American journalism is suffering from ‘truth decay’

Quentin Fottrell writes:

American journalism is losing its objectivity.

That’s according to a new analysis on news discourse by the RAND Corporation. In the study, released Wednesday, researchers found a major shift occurred between 1989 and 2017 as journalism expanded beyond traditional media, such as newspapers and broadcast networks, to newer media, including 24-hour cable news channels and digital outlets. “Notably, these measurable changes vary in extent and nature for different news platforms,” it found. RAND is a nonprofit nonpartisan think tank based in Santa Monica, Calif.

“Our research provides quantitative evidence for what we all can see in the media landscape,” said Jennifer Kavanagh, a RAND senior political scientist and lead author of the report, the second in a series on the phenomenon of “Truth Decay,” the declining role of facts and analysis in civil discourse and its effect on American life. “Journalism in the U.S. has become more subjective and consists less of the detailed event- or context-based reporting that used to characterize news coverage.”

The analysis — carried out by a RAND text-analytics tool previously used to scan for support for and opposition to Islamic terrorists on social media — scanned millions of lines of text in print, broadcast and online journalism from 1989 (the first year such data were available via Lexis Nexis) to 2017 to identify usage patterns in words and phrases. Researchers were then able to measure these changes and compare them across all digital, media and print platforms.

Researchers analyzed content from 15 outlets representing print, television and digital journalism. The sample included the New York Times, Washington Post and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, CBS, ABC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Politico, the Blaze, Breitbart, Buzzfeed Politics, the Daily Caller and the Huffington Post. They found a “gradual and subtle shift” between old and new media toward a more subjective form of journalism. [Continue reading…]

Should the media sever their ties to Facebook?

Mathew Ingram writes:

With all that has transpired between Facebook and the media industry over the past couple of years—the repeated algorithm changes, the head fakes about switching to video, the siphoning off of a significant chunk of the industry’s advertising revenue—most publishers approach the giant social network with skepticism, if not outright hostility. And yet, the vast majority of them continue to partner with Facebook, to distribute their content on its platform, and even accept funding and resources from it.

Given that Facebook has not only helped hollow out newsrooms across the country but arguably lowered the overall quality of civic discussion, repeatedly flouted laws around privacy in ways that have served the needs of foreign actors like the Russian government, and played a key role in fomenting violence in countries like Myanmar and India, it’s worth asking: Is it enough to be skeptical? Or is there an ethical case to be made that media companies, and the journalists who work for them, should sever their ties to Facebook completely?

The argument in favor of staying on Facebook is obvious: the social network has immense reach—2 billion monthly active users—, which provides publishers with the potential to increase their readership. Facebook also has billions of dollars to spread around, whether it’s through advertising revenue sharing, or by funding journalism initiatives, to which it recently committed a total of $300 million over the next three years. Together, Facebook, Twitter, and Google have become the biggest journalism funders in the world, a sad irony given their effects on the business. [Continue reading…]

Major media outlets’ Twitter accounts amplify false Trump claims on average 19 times a day, study finds

Media Matters reports:

Major media outlets failed to rebut President Donald Trump’s misinformation 65% of the time in their tweets about his false or misleading comments, according to a Media Matters review. That means the outlets amplified Trump’s misinformation more than 400 times over the three-week period of the study — a rate of 19 per day.

The data shows that news outlets are still failing to grapple with a major problem that media critics highlighted during the Trump transition: When journalists apply their traditional method of crafting headlines, tweets, and other social media posts to Trump, they end up passively spreading misinformation by uncritically repeating his falsehoods.

The way people consume information in the digital age makes the accuracy of a news outlet’s headlines and social media posts more important than ever, because research shows they are the only thing a majority of people actually read. But journalists are trained to treat a politician’s statements as intrinsically newsworthy, often quoting them without context in tweets and headlines and addressing whether the statement was accurate only in the body of the piece, if at all. When the politician’s statements are false, journalists who quote them in headlines and on social media without context end up amplifying the falsehoods. [Continue reading…]

Why the media dumped Beto for Mayor Pete

Jack Shafer writes:

Burning with the velocity of a prairie fire on a gusty Indiana day, Pete Buttigieg scorched the airwaves, seared the podcasts, and charred the press this week as he ignited his presidential campaign, temporarily torching his Democratic competition in the process.

