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EDITORIAL: In defense of facts

Journalism’s oft-repeated mission statement is to “seek truth and report it.”

Donald Trump has spent much of the early days of his presidency attacking journalists across the country for missing the mark. That, of course, is the president’s right, and while his vitriol on the subject has been unbecoming of the leader of a democratic country, the debate over whether the press is properly doing its job is roughly as old as the press itself.

More concerning is what feels like an assault by Trump and others on the mission of journalism itself — rejecting the truths and facts that reporters uncover.

Here’s one example: in mid-January, CNN reported that intelligence officials had shown then-President Obama and then-President-elect Trump classified documents — based on research done by Trump opponents — that said Russian operatives were claimed to have compromising information about Trump. That, by all accounts, appears to be true: those documents were presented to the two leaders. As for whether any Russians actually have compromising information about President Trump, CNN said it didn’t know and, because it couldn’t independently verify the allegations, it wasn’t going to report the unverified details within the documents.

In other words, CNN published what it knew to be true and did not publish what it couldn’t verify. Frankly, it seems like a responsible approach.

But Trump immediately blasted CNN as being “fake news,” a phrase he appears to be defining as “any news I don’t like.”

Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had spoken with a Russian envoy about U.S. sanctions before Trump took office — then wasn’t forthright with Vice President Mike Pence and others about those conversations; Trump subsequently asked for Flynn’s resignation, citing an erosion of trust, and in his letter of resignation, Flynn acknowledged he’d given Pence “incomplete information.”

Despite all that, Trump took time during a Friday speech to accuse the Post of being part of the “fake news media” and asserted that their paper’s nine sources for the story were made up.

“The story led directly to the general’s dismissal as national security adviser,” Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron noted in response. “Calling press reports fake doesn’t make them so.”

“Fake news” was a term created to describe stories that are completely made-up. For example, a story on www.DefinitelyALegitimateSite.info.co claiming that Sen. John Public just switched his affiliation to the Communist Party, when Sen. Public is actually still a Republican, would be fake news. These “news” stories generally come from people who know they’re spreading bad information, but do it anyway, either to generate web traffic and make money or because they take joy in deceiving people.

Love them or hate them, trust them or doubt them, that is simply not what journalists do.

But, likely because trust in the mainstream media is so low — in some cases, deservedly so — we seem to have somehow reached a point where factual reporting can be refuted not only with additional information or context, but also with “alternative facts.”

The concept of an “alternative” fact, at its core, is a suggestion that there really isn’t any truth, as every piece of information is basically an opinion that can be replaced by another equally valid opinion or piece of information. Facts, now, become partisan. For example, someone’s belief as to how many people attended President Trump’s inauguration (which, frankly, isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things) apparently hinges on a person’s political leanings.

Of course, when we say that truth matters, that goes both ways. Just like the people they cover, news outlets and reporters get things wrong; they can misconstrue things; they can be guilty of pushing an agenda.

But we’d argue that what’s most important — much bigger than an individual mistake — is an overarching commitment to the truth, wherever it leads.

We take that seriously at this paper. We appreciate it when people take the time to tell us when we’ve messed up — and we want to set the record straight when that happens. (For example, you can read a correction on Page 7.)

Every single news consumer — from the president right on down — should scrutinize what they’re reading or hearing for both fairness and accuracy. And it’s naive to think that everyone will agree on what’s fair or what’s the full story.

But we’d hope we can all agree on starting from facts, letting them fall wherever they may, and going forward from there.

3 comments

  • posted by Chris Kuntz

    March 12, 2017 5:45 pm

    @ Booneyrat... No one is more stupid than someone accusing another of fascism. Do you know what fascism actually is ?

    Under fascism, the state, through official cartels, controlled all aspects of manufacturing, commerce, finance, and agriculture. i.e. ObamaCare's tax on dividend income. Regulating Coal out of business. Dodd Frank banking, and Massive agricultural subsidies.

    Planning boards set product lines, production levels, prices, wages, working conditions, and the size of firms. Licensing was ubiquitous; no economic activity could be undertaken without government permission.

    If you started a business. you didn't build it. (An Obama quote from a few years ago)

    ObamaCare forcing you into healthcare or paying a steep healthcare tax. ObamaCare controlling work hours set by employers.

    Unions blindly backing a certain political party.

    Solyndra's heavy Obama campaign contribution, and in return they received bail out money, then later tanked as a company.

    Levels of consumption were dictated by the state, and “excess” incomes had to be surrendered as taxes or “loans.” The consequent burdening of manufacturers gave advantages to foreign firms wishing to export.

    Income inequality. Redistribution of wealth. Rich paying their fair share. New York liberals trying to tax you more on XL soda pops

    All Obama. A Democrat. All Liberal. All Socialism. All Fascist, by definition.

    I now understand why you stated "Stupid American voter" in your article. This sure sounds like Socialist, Democratic, Liberal, Fascists to me too !!

    P.S. Adolph Hitler controlled the Media. Adolph Hitler was a Fascist. Funny, I watch the "news" and like millions, have come to the conclusion, based on the media mis-reporting, omission of all the facts, and when it comes to America at war, once a Socialist / Democrat / Fascist gets into office, the flag draped metal coffins containing our American heroes are no longer covered by the press. Bush 43, received lots of Dover Delaware coverage. Obama, zero Dover Delaware coverage, except for the Benghazi coverup. More American service men & women died in Afghanistan under Obama, than Bush 43. I have yet to see "The Press" write a story about that. Seems the Press are being controlled by the Democratic Party, who look VERY Fascist from where I sit.

  • posted by DC

    March 03, 2017 9:02 am

    “Fake News” comes in many forms. Telling the truth and stating facts are one thing, however leaving out an important fact, that could change the scope of the point trying to be made, and then you are creating fake news. An example is the issues with AG Sessions. Most press articles I have read are saying he left out meetings he had with the Russian ambassador. What most media outlets have failed to state, or put so far into the story no one sees it is that it was with 50 other ambassadors. They write it in a way that sounds like he left out one-on-one meetings with the Russian ambassador. That is Fake News.
    When the only way we can know someone like the president is by what the media writes, we need to be more cautious about how they write. (Yes, pronoun issue there but you get my point)

  • posted by booneyrat

    February 28, 2017 5:16 pm

    This is what stupid American voters get for electing a bigot to the White House.trump is just getting started with his fascist mess,wait until mid term to see what the real mess will be.

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