The news has taken a lot of my attention this week and I want to share a thought about the controversial book, Fire and Fury. There was this quote (image from the Kindle preview and full disclosure, I haven’t read the book)
It sounds like what he’s saying is that untruth is part of this book. So then what do you believe? This is something that has been touched on in different reports, but is not explored in depth.
It reminded me about biased journalism against Israel that reporters often deny. One well-known example of this is the battle in Jenin in 2002. Journalists faithfully and accurately quoted the residents of Jenin and Palestinian spokespeople who said that 400-500 Palestinians were massacred in Jenin and that the Israelis committed war crimes. These allegations spread throughout all the news outlets because they were indeed accurately reported. It’s just that what was said was not at all true. In fact, 52-54 Palestinians and 23 IDF soldiers were killed in the fighting. By the time that came out, no one was listening and so when people think of Jenin, the first thing they usually think is “massacre.” (It’s also true that Israel did not handle the media properly at the time and restricted their access.)
I’m not defending the Trump White House here, but Michael Wolff has basically done the same thing. He has faithfully and accurately reported things that were said to him, but he has no way of knowing which parts are true unless he was a witness. Does DT go to bed at 6:30pm with a cheeseburger? Who knows? Did all those people call him different variations of stupid? Only if Michael Wolff heard it with his own ears. Did he not want to win the presidency? Unknown.
Some in the media think that it’s enough to say that what they are reporting is “true” simply because it is exactly what someone said. They need to also check that what is being said is objectively true. When Sean Spicer said that the crowd was the biggest that there had ever been for an inauguration, the media did their due diligence and showed that this was objectively untrue. They need to apply the same standards across the board to all their news stories. They need to remember that they are not just reporters of statements (or tweets), but investigative journalists who have a responsibility as the Fourth Estate to find out what is true, and not limit their investigations to what fits their own personal agendas and the story they want to tell. That means that whether a journalist is pro or anti Trump or pro or anti Israel, their first responsibility is to get as close to the objective truth as they can.
I saw an interesting piece about journalists in the Netherlands grilling US Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra about false statements he made about Dutch politicians being burned and “no-go zones” taken over by Muslim extremists. The Dutch journalists banded together and no one asked any other question except if he would give an example or retract his statements. They asked quietly and respectfully, but did not back down.
If we can get the media to investigate something, what I’d like to know is: If the president is playing golf and cutting back on his schedule (starting his day at 11am and scheduling “executive time” for hours every day), then who is picking up the slack? I can imagine that the ship of government continues to sail without a strong rudder, but shouldn’t someone be at the helm? Is there an autopilot? Can the ship run aground? And if so, what happens then? Or, and I may be veering into conspiracy theory territory here, perhaps there is someone in the background (who did not run for president) who is actually steering the ship? Is the apparent chaos in the White House a distraction?
The 24-hour news cycle and ratings/clicks-driven stories don’t necessarily leave a lot of time for journalistic integrity and investigation. But maybe we as consumers need to demand more, demand better, and demand verifiable and objective truths.