The secret to Buttigieg’s publicity run was no secret, wrote Matthew Yglesias in Vox. Like Molly Bloom in his favorite novel, Ulysses, he can’t stop saying “yes”—to media invitations. In recent weeks, he’s appeared on a CNN town hall, Ellen, A-list podcasts and Morning Joe, and been featured in New York, POLITICO Magazine, the Atlantic and much more. But saying yes is never enough to hold the press spellbound. Buttigieg has satisfied the ravenous press corps’ appetite by offering them an entire menu of newish things—no, make that an entire food court of newish things—to write about. He’s the youngest candidate in the field (at 37, he’s the only millennial except for Tulsi Gabbard), he’s gay and married, he’s an Afghan war veteran, he’s a Rhodes scholar (as is Cory Booker, but never mind), he plays a decent piano, he’s a churchgoer, he’s the mayor of the fourth-largest city in Indiana, he once gave a TEDx talk, he worked as a McKinsey consultant, he’s a polymath, he’s as earnest as a preacher, he’s an old person’s idea of what a young person should be like, and he’s figured out how to package progressive ideas as moderate. [Continue reading…]

How Rupert Murdoch’s media empire remade the world

Jonathan Mahler and Jim Rutenberg write:

Media power has historically accrued slowly, over the course of generations, which is one reason it tends to be concentrated in dynastic families. The Graham family owned The Washington Post for 80 years before selling it to Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos. William R. Hearst III still presides over the Hearst Corporation, whose roots can be traced to his great-grandfather, the mining-baron-turned-United-States-senator George Hearst. The New York Times has been controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family for more than a century. The Murdoch empire is a relatively young one by comparison, but it would be hard to argue that there is a more powerful media family on earth.

The right-wing populist wave that looked like a fleeting cultural phenomenon a few years ago has turned into the defining political movement of the times, disrupting the world order of the last half-century. The Murdoch empire did not cause this wave. But more than any single media company, it enabled it, promoted it and profited from it. Across the English-speaking world, the family’s outlets have helped elevate marginal demagogues, mainstream ethnonationalism and politicize the very notion of truth. The results have been striking. It may not have been the family’s mission to destabilize democracies around the world, but that has been its most consequential legacy.

Over the last six months, we have spoken to more than 150 people across three continents about the Murdochs and their empire — some who know the family intimately, some who have helped them achieve their aims, some who have fought against them with varying degrees of success. (Most of these people insisted on anonymity to share intimate details about the family and its business so as not to risk retribution.) The media tend to pay a lot of attention to the media: Fox News is covered almost as closely as the White House and often in the same story. The Murdochs themselves are an enduring object of cultural fascination: “Ink,” a play about Rupert’s rise, is opening soon on Broadway. The second season of HBO’s “Succession,” whose fictional media family, the Roys, bears a striking resemblance to the Murdochs, airs this summer. But what we as reporters had not fully appreciated until now is the extent to which these two stories — one of an illiberal, right-wing reaction sweeping the globe, the other of a dynastic media family — are really one. To see Fox News as an arm of the Trump White House risks missing the larger picture. It may be more accurate to say that the White House — just like the prime ministers’ offices in Britain and Australia — is just one tool among many that this family uses to exert influence over world events.

What do the Murdochs want? Family dynamics are complex, too, and media dynasties are animated by different factors — workaday business imperatives, the desire to pass on wealth, an old-fashioned sense of civic duty. But the Murdochs’ global operations suggest a different dynastic orientation, one centered on empire building in the original sense of the term: territorial conquest. Murdoch began with a small regional paper in Australia, inherited from his father. He quickly expanded the business into a national and then an international force, in part by ruthlessly using his platform to help elect his preferred candidates and then ruthlessly using those candidates to help extend his reach. Murdoch’s news empire is a monument to decades’ worth of transactional relationships with elected officials. Murdoch has said that he “never asked a prime minister for anything.” But press barons don’t have to ask when their media outlets can broadcast their desires. Politicians know what Murdoch wants, and they know what he can deliver: the base, their voters — power. [Continue reading…]

Fox News did their own ‘catch and kill’ on the Stormy Daniels story to help Trump win the election

Jane Mayer writes:

When [Bill] Shine assumed command at Fox, the 2016 campaign was nearing its end, and Trump and Clinton were all but tied. That fall, a FoxNews.com reporter had a story that put the network’s journalistic integrity to the test. Diana Falzone, who often covered the entertainment industry, had obtained proof that Trump had engaged in a sexual relationship in 2006 with a pornographic film actress calling herself Stormy Daniels. Falzone had worked on the story since March, and by October she had confirmed it with Daniels through her manager at the time, Gina Rodriguez, and with Daniels’s former husband, Mike Moz, who described multiple calls from Trump. Falzone had also amassed e-mails between Daniels’s attorney and Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, detailing a proposed cash settlement, accompanied by a nondisclosure agreement. Falzone had even seen the contract.

