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  • Writer's pictureJack Metz

Stop Trusting These People

It all started with a speech. Former AP bureau chief Ron Fournier stood in front of a small room of Americans interested in fixing the broken two-party system. Ostensibly, he was there to teach those of us in the audience how to generate press coverage. His words (and, more importantly, the smug way they were delivered) made me question the value of approaching journalists at all.

Like many others, I was well aware of the deepening political divide across the media landscape. This was something different; something far more insidious. It was the first time I'd ever heard a journalist brag about his role as a gatekeeper. With a devious smile on his face, he tried to convince my fellow 2018 conference attendees that it is essentially heroic for him and his ilk to decide which stories are newsworthy and which ones will never see the light of day.

Needless to say, I was infuriated by the thought that any reporter would celebrate the concept of snuffing out certain viewpoints. I returned home wondering if this was an industry-wide problem or merely the tactics of a reported blowhard. It didn't take long for me to get my answer.

That election season, I encountered what seemed like an endless barrage of gross ethical violations by the media. Biased coverage. 'Mistakes' in coverage. Total lack of coverage. Established journalists proudly proclaiming that it wasn't their duty to provide coverage.

Since then, it's become glaringly obvious that this troubling journalistic phenomenon isn't exclusive to huge political stories. Gatekeepers have slithered all the way down to hyperlocal news. Even at the city block level, there seems to be a concerted effort to drown out certain voices while elevating others. And it skews hard in one direction. I'm not talking about blue versus red; nor old versus young. Not quite rich versus poor either. In my experience, the media has a nasty habit of supporting cliques who profit from civic issues rather than regular citizens who won't see a dime from them.

This is unacceptable.

It's worse than you think

Why should we tolerate members of the press silencing the objections of the overwhelming majority in order to benefit a handful of vocal activists? It happens everywhere and every day. Whether they're explicitly killing a story or merely championing one side of an argument doesn't really matter. In the end, they hand special interest groups what they need on a silver platter -- often without remorse.

Bear in mind, the stories they file have ripple effects. The media can make or break anyone or anything just by the way they frame a given issue. They can muddle perception in the moment. Over time, they can drastically shift the Overton Window using a steady application of pressure. On a macro scale, they have already succeeded in eroding the general public's belief in the democratic process. [This cannot be denied. There are too many historical examples of the demotivating effect that results from squashed hope and violated trust. For instance, how many times have you heard someone give a corrupt politician a pass because of some sort of "it goes with the territory" or "what's the point" justification?] It is propaganda defined.

Don't take my word for it. Listen to direct quotes from industry titans themselves. None other than Alan Rusbridger devoted a huge chunk of his recent book to this phenomenon. In it, he maintains journalism "involved careful choices about responsibly publishing the material we considered to be of the public interest." He then goes on to tiptoe around the benefits of the press acting as a "sometimes-impermeable filter" just one paragraph after admitting Julian Assange's critiques of this system were not unfounded. In the chapter literally titled "The Gatekeepers," he calls himself an irrigator of information... in other words, someone who would "sift, evaluate, and contextualize for you and let you see only what was, in (his) view, important." In contrast, he views people like us at the DC Equalizer as sprayers "splattering the information indiscriminately into the world and letting citizens decide."

Honestly, how is there even a debate about which metaphorical farming method is preferable?

But what is the solution?

In order to combat the inherently corrupt inversion of basic media principles, try committing to a simple change. Going forward, reduce the influence these propaganda pushers have on your daily life. I'm not saying to eliminate it entirely (as doing so would likely leave you feeling unmoored from the rest of society); just suggesting you consume less of it. Ideally, you'd also season what remains with a dash of differing perspectives.

I know this will be hard for some. Excuses, ranging from not knowing who to trust to not having the time to digest additional content, will be given. Don't fall into this trap. If it helps, let me share with you a four-step framework I have used to try to overcome objections in my own family:

  1. Do you like when people lie to you or hide things from you?

  2. If you caught people lying/hiding, would you ever trust them the same again?

  3. If those very same people claimed they weren't lying/hiding (rather that they were merely mistaken), how many more times would you allow them to be mistaken before you stop trusting them?

  4. Whatever they call it, once they have been proven consistently/demonstrably wrong, do you have the courage to not only stop trusting them but also to tell your friends why they should stop trusting them as well?

Sadly, the answer to the final question is rarely a definitive "yes!" You'd think that the concept of distancing oneself from proven liars would be a no-brainer. Yet, in practice, it is anything but easy. Cognitive dissonance and peer fear are extremely common in modern society. For every individual who sees the flaws in the system, there are numerous others who somehow remain perfectly content dropping comments like "I don't know much about (insert issue), but you are wrong" into serious debate. No doubt, it's going to take a while to make gatekeeping a thing of the past. On the bright side, the pendulum swing accelerates with every person who stops accepting the status quo!

Note: the post above may contain commentary reflecting the author's opinion.


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