Navigating the News Media

in the Age of Trump

“I believe the manipulation of the news media plays a significant role in polarizing liberals and conservatives through biased analysis and right out misinformation and other corrupt methods.”

Hello, and welcome to the Liberty and Justice For All Podcast. My name is Emily Olsen, and – I feel like this is kind of like a session of Alcoholics Anonymous here, but I will confess – have an addiction to the news.

Now, I have a degree in journalism and I have training and experience in writing and reporting. I was trained to interpret the news, to identify accurate sources and to recognize a bias or slant. I have always been interested in the news – more so than your average person, but ever since 2016, I have made it my mission to absorb as much national news as possible and, in particular, to observe a press conference or congressional hearing in the raw – before a cable news channel has developed summary sound bites or added their spin to what has occurred. My goal by keeping up with the day-to-day news has been to maintain an informed perspective on what is happening in Washington D.C. right now.

But, especially in the last month or so, the frequent, major breaking news has just been overwhelming. Huge things are happening before our eyes every day, and sometimes every hour – very consequential things that are changing our world, literally. I mean, like a lot of people, I have been dealing with all kinds of anxiety. I’ve had friends and co-workers tell me to stop watching, that it’s not good for me and that I should focus my attention instead on things that give me peace, etc, etc.

But if I stop watching, the news won’t just go away. Instead, the news will continue to get worse and worse and I will just be – uninformed. After all, what you don’t know can hurt you and I believe it is my civic duty to witness and understand what our national leaders are doing. In addition, as a trained journalist, I believe that I should share my observations and help my friends and family understand my informed perspectives. Now, more than ever, I believe that people are being lied to and taken advantage of because they may not be keeping up with the news. We are getting hit with some tremendous political techniques right now, especially from the Right, and I worry very much that those I love are relying on wolves in sheep’s clothing to tell them how to interpret the news and what to think.

I will admit, talking about politics and other controversial topics – in the podcast format for all to hear – is scary to me, but I am compelled to do so. In time, I hope to develop a better sound booth and equipment, but what I have right now is an outpouring of thoughts and ideas that I need to put out there.

I hope that the Liberty and Justice For All podcast can be the start of a respectful conversation among friends from throughout the liberal-conservative spectrum. What is happening in the White House right now is going way past partisan politics, and I support Nancy Pelosi’s viewpoint, that the impeachment process currently underway and what Congress is fighting against, will very much shape the future of our democracy.  In listening to this podcast, I simply ask that you keep an open mind and have a desire to know the truth. I don’t expect you to agree with me about everything, but I hope you can learn a few things along the way and develop your own informed opinions about the news.

Most of us are not exactly – taught in school – how to interpret the news, and I actually think it should be a section in a civics, social studies or English class because it is such an important part of how we understand the world. I mean, if you are relying on links from Facebook to get your news, then I can imagine how confused you must be right now. A lot of people ignore national news completely because they can’t distinguish between what is true and – what isn’t. Now, I don’t have a beef with Facebook – I actually rely on them for many things – but their ability to publish accurate news is presently – questionable – at best. If you are going to get your news from Facebook, however, I encourage you to also choose at least two other reliable news sources to check in with on a regular basis. I give kudos to Twitter for banning | political ads and encourage Facebook to do the same, as neither are able to monitor their accuracy.

In this podcast, I want you to know who I am, where I get my news from, and why I trust my news sources. I want to explain some journalism concepts to you, and I also want to share my personal ethics and perspectives that influence my opinion-making processes.

I will begin by telling you | that I was raised in a very conservative, religious family. The first time I became conflicted about politics was when I attended high school in central California in the early 1990s. My parents were avid Rush Limbaugh fans, but my high school journalism teacher, who is still my good friend, was very left-leaning in everything from social issues to the environment. One day after school I sincerely asked her how she could be a liberal and be so nice. That was the start of a valuable conversation. She explained to me that generally, at their core, conservatives and liberals both have the same end goals of improving society, but they just have different methods of reaching those goals.

I was a registered Republican until 2017 when I changed to the dark side and became more politically active with my husband on a local basis. I will go into this transition in more detail in a future podcast.

But I have observed that liberal-minded people are very compassionate, sympathetic, and accepting of everyone despite their race, religion, sexual preference or socio-economic status. Although conservatives may also have some of those qualities, they are more focused politically on preserving their own rights, property and way of life. Both perspectives are needed in our society, but liberals and conservatives can only co-exist if they can provide a balance, a Yin and Yang, to keep Washington politics in check.