But Falzone’s story didn’t run—it kept being passed off from one editor to the next. After getting one noncommittal answer after another from her editors, Falzone at last heard from LaCorte, who was then the head of FoxNews.com. Falzone told colleagues that LaCorte said to her, “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.” LaCorte denies telling Falzone this, but one of Falzone’s colleagues confirms having heard her account at the time.

Despite the discouragement, Falzone kept investigating, and discovered that the National Enquirer, in partnership with Trump, had made a “catch and kill” deal with Daniels—buying the exclusive rights to her story in order to bury it. Falzone pitched this story to Fox, too, but it went nowhere. News of Trump’s payoffs to silence Daniels, and Cohen’s criminal attempts to conceal them as legal fees, remained unknown to the public until the Wall Street Journal broke the story, a year after Trump became President.

In January, 2017, Fox demoted Falzone without explanation. That May, she sued the network. Her attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, declined to comment but acknowledged that a settlement has been reached; it includes a nondisclosure agreement that bars Falzone from talking about her work at Fox.

After the Journal story broke, Oliver Darcy, a senior media reporter for CNN, published a piece revealing that Fox had killed a Stormy Daniels story. LaCorte, who by then had left Fox but was still being paid by the company, told Mediaite that he’d made the call without talking to superiors. The story simply hadn’t “passed muster,” he claimed, adding, “I didn’t do it to protect Donald Trump.” Nik Richie, a blogger who had broken the first story about Daniels, tweeted, “This is complete bullshit. Ken you are such a LIAR. This story got killed by @FoxNews at the highest level. I know, because I was one of your sources.”

Richie told me, “Fox News was culpable. I voted for Trump, and I like Fox, but they did their own ‘catch and kill’ on the story to protect him.” He said that he’d worked closely with Falzone on the article, and that “she did her homework—she had it.” He says he warned her that Fox would never run it, but “when they killed it she was devastated.” Richie believes that the story “would have swayed the election.”

Officially, Trump’s day begins at 11 a.m., with his national-security briefing. But Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters, who has spent more than a year tracking how closely Trump’s tweets correspond to Fox News, told me that “the real briefing is on ‘Fox & Friends,’ four hours earlier.” Judging from the timing of Trump’s tweets, Gertz believes that the President records “Fox & Friends” and views it from the beginning, often with a slight delay. As Trump watches, he frequently posts about points that he agrees with. Since August, 2018, Media Matters has tallied more than two hundred instances of Trump disseminating Fox News items to his fifty-eight million Twitter followers. “Trump serves as a carnival barker for Fox,” Levin says, giving invaluable promotional help to the channel.

Fox hosts sometimes reverse their opinions in order to toe the Trump line: Hannity, who in the Obama era called negotiations with North Korea “disturbing,” now calls such efforts a “huge foreign-policy win.” But Gertz has come to believe that Fox drives Trump more than Trump drives Fox. During the recent standoff with Congress over funding for a border wall, Fox anchors and guests repeatedly pushed Trump to reject compromises favored by Republicans in Congress and by his own staff, and to pursue instead an extreme path favored by Fox’s core viewers. [Continue reading…]

After Cohen’s hearing, the BuzzFeed bombshell that Mueller disputed looks better — and worse

Margaret Sullivan writes:

In mid-January, a BuzzFeed News report hit the news cycle like a mile-wide asteroid landing on Earth.

Its assertion was stunning: that President Trump had directed his fixer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress in 2017 about negotiations the previous year to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. And that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III possessed documentation of this; and further, that Cohen had acknowledged those instructions in interviews with Mueller’s office.

Suddenly, the word “suborning” was wildly trending because to induce someone to lie under oath is to suborn perjury — which happens to be a felony.

