Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Fake news (reporting)

WARNING: Political rant. I try to avoid them but every so often I just can't help myself.  So see you tomorrow if you're a Trump supporter.  And just a reminder that comments will be moderated and screened.  Okay, you've been warned. 

Someone will pitch a joke in the writers room that might be funny but makes the character sound too stupid. Or they’ll pitch something that adds to that character’s backstory for the sake of a cheap laugh. And I’ll always say if we do that joke it establishes that the character is stupid or has a Siamese twin or whatever the pitch was. As a showrunner, I always had the feeling that once something was established we were then obligated to live with it.

Yes, there have been inconsistencies on long running shows and in some cases it’s because the writers were unaware of the previously established information. And in other cases, they just ignore what went before for whatever reason. Case in point: MASH. Harry Morgan first appears in an early episode as an insane General and then later as Colonel Potter. But casting is a whole ‘nother ballgame. Remember on CHEERS we had two Garys from Gary’s Old Towne Tavern. And they were interchangeable depending on which of the two actors was available.

But whenever we could we tried vigorously to remain faithful to the information that was established. The integrity of our series was very important to us.

And yet, when I can bring myself to watch or listen to the news these days I am appalled at how much lying is being reported. First off, it’s shocking that it even exists – that we have a president of the United States who has no regard for the truth, no regard for the American public, no regard for anything other than himself. And then when he does outright lie it’s reported in the media.

Why? Why report “falsehoods” as Jake Tapper diplomatically called them?

When the president gives a speech and blatantly lies, why don’t news services pause the speech and report the true facts? Why let these outright lies go unchallenged? If there is indeed “fake news” it’s the administration that is providing it. Isn’t the Fourth Estate obligated to call out “falsehoods?”

And then the president’s lackeys go on talk shows or conduct press briefings and lie and fudge and deflect – why carry these? Why allow Kellyanne Conway on your show? You know she’s going to be feeding you absolute bullshit. Microwave cameras and alternative facts. What does it do to YOUR credibility when you let a completely disreputable source have a forum on your air? And why cover Sean Spicer’s press briefings? He is insulting your intelligence daily with his clumsy attempts at spin and damage control.  Why play into that?

Instead of airing clips of his press briefings why not just have your correspondent do a stand up in front of the White House and say: “In today’s briefing, the press secretary offered nothing of substance. He just dodged questions and offered lame transparent excuses for the president’s misbehavior.” Done.

Why dignify their bullshit? They know it’s bullshit and YOU know it’s bullshit. The shameful lies wouldn’t stop, but at least they wouldn’t be propagated.  And if you absolutely must see Spicer's press briefings in their entirety there's C-SPAN. 

I just wonder how Murrow and Cronkite and Huntley & Brinkley would have handled this. My guess is nothing would be reported until it’s fact-checked. So nothing would be reported. In that case, no news really is good news.

50 comments :

Bill Jones said...

I'm not sure how often you read the Wall Street Journal, and given your politics, I'm pretty sure you don't read its editorial page, but you would probably be interested in their take on this: https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-presidents-credibility-1490138920. Be assured that "mainstream" conservatives/Republicans (yes, there are some--many, in fact) feel the same way as you. I think the only difference is that we don't think, "Why isn't he being called out on this?" Because it seems pretty apparent that he is (to his own detriment). Instead, we think, "Why on earth are you doing this? How can it possibly be effective? What the hell is wrong with you?"

Jeff Carter said...

The media stopped caring about truth a long time ago. All they care about is ratings

Mr. Hoilywood said...

100% in agreement with you Ken!! In fact (pun intended!), 110% agreement!

DARON72 said...

A true General Steele moment: When I saw that clip of Trump babbling on about something completely unrelated to why everyone was there in the oval office and then walking out of the room without signing those executive orders, I swore I heard a man from the press ask "I take it we don't have to leave", a press woman say "Only the President does" and then the man quips "Yeah...in a rubber truck."

Glenn said...