Unfortunately, both sides have lost a mutual respect for one another. There has always been conflict between them, but there has been a notable deterioration over the last couple of decades. I believe that the manipulation of the news media has played a significant role in polarizing liberals and conservatives through biased analysis and right out misinformation and other corrupt methods.

Actually, biased news is nothing new in our country. It was rampant prior to and during the Civil War – newspapers published what they wanted their constituents to believe. One newspaper would publish something, and a newspaper across town would publish a completely opposite perspective. Unfortunately, we seem to be right back to this tradition, although much has happened in the last 150 years to establish modern reporting techniques, such as requiring that articles cite multiple, credible sources.

You know, most people don’t even notice if there are any sources at all in an article or news broadcast – you know, attribution, quotes, citations? Instead people seem to base an article’s credibility on whether it has included the appropriate buzz words. We seem to have forgotten that the news should be based on facts – you know, like truth-telling.

When you read an article on the internet, do you know if they have cited enough sources? Do you know how to tell if a source is reliable and credible? Actually, for the most part, we really don’t. We have to trust the reporter and publication to do that work for us. Whether we trust them is based on the reputation of a publication, how long it has been in operation and whether they’ve won any awards. However, there are some clues we can look for to help us discern accuracy for ourselves.

Were you aware that news publications, like the New York Times and the Washington Post, go through several steps to vet an article’s accuracy? They have a separate team to verify facts, and an editor can pull an article at any stage of the editing process if it is missing information or needs clarification.

News professionals go through tedious methods to assess credibility, and even then, an article’s accuracy is only as good as its source material. But I have a glass half-full mentality and believe that professional journalists do their very best to report the truth and have a strong desire to accurately inform the public. I rely on news publications that go through this tedious vetting process, something that has become more and more challenging for them as we experience breaking news at an ever-increasing rate. And I admire those that make sincere corrections when they have published something that was inaccurate.

Oh – did you think that the reporters at the New York Times and Washington Post | evilly conspire to develop wild theories to mislead the public and discredit conservative elected officials? Have you accepted that well-established main-stream publications like these are simply fake news at face value because that has been ingrained in you by Trump supporters? Have you considered that conservative elected officials may have an ulterior motive to keep you in the dark and to control your interpretation of the news? After all, it is in their best interest to keep Trump in office in order to satisfy their corporate campaign donors and super PACs. Unfortunately, the news media is not making it easy for us to know what is really going on in Washington and elsewhere, and that means it is more work for us to decipher what is true and what is the real fake news.

As a journalist, I will tell you that it’s imperative for you to trust publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post – now more than ever. I trust their vetting processes, and I believe they genuinely want to get the news correct, despite how conservative media discredit them. At minimum, choose news sources that distinguish between the news and commentary. Commentary is editorializing and adding opinion based on a political perspective or other viewpoint. Broadcast news stations like to intertwine commentary with the news because it provides entertainment value – it sucks you in – and that improves their ratings, which ultimately pays their bills.

Like the Nirvana song, “Here we are now, entertain us!” I think it is good to take a step back and ask yourself if you simply want to be entertained by the news or if you really want to know what is going on. However, a lot of us want to be entertained more than informed, and if that gets people to watch the news, so be it. I accept that commentary alongside news is a necessary evil. I will note that commentary – is not always a bad thing, but you need to know the difference between it and the news.

The news is simply a collection of facts and events that have occurred, and commentary provides a spin or opinion on that news. Commentary is different than news analysis, where a cable news station like MSNBC or CNN will ask an expert in a relevant field, or a reporter who has been reporting on a particular topic, to provide additional information or perspective based on their extended knowledge of that topic. But be aware that experts, including me, often mix news analysis and commentary. I like to know what experts think and I often value their opinions, but I don’t always agree with everything I hear. That is my right, as it is yours.

But there is much more we need to know to better interpret the news these days. Unfortunately, we need to know how to identify propaganda techniques including gaslighting, which I will talk about in the next episode of Liberty and Justice For All.

It is amazing how differently my family understands news events than I do. They get an entirely different rendition of the news because they consume conservative media including Fox News, and I watch MSNBC and CNN. Now, I am here to tell you that there are no such things as alternative facts, as Kelly Ann Conway would have you believe. Truth is universal even in politics. It’s not just from the spin that they give – conservative media and conservative politicians alike are actually spreading misinformation – lies and half-truths – all in the name of protecting President Trump. How is it possible that they could pull the wool over our eyes so much? It’s because money and power are at stake.