But then the explosive story seemed to fall apart. Other news organizations were unable to match it; they could not report their own versions of it with their own sources.

And then, stunningly, Mueller’s office issued a brief, devastating statement disputing aspects of the BuzzFeed report.

From glory to goat: The story once praised to the skies as brilliant, game-changing reporting was disparaged everywhere as altogether wrong. The Washington Post wrote an especially tough piece, positing Mueller’s statement as a takedown of the story generally, not merely a parsing of details.

Predictably, Trump jumped in, calling the story “a disgrace to journalism.” Even “Saturday Night Live” took aim, with Weekend Update co-anchor Colin Jost quipping, “The details were so sketchy that even Mueller’s team had to be like, ‘Okay, fake news.’ ”

But then, on Wednesday, along came Cohen himself in his long-delayed congressional testimony, an all-day television spectacle.

And if you believe him, you might be inclined to think that BuzzFeed mostly got it right. [Continue reading…]

CNN’s hiring of a GOP operative as political editor is even worse than it looks

Margaret Sullivan writes:

A few months before the 2016 presidential election, Sarah Isgur tweeted some advice to Donald Trump: “The only 3 words that should be coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth this week are: ‘Clinton’ ‘foundation’ ‘emails.’ ”

But that kind of helpful counsel wasn’t enough.

In early 2017, Isgur was summoned to meet with President Trump in the Oval Office, where she needed to pledge her loyalty to be named the Justice Department’s spokeswoman by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Now CNN has hired Isgur — who has no journalism experience and once slammed her new employer as the “Clinton News Network” — as a political editor.

The network, under heavy fire for the move, was insisting by Tuesday night that she wouldn’t be directing political coverage, although that surely is what a political editor might be expected to do.

Isgur is helping to “coordinate coverage across TV and Digital,” a spokesman told Vox, and will be “making sure that stories are featured on the right shows and articles get posted online at the right time.”

That sounds a lot like damage control.

But why CNN made this move to begin with is the deeper and more troubling question. [Continue reading…]

Alabama newspaper editor incites murder. Calls on KKK to go to Washington to lynch Democrats

The New York Times reports:

The editor and publisher of a small Alabama newspaper called for the Ku Klux Klan “to night ride again” against tax-raising politicians, prompting a fierce backlash and calls for his resignation.

The editor, Goodloe Sutton, published the editorial in the Thursday edition of The Democrat-Reporter, a weekly newspaper in Linden, Ala., that had about 3,000 subscribers in 2015. The editorial went largely unnoticed until Monday, when two student journalists shared photographs of it online and local news outlets reported on it.

“Time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again,” the editorial began, according to the clips posted online. “Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama.”


In the editorial, Mr. Sutton blamed Democrats for the United States’ involvement in both world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the nation’s long-running involvement in the Middle East. He confirmed his authorship of the piece in an interview with The Montgomery Advertiser in which he suggested that the Klan “go up there and clean out D.C.”

“We’ll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them,” he told a reporter from that publication. Mr. Sutton could not immediately be reached on Tuesday. [Continue reading…]

Egypt turns back veteran New York Times reporter

The New York Times reports:

Egyptian officials detained a New York Times correspondent after he arrived in Cairo on Monday, holding him incommunicado for hours before forcing him onto a flight back to London without explanation.

The move against the correspondent, David D. Kirkpatrick, is an escalation of a severe crackdown against the news media under Egypt’s strongman leader, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Egyptian journalists have borne the brunt of Mr. el-Sisi’s repression, with dozens imprisoned or forced into exile. But of late, a lack of pushback from the United States has emboldened Egypt’s security forces to take stronger action against representatives of Western news outlets, including expulsion.

The Egyptian authorities routinely denounce human rights groups, independent journalists and other critics as agents of foreign powers or purveyors of fake news. Their language often echoes that coming from Washington.


Defenders of press freedom worry that President Trump’s outbursts — such as a Twitter post last weekend that read “THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” — embolden autocrats around the globe to take aggressive action against the news media.

Despite growing human rights abuses in Egypt, Mr. Trump counts Mr. el-Sisi among his closest allies in the Middle East and has described him as a “great guy.” During a speech in Cairo in January, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered further praise for Mr. el-Sisi. [Continue reading…]