objectivity and abundance of personal bias lies in source credibility. Pure objectivity and unbiased reporting is impossible, but fact-checking and source credibility is not only possible, it’s essential. It is the answer to President Trump’s media complaints, individual rants on biased news stations and falsified information.

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