I agree with you, Ken. Sadly, in today's world I firmly believe that "journalism" is long dead. It died with Woodward and Bernstein. There's no such thing as reporting truth, there is only pushing your agenda. For too long it's been Fox News = we love Republicans and CNN = we love Democrats. And don't get me started on all these worthless "talking head" shows. There is no discussion or debate, only preaching. If you don't agree with the host's point of view, you're scum, and will be mocked and belittled the entire time. Truth, decency, class and professionalism in "news people" has not been seen for far too long.

tavm said...

Hey, at least there's Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and "Saturday Night Live" to make all the Trump news go down easier...

The Moderate said...

Ken, I believe it is because that news is a product now, moreso than in the past. 30-40 years ago, news was more of a public service. Now, it's a commodity like tooth paste or toilet bowl cleaner. The goal is not to actually deliver "news" but draw eyeballs (or clicks) to products that sponsor the airtime. So, people are told what they want to hear (so they'll come back), things that are outright lies (so they'll be moved enough to comment and draw more clicks), or things that are not hard to understand (so they won't change channels before the commercials). When news is a commodity, then the truth becomes a commodity as well.

Phil F. said...

Ezra Klein shared a video that comes from a Vox article on how satirists are more equipped to cut through lies than journalists. Interesting take on the same issue.

http://www.vox.com/2017/4/3/15163170/strikethrough-comedians-satire-trump-misinformation

Mork said...

When guys like Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley and Murrow were doing news, news was an expense. It was the cost of doing business as a television network. You had to do news because stations had to meet their obligation to operate in the public interest. Network honchos weren't greedy. (Okay, not *as* greedy.)

Then the 80's came along. Networks decided news couldn't be a loss leader any longer. News divisions had to start turning a profit. And so now network news has to balance exactly in the center.--tilt too far in one direction and the people on the other side will all abandon you. And they've decided the way to do that is to "objectively" report both sides of the story. Instead of calling bullshit "bullshit", they couch it in attribution ("The administration says...") and false "balance" ("Sure, that guy on the right lied, and we let him lie, but it's okay because we had someone from the left on to counter it.") to avoid pissing off half of their audience, and thus losing out on ratings and ad dollars.

The problem isn't entirely the fault of the journalists (Scott Pelley at CBS seems to be getting better at calling "bullshit"); it's the almighty dollar that really ruined reporting.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

I've never felt so isolated politically. I thought it was my age (OK, 68) and a large dose of "get off my lawn" fever that makes me feel this way, but judging from Trump's dismal approval ratings and the opinions of so many of my friends, I'm not alone.

The world has a thirty-something nuclear weapon-waving loon in North Korea...and we have a 70 year-old adolescent in charge of the world's most powerful armed forces. What could possibly go wrong?

This won't go well, friends.

blinky said...

Reason: People will watch and listen.
When you have 24 hours of programming to fill there is a tendency to report everything...50 time a day.
I work on a major cable news network and on headsets the director often is screaming exactly what you are saying even as the anchors are spouting bullshit. In a sense, everybody knows it is crazy but as Woody Allen said they need the eggs.
Even a great reporter like Rachel Maddow had to fill an hour with some Trump Tax return nothingness. Her ratings have never been better.

Betty said...

Love this.

Seany said...

Well, in the past the fact that something was put out by the White House automatically made it newsworthy. They're just doing the same thing here. If there are facts in opposition to what the White House says you report those as well and let the public sort out the facts from the lies themselves.

For this to work, however, the people who watch need to be able to reason, use logic and experience to form appropriate conclusions. If you can't trust the public to reason or form appropriate conclusions then, yes, the system doesn't work and won't ever work regardless of what you do.

Kirk said...

Amen.

Steve Bailey said...

Boy, do I agree. Ezra Klein at Vox.com recently noted that satirists such as Stephen Colbert and Seth Myers are doing a better job of examining the headlines that most news forums are.

Mark said...

It might help if there were a legitimate journalistic organization whose primary mission was NOT to deliver eyeballs to advertisers, with the job of delivering verifiable facts to viewers coming in a distant second place. And I think it may be time to start entertaining the possibility that many of the pundits and journalebrities who now choke all our media channels are not always particularly bright.

