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  • Writer's pictureNancy Dafoe

Where do you get your news? Perilous times for journalists and democracy

With all of the deliberate misinformation campaigns, many by foreign actors and enemies, how does the average American know she or he is reading or looking at a reliable source of information? Every news organization carries editorials that are deliberately provocative and designed to rile readers. Those belong on the Editorial or Opinion pages of a website or print medium.

When the opinions are contained in the front-page news headlines, however, there is a problem with the source. Journalists have been under attack by the Trump presidency unlike no other time in our modern history. Yet, news journalists are members of the Fourth Estate, or the fourth power in a democratic republic, with the ability to be one of the checks and balancing forces in our political system of government.

As a business and not simply a public service, media organizations are always looking for ways to increase profitability. Unfortunately, many traditional news sources have found that entertaining and spreading disinformation draws more readers and is, therefore, more profitable.

Even news organizations as esteemed as The New York Times and The Washington Post—unquestionably the best of the best—have given into provocation over reliable information at times. On the morning edition of The Washington Post on which the public hearings on the President’s impeachment investigation begin, WAPO ran a headline reading, “GOP and Democrats Push Dueling Messages on Trump’s Conduct.” This headline is an editorial in and of itself. On the front page of WAPO, another headline read, “How the decline of public trust shaped Trump’s, Nixon’s, and Clinton’s endgames.” The false equivalencies news organizations promote are as dangerous and disingenuous as deliberate misinformation campaigns by the Russians interfering in our politics and elections.

Headlines are often written by editors looking to draw readers by any means, not the news reporter who wrote the story. While the headlines are misleading here, in general, The Washington Post’s news articles relate reliable news.

Although our political parties are deeply divided with very different agendas, the greatest divides in our country would appear to be the result of what Americans believe from the sources of information they read or watch on television or their computers.

Once trained, spotting propaganda is fairly easy, but most Americans do not read or listen to television with this kind of discernment.

As a perilous time in journalism and our country’s increasingly fragile democracy, people are likely to only get their information from narrow choices which are frequently not news sources at all, but, rather, straight-up propaganda outlets. Literally thousands of real journalists, investigative reporters among them, have been laid off these last few years. This fact leaves fewer and fewer journalists on staff to investigate lies, propaganda, and deliberate misinformation they are fed from various sources of power, particularly the Executive Branch.

There are a few clues to make it easier to define reliable news sources, however. When the front page of the “news” source on the opening day of the impeachment proceedings is, “Palin says she is fighting to save her marriage” as is found in the “The Washington Examiner,” you should be able to identify a propaganda outlet fairly easily.

Fox “News” front page on the day of the opening of the impeachment public hearings features the headline and story “Report shows how Mexican cartels are poisoning US national parks.” Anyone even vaguely familiar with the Trump dog whistle and propaganda of demonizing all things from Mexico should be able to see the dangers in a headline like this one, pushed by Fox “News.” News is in quotation marks here, because Fox has become one of the most dangerous propaganda outlets with mass markets operating in this country to the detriment of our democracy, freedoms, and decency.

Nancy Avery Dafoe

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