Speaking as a journalist, I take that “don’t shoot the messenger” adage personally. So I was fascinated to hear what veteran broadcast journalist Ted Koppel said Sunday about the media landscape today and the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Koppel remembers when Walter Cronkite, who anchored the CBS Evening News, was “the most trusted man in America.” So do I. But America was a lot different then.
Koppel, of course, focuses on the TV news business because that’s where he spent the bulk of his career. Back when Cronkite’s well-earned reputation was touted by CBS, television news shows told Americans not just what they wanted to know but what they needed to know.
Then came the splintering of the TV news business, with Fox News catering to people who thought the three main networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — were leaning too far to the left. NBC saw Fox’s popularity and gained audience growth for its MSNBC channel by leaning to the left. Liberals detest Fox, and conservatives hate MSNBC.
With this splintering of the TV news business in the past 30 years has come a sharp division among Americans. Many declaim the “liberal media” even before viewing a show, listening to a radio station or reading a newspaper or website. With a broad brush, viewers paint all news media according to their own biases.
Koppel pointed out that while people are entitled to their own opinions, that’s not so with facts. And yet many Americans dispute the facts. They claim fact-checkers are biased. They refuse to believe in climate change, evolution, immunization or fluoridation.
“You now have a media universe out there where people quite literally create their own facts,” Koppel said when I interviewed him a couple of weeks ago.
On television, what you typically see as a way to achieve balance and perspective is a news show putting different viewpoints out there and giving the sides equal weight despite differences in how widely accepted their views are. The fringes get disproportionate attention, and the polarization grows.
What’s missing is the editing that takes time to review information and put it in perspective.
At The Times Media Co., we try hard to offer that balance.
We’re pushing candidates to say where they stand on issues, rather than letting their campaigns try to distract us with complaints about their opponents’ latest foibles.
To make democracy work, we in the media need to tell voters where the candidates stand on the issues. And to do that, we need to offer more than sound bites.
Republican Donald Trump has fed Americans’ outrage by using social media to get his message across. And that strips out the editing that would put his remarks in perspective. Hillary Clinton has avoided press conferences that would offer more opportunity to scrutinize her strategy and her stance on issues.
It all goes back to Americans being told what they need to know, not just what they want to know. For that to happen, American news consumers need to think about why they choose the media outlets they prefer.
Think about what messages you’d like to receive and what messages you’re sending to the news media through your viewing, listening and reading habits.