McAlvie said...

Except I'm not so sure Spicer or Conaway are that aware. Spicer is weak and easily led, and Conaway is just plain nuts. There's a reason we don't see much of her anymore. Anyway, there are media doing just what you said ... the ones the White House has banned for straying from the approved party line; but as the adage goes, you can only lead a horse to water. If he prefers dehydration, the only thing you can do is leave him there to die and go find a smarter horse.

Holden McGroin said...

News. Brought to you by Diabetes injections, adult diapers and boner pills. No cure in sight.

Terry said...

Here's the problem with your suggestion of not reporting the lies, Ken - it plays right into their hands. You see, the far right has spent the better part of the last two decades creating the monster known as the "Liberal Media." Yes, they created it. Why? Because they needed a dragon to slay and a force to oppose. They - the least victimized group in our society - needed a way to play the victim. So they spent years demonizing the media and undermining its credibility. And they did it masterfully. So masterfully, in fact, that their supporters won't believe a word that doesn't come from the president, one of his lackeys or some right-wing blog.

Thus, if the media were to stop reporting everything that comes out of the White House, it would play perfectly into their finely-crafted narrative of the "Liberal Media." And I do think the media is waking up to this fact and you are starting to see more and more fact-checking. When was the last time you saw Kelly Ann Conway on any news program? The problem is the fact-checking will never reach the people who need to hear it the most because to them the "Liberal Media" is nothing but lies designed to destroy the conservative cause. They've swallowed the propaganda hook, line and sinker. I'm not sure how you convince them otherwise. If you think of a way, please let us know.

Daws said...

Short answer: Access.

Back in the days when there were only 3 networks and a fixed amount of time dedicated to the news, it wasn't as important. With X many cable networks filling 24 hours a day with news, you need constant access to sources to put on your air, otherwise you end up repeating the same thing over and over, and viewers will flee.

If you PO this administration off enough by reporting and focusing on "truth" your reporters will suddenly find they have no one to interview; bookings will vanish, credentials will be denied, sources will dry up.

Zappa the Unholy said...

It was curiousity that K.O.'D the feline. I couldn't agree with you more. Facts are dead, apparently no one gives a damn, and we all will suffer the consequences. I'd like to think that history will judge this period harshly, as it should. However, the dumbing down of society in general has allowed this to happen. I doubt a credible future will allow that reflection.

suek2001 said...

As a Trump voter(not supporter, there's a difference), I can see your frustration. The thing some don't realize is the media really gave us Trump whether they like him or not. They loved that he was outrageous..and was interesting to cover...on so many levels.

I will admit, I bought into the package for a time...strong negotiator but those of us are realizing that it was all a smokescreen. Call me an idiot all you want..but it does nothing to further the dialogue on the lies Trump spins. I think what makes me mad is that the press is more worried about how time he spends in Florida and other things that seem incidental to the growing issue of how he's sucking up to Syrian's dictator..and then instead of calling the gassing of people a horrific crime, he seems to blame the previous administration...

Politicians blame others for years...politicians lie all the time...yet, Trump said he wasn't a politician....and now he exemplifies what we all hate..a leader who goes to DC and forgets why he's there...and the media is complicit in that act...
Too bad, the Democrats could have really reshaped things if Bernie was their nominee..

Jeff Maxwell said...

Frightening. Sadly, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find the truth anywhere in our society. Whether it be local or national issues, it appears everyone has grown very comfortable with just simply spewing any lie they can to support their position and/or agenda.

When our President lies or is simply mean-spirted, it demeans and insults our country and sends the message that it's okay to make up whatever you want with total disregard to the truth...in order to...what? Make life better?

The news today of the horrible bombing in Syria is filled with accusations by the United States, Russia, Syria and who knows who? What leader, what country's agenda did it serve? And we the people have no way of determining the truth behind its atrocity. Such a tragic illustration of the mess the word seems desperate to become.

I met a real spy once - fun but creepy. He used the term "wilderness of mirrors" with regard to the spy biz. He told me nothing is what it appears to be. Was he telling the truth? Dunno.