Conservatives, just as liberals and everyone in between – want to give homage to the President of the United States. But I have observed that Trump’s base follow him to the extreme as though he were a religious leader. But I choose to separate church and state. My patriotism sides with the Constitution and with all of the people of this great nation, not just 33%.

More of us need to pay attention to the real news before it’s too late. Gratefully, I believe that people are waking up to the realities of the Trump administration. That gives me courage to pursue this podcast now. I am empowered by the fact that Congress is now pursuing an impeachment investigation into President Trump’s dealings with the Ukraine. I believe that the Democrats’ taking Virginia’s state congress and the close results in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race this month are also an indication that more and more people are tired of the drama and the corruption.

President Trump is wreaking havoc on this country. If you don’t believe me, just look at his White House and cabinet, which have experienced an 80% turnover rate. Some of the White House staff stay because they feel an obligation to quietly keep this country running amidst the chaos there, but it is becoming more and more difficult for them when honest, loyal ambassadors are getting in the way of Trump’s ulterior, self-serving agendas. Trump is impossible to work for because he will turn on anyone who becomes an obstacle to his rhetoric, and doesn’t care about existing laws or statutes unless they serve him personally. And he lies constantly and makes others lie for him. Some of his closest associates have gone to prison for him, and it is my belief that others will follow, unfortunately.

We should want our President to be truthful, but I know that many of us have become jaded as we see even our favorite politicians be accused of conflicts of interest or personal indiscretions. We have come to think that no one is Washington is honest anymore, but I will tell you that Trump is worse than you can even imagine. He makes even Nixon look like a saint compared to what he’s involved with. I mean, at least Nixon had a conscience and resigned when all was said and done.

I am old enough to remember 9/11. The world was a different place before Al-Qaeda operatives hi-jacked four different commercial jets simultaneously. As we know, two of those jets were crashed into the twin towers of the former Trade Center in New York City. One was crashed into the Pentagon, and the fourth, destined for the White House, was stopped by brave and patriotic passengers who gave their lives to protect | what many view as a sacred edifice. The world was a different place before 9/11, and it has been said that our intelligence sources didn’t see it coming because we lacked the imagination to believe that there are men wicked enough to do such a thing.

Perhaps Trump followers lack the imagination to believe that President Trump could really be as corrupt as mainstream media depict. But history is full of wicked leaders whose followers believed they were Saviors.

How can we tell the difference between those qualified to lead, who desire to protect, versus those who would do us harm? Here are a few pointers:

  1. Beware of leaders who just seek to represent their base instead of all of America.
  2. Beware of leaders who denigrate women and men, are racist, and/or discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community. By their fruits ye shall know them. No matter what your personal religious views are regarding these things, the Constitution protects all of these groups, and we, and our leaders, should treat them as our equals.
  3. Beware of leaders who seek to please wealthy donors – to the extent that they pass legislation or develop policies in favor of their donors – especially to the detriment of others.
  4. Beware of leaders who are cruel to immigrants and the poor.

I am sure there are other pointers, but these four will get us started. The United States of America was founded on universal Christian principles such as the golden rule, loving thy neighbor, balanced stewardship of this world and its resources, and taking care of the poor, sick or elderly. I have a lot to say about how the Republican Party has strayed from its fundamental associations with these Christian principles, and how these principles, which are my personal values, have come to align more with the democrats. Look for future episodes of the Liberty and Justice For All podcast.

————
The things we have been taking for granted for decades just may be shifting. Now is the time to pay attention to national politics so that we may continue to have Liberty and Justice For All.

References:
Ferris, Sarah and Heather Caygle. “Pelosi offers somber reflection on impeachment, with one eye on her agenda,” Politico.com, Nov. 13, 2019.

Feiner, Lauren. “Twitter bans political ads after Facebook refused to do so,” CNBC.com, Oct. 30, 2019.

MacKowski, Chris. “Outraged about “media bias?” Read a Civil War newspaper,” Emerging Civil War blog, Aug. 29, 2017.

“Mistakes, Misinformation and Media Accuracy and Balance,” Newspaper in Education: A Classroom Resource, The Washington Post. 2015

Loker, Kevin. “Confusion about what’s news and what’s opinion is a big problem, but journalists can help solve it,” American Press Institute. Sep. 19, 2018.

Calvert, Scott and Jon Kamp. “Election results 2019: Democrats Take Control of Virginia Legislature,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 6, 2019.

The 9/11 Commission Report. 2004.

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