At a time when media outlets claim to be unbiased and fair, they do a disservice to the truth. Not all ideas deserve the same amount of media coverage; and when incorrect ideas held by a minority are propagated, they lend more credence than is deserved.
Traditionally, one of the most important roles of mainstream media has been to investigate and point out inconsistencies and lies that are unveiled to the public. Journalists, for a long time, were tasked with presenting the truth, and fleshing out the inconsistencies in politics. However, there has been a paradigm shift, leading to the idea that effective journalism is a process which gives equal time and coverage to any idea, whether correct or patently false.
Within the last week, there has been an increase of media criticism over comments made by Republican presidential candidates regarding American borders and immigration. A few of these individuals have called for closing the borders to any Muslims seeking asylum and creating internment camps for those people who already live in the country. These ideas are evil, perverse, and misanthropic. Yet this malignant worldview has been covered ad nauseam in every major outlet.
When classically trained journalists succumb to the pressure of high ratings, they are more likely to give deference to stories that should be criticized for being overwhelmingly false. How else to explain a certain brash, loud-mouthed candidate being featured on both traditionally conservative and liberal talk shows?
In a Gallup Poll published in September 2015, data showed that only 40% of Americans trust the mass media. This corresponds with an erosion of trust in the government and politicians. Americans under the age of 50 were especially skeptical of stories they read or saw in the news. There is little hope of inspiring change through traditional media if the establishment is unwilling to challenge the falsehoods they are presenting on a nearly daily basis.
Although most of the developed world is aware of and accepts the danger of climate change, the American media still gives a great deal of coverage to those who would deny the impacts of carbon emissions and pollution on the environment. An estimated 2% of scientists are willing to argue that humans are not a primary contributor to the changes in weather patterns and rising sea levels. However, these fallacies are still given coverage in newspapers and on television. Should there not be an appropriate amount of coverage based on what scientific data has shown to be true?
There is no excuse for giving opposing “experts” the same platform to debate one another and make a case for their particular cause.
As Paul Krugman once wrote, “If a presidential candidate were to declare that the earth is flat, you would be sure to see a news analysis under the headline ‘Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.’ After all, the earth isn’t perfectly spherical.”
Although his article was partly satire, Krugman made a poignant argument. Simply reporting what is factual is not the same as having a bias.
There are times when journalists must present, with extreme prejudice, the credible side of a debate. If a small percentage of people have wrong ideas about climate change or immigration law, they should not be given a level platform with which to spread their ideology. The more scrutiny is given to these people and ideas, the more their supporters can rally around the idea that they are being oppressed, becoming more vocal and more extreme.
Of course there will be some issues which can be disagreed upon by rational individuals. These are typically more subjective topics, such as the role of government, and it would be difficult to scientifically prove a position. Examples such as this are a bit more uncommon. There is typically a viewpoint in a debate which is correct, and one which is erroneous.
Journalists have a responsibility to the objective truth. This must always be the priority if media outlets are ever going to gain back public trust. By covering stories with an accurate approach, reporters can still be objective. There is only one reasonable argument for many of the issues that confound us on a daily basis; and journalists have an obligation to the public to report the truth.