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Mainstream Media -- the failure of Journalism

Dr. Hain was very perturbed by the media coverage of the 2016 presidential election. In the past, it would seem that one could expect that the purpose of a newspaper, or for that matter, a news-magazine such as "the Economist", was to present information, in a balanced fashion.

In 2016, the huge majority of the US media supported one of the Presidential candidates, Mrs. Clinton, and some engaged in "hit" pieces concerning the other candidate, Mr. Trump. The "Economist" and the New York Times were particularly egregious examples of reporters and editors that could not keep their passions concerning their own choice of political candidates separate from their jobs to report the truth. In particular, the media did not present "disinterested" coverage. They were part of the campaigns.

The Pulitzer prize for journalism was to be awarded to to recognize "the most disinterested and meritorious public service rendered by any American newspaper during the preceding year". It would be difficult to imagine this prize for "disinterest" being awarded for almost any of the election coverage in 2016. Rather it seems to Dr. Hain that mainstream media went "downmarket" to become simlar to grocery store checkout magazines, such as the National Enquirer..

What I took away from this election was that I could not trust mainstream media to keep their political preferences separate from their jobs as reporters, and furthemore, that I should consider mainstream media to be mainly "fiction" rather than "non-fiection". Regarding consequences, it seems to me that the American pubic is already "voting with their feet", as the traditional news print media is dying. This recent coverage of the election will likely accelerate this trend. Unfortuately, it does not seem that the new "digital media" has any greater love for responsible writing.

Dr. Hain has "helped out" many writers concerning his area of expertise, dizziness. The process is disturbing, again because of the lack of much connection between the writing and an effort to ensure that it is accurate. One talks to a writer -- usually having no knowledge at all -- then the article emerges -- often incorporating fragments from several different "experts". There is rarely any "proofing" process, and certainly no ability of all of the "expert" to affect the general conclusion of the "piece". We have generalists, writing about things they know nothing about, and implying that their opinons are those of the experts they interview.

The media failed to provide "disinterested" coverage in this recent election. Clearly, one would be a fool to "trust" the media. So what can or should they do about it ? Perhaps we could copy some of the tools from medicine.

In medicine, there was a huge shift in training that was triggered by a similar loss of confidence in doctors. The "Flexner" report caused a cataclysmic change in training that created our current system where physicians are generally expected to be well trained and to tell the truth. This is generally the case. The change did not extend to all branches of health care, and there are many groups that have a much looser standard for telling the truth, and as a result, much lower credibility.

I think the editors and reporters of major news media should be forced to undergo training once/year, similar to the process for physicians. Their training should emphasize the importance of telling the truth (i.e. ethics), determining what the truth is(i.e. providing "evidence"), and separating their emotional responses (which can go on the editorial page), from their reporting functions in the rest of the newspaper.

Perhaps a new "news" vehicle will emerge where "news" is linked to evidence and persons who take responsibility for the article. A good place to start would be to list the writer's of the articles at the top (or bottom) of the piece. Who are these writers who tell us in the Economist that one (or perhaps both) of our Presidential candidates is unfit for office ? Why don't they sign their name ? Why should newspapers and magazines escape the usual rule that one likes to know who is writing about something important ? If someone lies or just fails to do their homework, how does one assign blame ?

Besides signing their work, the model in academics where there is "peer review" of papers, might be a place to start. I would like to know both the qualifications of the writer (i.e. their onlne CV should be available) as well as the qualifications of persons who reviewed the article and agree that it is correct. I would like to see "references" to studies, where possible, and explicit identification of writing that is simply the opinion of the author. I would like to see corrections made to content that is wrong, linked to the original article.

 

 

© Copyright November 13, 2016 , Timothy C. Hain, M.D. All rights reserved.
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