Debate over “fake news” and “alternative facts” is a force currently subverting our country’s ability to hold civil and practical discussion. As a kid, especially one who was always interested in politics, I liked to watch the news. In early middle school, I used to come home and immediately turn on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” I had a romantic notion of reporters being like Walter Cronkite, a CBS news anchor in the ’60s and ’70s who was regarded as the most trustworthy person in America because he was seen as unbiased. My mom would often make fun of my older brother and me for being “nerds” watching the news, but it just seemed too interesting to ignore. I trusted the news, not only to give me the facts of each story, but to choose the stories for me.
From as early as elementary school, I was taught to check several sources to compare and contrast and weed out the bias in order to find the facts of the case. I found it to be a harder task to continue this method with politics than with the biography of Mark Twain I wrote in third grade. I tried FOX, MSNBC and the New York Times, among others, and heard they were all biased. CNN, according to my brother, was the most centrist, so I decided to trust them. My hope was that the most centrist source would focus more on facts rather than their own opinion or bias, allowing me, without undue influence, to make my own judgment.
From then on, I watched CNN religiously — that is, until the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Every day I would come home from school, walk to my living room, turn on CNN and see simulations of the airplane crash, and “experts” making guesses as to where the plane was or coming up with ludicrous explanations for what happened to it.
I started to get frustrated. Why, when there were so many stories to report on, was this one story dominating CNN’s entire focus? I realized then that I wasn’t just watching the news, I was watching a television show. Any television show relies on ratings, whether it be a news program like “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” or “The O’Reilly Factor,” a reality show like “Fear Factor” — which my family loved — or a classic from our generation’s childhood like “Teen Titans” or “Drake and Josh.” I started to notice that the commercials shown on each of these channels seemed to target specific audiences and that by targeting specific parts of the consumer market, their impartiality was compromised.
Gone are the days of any “fair and balanced” news source. This escalation has only been made worse with the advent of news sources whose exclusive domain is the internet. This leaves the American public with a difficult decision.
First, we could just accept that this is the way things are now. We could just watch and read the sources most in line with us politically and not ask questions. Second, we could accept the status quo but instead take on the responsibility of reading several sources on the same issue to decide for ourselves the facts of the case and, from there, our opinion on the matter. Third and most favorably, is to try and hold the “news” accountable for their manipulation of the trust of the American public.
Each site or station now has some apparent bias attached to it. The average American cannot open an article from a major news source without seeing traces of bias littered throughout. Middle school students with the same interest in politics I had are being introduced to a political sphere of increasing adversity and bias. This trend is causing distrust of media on all sides. Whether it be people crying “fake news” or attacking reporters and calling them snitches, there is a crisis on America’s plate. What are we to do about it?
The first step, I believe, is to admit that there is a problem. Not with a specific station, but with the entire current concept of the press. I believe strongly in the role of the press as the Founding Fathers saw it. The media is at its best when it acts as a watchdog serving the people — presenting facts for the public to form their own opinions. What the media has become is an inflammatory body that has exploited our political and social climate to get “clicks” or “views” in order to satisfy its own ideological or business agenda, not the interest of the people.
I certainly don’t believe there should be violent backlash against the media, as seen at recent antifa protests, but the time has come for us to do with the media what they are supposed to do with the government: Call them out where they are wrong, when they try to exploit our passions or when they intentionally drive a wedge between us based on our ideologies. Whether we always agree or not, we are a community unified by our title as Americans — a community that has seen and fought through so much for our common goals and ideals throughout history.
From the inception of our nation, rooted in self-governance and resistance to oppression, to the Civil War, where we abolished the tyranny of slavery, and even through the World Wars, we have persevered through great trial and tribulation. This current political climate is often talked about as some great conflict that threatens the future of our nation, but frankly, it seems a small task to overcome, compared to what the generations before us have faced.
Walter Cronkite once said, “As anchorman of the CBS Evening News, I signed off my nightly broadcasts for nearly two decades with a simple statement: ‘And that’s the way it is.’ To me, that encapsulates the newsman’s highest ideal: to report the facts as he sees them, without regard for the consequences or controversy that may ensue.”
David Hayse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.