The Planted Row: It’s not the media’s fault

Stan Wise Farm Forum Editor
Farm Forum

Since joining the newsroom at the American News/Farm Forum in 2012, I’ve learned something important about the dedicated men and women who work in the news business — being a reporter is nowhere near as easy as it looks. It takes guts to ask people the hard questions — questions you know they don’t want to be asked but that need to be asked because the answers are important. Often, when a reporter turns in a story, an editor sends the reporter back to find out the answers to even more questions. If editors can imagine a reader wondering about the answer to some question we failed to ask, then reporters have to go back and do their best to find out that information, one way or another.

This means that the people being interviewed often don’t like reporters very much. They are annoyingly persistent in their pursuit of the truth because they have a cranky editor behind them cracking the whip. So, journalists are often caught between annoyed sources and editors demanding even more from them.

This is a reality that most reporters accept, and they accept it because they believe in their mission. Their mission is based on the belief that a democracy doesn’t work without an informed populace. So they work hard to make sure the public is informed about what is happening in their country and what the people in power are doing with that power. Reporters work late hours for low pay, and they do it all for the benefit of their readers and the country.

So you might imagine that it’s a little hard for journalists to understand why they are villainized by their readers, the very people they are trying to help. But that’s exactly what’s happening, and as far as I can tell, it’s a problem that is getting worse. It doesn’t matter which party is in power, journalists are still going to ask the same hard questions. But when the answers to those questions don’t reflect well on one party or the other, that party’s supporters cry, “It’s the media’s fault! Fake news!”

You know what? It’s not the media’s fault. The media doesn’t hold the reins of power in this country. We’re not in charge. We don’t make the news. We report the news. We do it so that you can know the truth.

Last weekend, a newspaper in Kentucky had its windows shot out. Last week, Montana U.S. House of Representatives candidate Greg Gianforte assaulted a reporter for asking a simple question. Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott joked about shooting reporters. Earlier this month a reporter was arrested for simply daring to ask a question of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price at the West Virginia statehouse. A few weeks ago, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly joked to President Trump that he should use a saber “on the press.”

Do you know who lost in each of these incidents? You did. You lost because force or intimidation was used against the few people asking tough, honest questions of the people in power on your behalf.

There is such a thing as fake news. Some publications and outlets make up fake news, and they do it for a variety of reasons: clicks, page views, subscribers, viewers, swaying public opinion against their political opponents. It’s your job to tell the difference between a fake news source and a real news source.

You know how you can tell the difference? Fake news sources don’t issue corrections when they are proven wrong. Another way to tell if a story is true is to see if it’s being reported by multiple, reputable outlets. Real journalists can’t stand to publish incorrect information. In fact, they can lose their jobs over it. So reputable outlets won’t pick up a story unless they strongly believe it is accurate.

Chet Collier, one of the founders of Fox News, is quoted as saying: “Viewers don’t want to be informed. Viewers want to feel informed.” Don’t let this statement be true of you. Everyone is susceptible to confirmation bias, even me, but we are capable of putting that bias aside in a sincere interest to know the truth before we make our decisions in the voting booth.

If you’d rather know a lie than an uncomfortable truth, then you are working against democracy, not for it. If you condone the use of violence and intimidation to silence journalists trying to report the truth, you aren’t just harming the country. You’re harming yourself.

Stan Wise