Posted by Curt on 7 December, 2017 at 4:22 pm. 1 comment.


Mary Katharine Ham:

There was a media ethics summit in Washington DC this week. A bunch of national political reporters and observers, and various “thought leaders” gathered within the high glass walls at NPR headquarters to grapple with media distrust, polarization, the unorthodoxies and attacks of the Trump administration, battling fake news, and slaying partisan bubbles.

I know, I know. The jokes write themselves. Bubbles, glass houses, a Beltway journalist stuttering in consternation when presented with the very idea of journalism ethicsbefore exploding like Bradley Whitford in the culminating scene of “Billy Madison.” I’ve thought of all of them and made some of them there!

Too often media acts like it’s an industry in its heyday, congratulating itself for its toughness and truthiness, while ignoring its own role in its decline, which is ongoing and unhealthy. Yes, this gathering was a bubble of its own— I suggested maybe dinner at Waffle House after, to really break out of our comfort zones—and a lot of the same people talking to each other. But I was there, along with a handful of other right-of-center speakers notably none pro-Trump, and there were some valuable thoughts.

On priorities and real diversity:

On monumental missed stories:

On the dangers of self-absorption:

On the value of self-awareness:

And on the real costs of mistakes:

Still, as always happens at such gatherings, I’m left with the concern many aren’t understanding the severity or origin of the problem.

This was the inaugural Poynter Journalism Ethics Conference. This is why it was put on: “Almost a year to the day since President-elect Donald Trump declared the media ‘fake news,’ Poynter is convening leading Washington correspondents and editors for a thought leadership summit on strengthening political journalism and public trust in a polarized era.”

The urgency, the need for the inaugural daylong conference, comes not from falling trust in media, which has been happening for a long time, but mostly from Trump’s attacks on media.

The name of the 2017 Poynter Media Trust Survey, a valuable poll and behavioral study on all these media trends, confirms the raison d’etre for this year’s gathering of grapplers— “You’re Fake News!” And the first paragraph of the executive summary: “During the Trump presidency, the United States has witnessed unprecedented attacks on the press from the highest office in the land. It is essential to understand how these attacks have affected attitudes toward the press.”

We’ve got our correlation and causation mixed up. Trust in media isn’t low because Trump attacks the media. Trump attacks the media because trust in media is low.

This Is a Pre-Trump Trend He’s Capitalizing On

This started long before Trump, as Poynter’s own annual media surveys and Gallup’s polling show clearlyThe Poynter survey shows media has seen a slight uptick in trust in the Trump era, overall, but that comes from a rise among Democrats, who have consistently had a better outlook on press coverage than Republicans over decades in Gallup’s poll.

This is a generation’s worth of eroding trust, particularly among conservatives, populists, and those outside the coasts and big cities, finding a voice in Trump. Before that, it found a voice in talk radio and Fox News, whose successes (and own share of narrative-suiting mistakes) were borne of the traditional media’s underserving half of America.

That doesn’t excuse Trump’s nonsense, damaging tweets about pulling broadcast licenses and changing libel laws. Trump doesn’t care much about anyone’s speech if it disagrees with him, and that’s an extremely bad trait in a president making public pronouncements. It doesn’t mean media is without its share of hard-working reporters who put in time all over America, trying to understand those who mistrust them most.

But the survey’s more disturbing findings—44 percent believe the media makes up stories about Trump more than once in a while—haven’t emerged simply because Trump asserts these things. He asserts these things because he’s an opportunist with a target that gives him plenty of opportunities.

Let’s take the weekend before this summit, for instance. On Friday, Brian Ross and ABC reported that President Trump told Gen. Mike Flynn, who had just pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, to contact Russians during the campaign. In fact, the timing was during the transition, which would be noncontroversial for an incoming administration, not collusion by a campaign involved in a conspiracy. Oops. Ross was held accountable after several hours of misfires.

At first the “correction” was merely called a “clarification,” but eventually Ross was suspended for four weeks. The ABC president took Ross off future Trump stories, and reportedly excoriated his staff, seeming to understand the damage the report had done.

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