Frightening. I'm going to watch a MASH rerun.

Roger Owen Green said...

I'm not 100% sure he always KNOWS he lies. Sometimes he just says STUFF. In the same sentence, how difficult the health care issue is (THAT was a SURPRISE), and in the VERY NEXT BREATH, how Ryancare will make it so easy.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Mark: There's the BBC and the Guardian, which are not *solely* commercial organizations (the Guardian is owned by a trust; the BBC is funded through license fees).

Here's the problem: the utterances of the US president are important throughout the world, whether they are false or not. How do you *not* report what he says? In the specific case of *this* president, if you do not allow his spokespeople on your show, you allow what he says to go unchallenged and you feed his claim that the media are his enemies. The time to have ignored him and not reported what he was saying was in 2015 and 2016 - all that free publicity played an enormous part in getting him on the ballot. *Now*, unfortunately, it's not so simple.

But there are many media organizations doing fact-checking on it and calling him out. NY Times, Washington Post, Pro Publica, Mother Jones...

wg

Margie said...

Ken, thank you for posting this. I agree 100%. Regarding Kelly Anne, I have long wondered why she gets invited on shows. I have yet to hear her answer a single question. She simply deflects (and lies).

Seanyboy said...

Roger, people who BS as a habit eventually reach the point where they buy into their own brand of bull. When that happens they lose their identity becoming lost in their own lies/pretense.

Loosehead said...

It's been happening for years, Ken, but most of you didn't notice. Here in the UK, while Tony Blair was Prime Minister, the reporting by tame journalists would take the form of dictation from government spokesmen, and those who wanted to report the truth or go "off message" were excluded from briefings and permanently out of the loop. From what I can gather, the same tactic was used by Dubya at around the same time. Those taking the dictation are now the senior journalists who should be reporting the lies, but they can't tell the difference anymore.

Aaron Sheckley said...

@suek2001: This isn't a personal attack, and I don't for a second believe that all Republicans (or even the majority of them) are bad people. There was a time when I was a Republican, before they allied themselves with the Christian right wing. But to vote for Trump, you had to deliberately ignore every warning sign you saw in him while he was campaigning (and in his lead up to declaring his candidacy). The corruption, the lies, the misogyny, the tantrums, the grade school level adolescent behavior, the conflicts of interest....and on and on. Trump is turning out the be EXACTLY the kind of president that you elected; there was no change in his behavior between his candidacy and his presidency. You can't blame the media for this; YOU put him in office. He is easily the most transparently egregious candidate that ever ran for president; the media pointed that out repeatedly, and the reaction of people who voted for him was either to claim it was all a lie, or to embrace his "outrageous" conduct as some sort of a badge of honor. Those that voted for him put aside common sense in favor of theatrics and poorly crafted propaganda, and you harmed the country. Own that, and just vow to yourself to do something about it when the 2020 elections come around.

The media should continue to focus on everything that Trump does, and his administration does. He's no longer the outlier, maverick, outrageous candidate; he's the freaking President now, and his performance as President needs to be constantly watched and reported on. The True Believers will never change their opinion, but maybe the constant stream of reporting on the bullshit that this administration is already involved in (and we haven't even hit the six month point yet!!) will sway all those "Well, I didn't like Trump but I hated Hilary more" people into not making such a colossal mistake again.

Mitchell Hundred said...

Ken White over at the law blog Popehat had an interesting piece a few months back about critically reading news stories in the same way that he'd dissect a search warrant. I recommend it.

Ken said...

The christianist's are the greatest sell out whack jobs on this fool.
A 3 times married, self described adulter, not part of any church who, again by his own admittance, "lusts" after his daughter and is proven to be dishonest in his business and personal life.
This is who the moralist's supported?
Why? A variety of reasons, Supreme court being an often cited on, so they voted for him even though he is a living embodiement of all they condemn.
I refer to simple adage that shows the hypocricy of this.
From christianist teaching ( 8 years catholic school here) the ends can never be used to justify the means. More common corollary the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So by their own teachings they have taken a huge step towards the infernal place ( or to believe tv "The Good Place") by flaunting one of their basic tenets of their so called belief system.

