I have a journalism degree and I worked within the newspaper industry for nearly two decades. While I never worked as a “hard-news” reporter, I did spend a year as a copy editor and also wrote feature stories for the business pages of several newspapers. So, I think I have a better-than-average understanding of how a newsroom is meant to operate.
But with or without a journalism degree, I think most folks know—or, more precisely, knew—what the primary purpose of any news organization should be: to factually inform its readers or viewers about events and phenomena that have occurred or are occurring within their communities—and beyond.
Forgivable Errors Versus Intentional Misreporting
News reporters are fallible humans who occasionally make mistakes in their reporting. Most of us are willing to forgive those relatively rare reporting inaccuracies. Occasional unintentional mistakes are forgivable. Intentional misreporting is—or should be— intolerable.
Regrettably, intentional misreporting has become the norm for some “news” organizations, most notably for Fox “News.” The Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against Fox has opened a trove of evidence revealing that “news” organization’s false and misleading reporting. And, in a strange and disgraceful twist, concurrent with much of that false reporting, Fox was losing viewers. The disgraceful aspect of those departures is that they occurred not because Fox was spreading disinformation, but rather because—in a few rare instances—some of its reporters and anchors dared to report the unvarnished truth.
Unvarnished truth is not what most of Fox “News” viewers want to hear. Fox “News” viewers are almost without exception MAGA Trumpists. And MAGA folks have—as surveys have revealed, and as I have experienced first-hand—little to no interest in hearing facts that contradict their cherished beliefs. It seems that a few of Fox News’ reporters failed to read the memo explaining that noteworthy phenomenon about their viewers and instructing those reporters to instead tickle their viewers’ ears with “news” that confirms their beliefs rather than with anything that contradicts them.
Profits Trump Precision
The Murdochs, who own Fox “News” have made it abundantly clear that profits—not verifiable veracity—is their company’s beacon. For Fox “News,” “eyes on the prize” invariably meant “pursue profits,” not “publish precision.” Pursuing profits means keeping viewers happily tuned in. And if keeping them tuned in means publicly praising a man they privately despised, then "You reporters must," in essence, "swallow your pride, jettison all ethics, and pander to those who keep the revenues flowing."
Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and most other Fox "News" hosts understood that money-first principle, and they followed it meticulously, from the moment it became apparent that Trump was going to win the Republican primary race in 2016. Stick to the script: Donald Trump, the crude, bumbling, racist, angry, would-be autocrat is the new darling of the rapidly growing zealot wing of the GOP. Praise him. Hide or explain away his most egregious errors and malicious manners. This race-baiting narcissist is what our viewers want, so find no fault in him or in anything he says or does.
Too Late for Truth?
And with that decree, or one very similar, journalistic integrity—and truth itself—was grievously wounded. Will truth recover? The answer appears to be no. Despite the daily revelations about the certifiable lies expressed by Fox “News,” the right-wing propaganda purveyor regained and maintains its place atop the cable-news ratings race. And, equally terrifying, Trump—who uttered more than 30,000 lies and blatantly misleading statements during his four years as president—is likely to be the GOP's presidential candidate in 2024 and could return to the White House.
The “I’ve made up my mind; don’t confuse me with the facts” folks cling tenaciously, stubbornly, to their vacuous, mean-spirited beliefs—and they number in the tens of millions. I recently concluded a letter to one of them who is dear to me with these words: I truly believe that nothing is more important for this nation and all life on the planet than revering and upholding truth. Fighting against any other of society's ills is merely tilting at windmills if we become a society with no regard for truth.
That was more than a week ago. She hasn’t replied.