David P said...

In the "Useless trivia you needed to know" department, in a recent online poll on best military character of all time, Hawkeye Pierce beat out Hot Lips Houlihan, Capt James Tiberius Kirk and Col Robert Hogan, finally losing out to Lord Darth Vader.

http://ec.militarytimes.com/battle-bracket/

Jawler said...

Trump is just saying whatever comes to mind to distract people from how horrible his administration is. He makes up that Obama was wiretapping him to distract from the Russians. Now we have the Susan Rice spying on him. She was the National Security Director. It was her job to spy on him!

Peter said...

As Homer Simpson once said while watching Eye on Springfield: "Ooh, infotainment!"

Anonymous said...

Whit Bissell says:

What we're seeing in the presidency today is what those of us in corporations have seen for years. The totalitarian power of an executive (and the influential today who has his/her ear). They are not democracies nor is there freedom of speech if you want to get ahead or just keep your job.

Trump uses tacit approval constantly. If no one in the room calls him on a statement, it is declared true for as long as he wants it to be true. The person who might, even in a careful way, raise a question is either called "negative," "not a team player" or is eventually driven out. The toadies can also use this technique and if they encounter an opposing view, they simply tell the person on whom they are riding the coattails.

Terrible leaders and toadies may eventually be dealt with, but they remain in power long enough to cause damage that can take years to repair, if at all. The money spent in fixing the damage often costs more than the initial projects these people implement.

America is getting a good dose of what it is like to be in such workplaces, now that a "businessman" is president. But sadly, he is the same kind of coddled, protected, demigod that too many of us either have to deal as they careen through their reign, tossing other people's careers right and left, and living far above what they bring to the table.

The most ironic thing about this problem is that if their business succeeds -- usually due to uncredited worker bees or circumstances that work in their favor -- they continue unchecked. They themselves are not motivated by their organization's best interests or the bottom line, just themselves. Trump is just one of too many such abusers of power and position.

Barry Traylor said...

I never thought I would live to see such a mountebank, liar and thief in the White House. During the campaign he bragged about groping women and making fun of a man with a disability. I can't think of a word to describe how much I hate, loath and despise this miserable excuse for a human being. It disgusts me that he shares the same planet as I do.

Yossi Mandel said...

For anything involving journalism, I turn to NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen. Here's a good place to start for his analysis (he has lots more and continues to write about it):

http://pressthink.org/2017/02/11/tile/live-list-top-problems-pressthink/

MikeKPa. said...

Huntley, Morrow and Cronkite wouldn't stoop to doing cable news, which is where the problem is. They repeat the false allegations, even prefacing that it's being issued as a distraction from the real news, yet they still report it.

To paraphrase Morrow, who was quoting Shakespeare, on allowing McCarthy to run rampant and unchecked during his 1950s witch hunt, "The fault is in ourselves."

We allow ourselves to be pandered to, regardless of which end of the political spectrum you sit. Too many print and broadcast journalists opine on cable news panels instead of just reporting and letting the columnists share their opinions.

One of the most egregious news transgressions is when a media outlet repeats a news report from another network or newspaper that they can't confirm - then don't report it until you can!

The biggest challenge is to not allow politicians or the media the lower the bar. As a country we used to adhere to standards - honesty, decency, compassion - which seem to be lost traits these days.

Anonymous said...

Can it get any worse? We've got a lying, cheating, SofS, con man in the White House. A holy roller Vice President. A Weasel speaker of the House. A completely disfuctional congress. and a do nothing FBI. The FBI has these guys on tape. They know who said what to who. Lets hope John McCaine and other responsible Republicans will get the fat turd out of office. Soon!

Not The Last Critical Thinker.....I Hope. said...

I don't argue with anything you said, but I would like to add that, at least the "right" gets called out by the media on its utter nonsense, while the media reports on the sometimes-equally egregious nonsense from the "left" as if it were truth. Both sides have their own fake facts to go with their own unfounded positions, but only one side gets called out on it by the mainstream media.

Ellen said...

It's an abomination. I never thought I'd live to see this level of evil running our country ... with a complicit House and Senate. And I can't help thinking that if the media had done its job to begin with, we wouldn't be in this mess.

Aaron Sheckley said...

Since when isn't Fox considered mainstream media? Fox News is 24 hour a day right wing oriented news network, who pretty routinely attacks the left and exposes their flaws and scandals, whether they happened or not. The right has a pretty vocal news organization that services them, so don't attribute the mantle of victimhood to them.

Look, this isn't even a right or left thing. If you're an objective Republican, you can't possibly believe that Trump and his legion of unqualified minions is good for the Republican party, or the United States. Using that stupid argument of "our side is bad but the other side does it too" doesn't have any bearing any more. Trump won; he's the man now. Stop whinging about whether or not the media is unbalanced; the real trouble is that the guy that got elected is unbalanced. The only thing that should truly matter to any rational voter in this country at this point is damage control.

mmryan314 said...

When I watch cable news I toggle between CNN, MSNBC, and FOX. I like to see what all of them are pitching on any given day. On the day that the news broke that Michael Flynn was ousted CNN and MSNBC carried the news but FOX was running some fluff piece about nothing. Not a mention of it of course. Always grateful for Louis CK`s take on the current status of Trump though.Yours and his are spot on.

Dave Logan said...

WWRD... What Would Russert's Do. (Not this) Conflict rules on cable news where ratings matter more than truth. Panels of "experts" take turns fanning the flames while cable hosts talk about the all the smoke. Networks don't sell credibility. It's a nice-to-have, not a must-have.

Chris Muir said...

Totally off subject, but I'm dying to know what you think of "Brockmire." As a comedy writer who calls games, it would seem to be right up your alley. I quite enjoyed the first two episodes.

Bruce P said...

Having the same actor play more than one part in a long running series (Mako?) or having one character played by multiple actors has never bothered me. Recent case in point -- Actress Laurel Coppock was hired to do two months of Toyota commercials to be run three years ago during the holiday season. She appeared as an unnamed spokesperson who dressed in business attire and talked directly into the camera. After the holiday ad buy, Toyota wanted to have a permanent spokesperson who would be perky, could do comedy, and wear regular street clothes. This character, who became known as Jan, was given to Laurel immediately after the holiday run. So in this case one actor played two roles back to back for the same "series" (advertiser).

Johnny W said...

Ken, have you seen this? Fox news calling out Trump on his lies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huEqDIbc-4A

Might make you feel a bit better.

Anonymous said...

I sure agree with Dave Logan when CNN and MSNBC line up these so called "experts" who only try to show each other how much smarter they are, and ignore the fact that Tump is a complete AH and should be ousted immediately. They even let the token Trump supporter get away with his lies and cover ups. The only exception is Carl Bernstein who makes some very good points when allowed to speak.

Not The Last Critical Thinker..... Well, Maybe I am said...

Aaron, it looks like you're responding to me, so I'll respond to you. I don't watch Fox News, but I get the impression that, while they do in fact represent a right wing (maybe pseudo right-wing) point of view, they don't directly call out the left on their nonsense. That's why I say no one calls out the left - express opposing opinions, yes, but not call them out directly for their dishonesty, incompetence, and utter ridiculousness.

But I do notice that you do the typical left wing thing... suggest I stop talking, refer to me expressing my opinion as "whining," and attribute to me right wing opinions and allegiances I don't hold just because I criticize the left, despite the fact that I clearly disavowed any support for both wings/parties in my post, and refer to one of those incorrectly attributed opinions as "stupid." This kind of arrogant left-wing tone-deafness is why you lost. Enjoy the president you made possible.

D. McEwan said...

"suek2001 said...
As a Trump voter(not supporter, there's a difference)
[Not in my book, there isn't.]Call me an idiot all you want.."

I can't, There aren't enough hours in the day.

"Too bad, the Democrats could have really reshaped things if Bernie was their nominee."

And if morons like you hadn't voted for the Orange Fuhrer. We're all suffering for YOUR lousy vote!