Why no one trusts the media to get the bombing story right

Andrew McCarthy writing at the National Review has some thoughts on the way the media is covering the attempted bombing of prominent Democrats.

Speculation is not "news" although many in the media are reporting it as such. In fact, as McCarthy points out, actual "facts" about the story are severely lacking, leading to broadly based blame casting on the right which has absolutely no basis in fact.

The political Left has been known to orchestrate frame-up attacks designed to make it appear that right-leaning opponents are responsible for violent acts and plots.

If I wrote the paragraph above in the context of reporting or commenting on the pipe bombs that were reportedly sent by an unidentified person or persons to prominent Democrats, many people would react angrily, and rightly so. After all, there is no evidence that the atrocious but thankfully unsuccessful targeting of the Obamas, the Clintons, CNN, George Soros, and Eric Holder (as well as “Debbie Wasserman Shultz,” whose Florida office, with her name misspelled, was given as the return address on some of the packages) was carried out by political leftists. There is no proof that any Democrat was hoping to cast suspicion on Republican supporters, to suggest to voters, less than two weeks before the midterms, that Trump and GOP rhetoric incites violence. To intimate, in the absence of any proof, that left-wing agitators may be responsible would be a condemnable smear.

So why the automatic, knee jerk supposition that the bombing is the work of right wing Trump supporters?

At this point, there is no evidence whatsoever that provocative words from the president had anything to do with the sending of bombs. Indeed, there is as yet no known evidence of who is behind these possible attacks. And speaking of “attacks,” why, in light of the context of a possible bombing spree, is the Times asserting that Secretary Clinton, President Obama, and Mr. Soros have “figured prominently in conservative political attacks”? They have not been subjected to “attacks” in the sense conveyed by this report; they have been on the receiving end of mere political criticism, not the subjects of attempted political assassinations.

There is plenty of media commentary at the moment about incivility, in the form of incendiary rhetoric and actions. This is entirely appropriate. But I’m at a loss to understand how the climate is improved by spicing up reports with thinly veiled suggestions that President Trump may have triggered a series of potentially murderous attacks on political opponents. When Bernie Sanders supporter James Hodgkinson opened fire on the Republicans he targeted and nearly killed Representative Steve Scalise, I don’t recall much Times speculation about whether he could have been set him off by Democrats urging their supporters to get aggressive — “get in their face”; “if they bring a knife, we bring a gun” — when dealing with political adversaries.

Many will attribute these thoughtless, fact free attacks on Trump and the right as simple media bias. It's certainly part of the problem. But there's a deeper, more troubling issue in journalism that has no solution.

Marshall McLuan's famous adage, "The medium is the message" has never been truer than it is today. The "medium" is the internet and the message is "Get it out at the speed of light and if its wrong, fix it later."

For those born and raised in the internet age, it might come as a surprise that, at one time, "journalism" was a reflective craft. A reporter would gather the facts, confirm them, assemble them in a (hopefully) coherent manner so that the news consumer could understand them, and offer a clearly marked "opinion" or "analysis" of what it all meant.

But there is no "reflection" on news broadcasts today or on newspaper websites. Events are reported and commented on in real time. There's no time to assemble facts. There's no time for anything except reaction by the reporter - augmented by talking heads and "experts." That reaction is almost always, by necessity, full of a reporter's biased assumptions of "what it all means."

Even after some of the facts have been revealed, the reporter tries to fit those facts into the "narrative" that has already been established. Hence, the first blush reporting of a major story - a terrorist attack or an attempted bombing - becomes nearly set in stone. Try altering the narrative once the facts have been carefully placed to "prove" various assumptions and you're usually labeled a conspiracy nut. 

There's no solution to this problem. We just have to relearn how to be a good news consumer. What for the facts. Try to divorce the facts from the narrative and form your own opinion about what those facts actually mean. 

It may be that the attempted murderer of prominent Democrats will turn out to be a right wing nut acting out Donald Trump's bellicose language about the media and his other enemies. Or, it may not. The simple point is that for all the millions of words and hours of cable news broadcasts already devoted to this story, nobody knows jack crap about the old fashioned mantra of old school journalists; who, what, when, how, why.

 

Andrew McCarthy writing at the National Review has some thoughts on the way the media is covering the attempted bombing of prominent Democrats.

Speculation is not "news" although many in the media are reporting it as such. In fact, as McCarthy points out, actual "facts" about the story are severely lacking, leading to broadly based blame casting on the right which has absolutely no basis in fact.

The political Left has been known to orchestrate frame-up attacks designed to make it appear that right-leaning opponents are responsible for violent acts and plots.

If I wrote the paragraph above in the context of reporting or commenting on the pipe bombs that were reportedly sent by an unidentified person or persons to prominent Democrats, many people would react angrily, and rightly so. After all, there is no evidence that the atrocious but thankfully unsuccessful targeting of the Obamas, the Clintons, CNN, George Soros, and Eric Holder (as well as “Debbie Wasserman Shultz,” whose Florida office, with her name misspelled, was given as the return address on some of the packages) was carried out by political leftists. There is no proof that any Democrat was hoping to cast suspicion on Republican supporters, to suggest to voters, less than two weeks before the midterms, that Trump and GOP rhetoric incites violence. To intimate, in the absence of any proof, that left-wing agitators may be responsible would be a condemnable smear.

So why the automatic, knee jerk supposition that the bombing is the work of right wing Trump supporters?

At this point, there is no evidence whatsoever that provocative words from the president had anything to do with the sending of bombs. Indeed, there is as yet no known evidence of who is behind these possible attacks. And speaking of “attacks,” why, in light of the context of a possible bombing spree, is the Times asserting that Secretary Clinton, President Obama, and Mr. Soros have “figured prominently in conservative political attacks”? They have not been subjected to “attacks” in the sense conveyed by this report; they have been on the receiving end of mere political criticism, not the subjects of attempted political assassinations.

There is plenty of media commentary at the moment about incivility, in the form of incendiary rhetoric and actions. This is entirely appropriate. But I’m at a loss to understand how the climate is improved by spicing up reports with thinly veiled suggestions that President Trump may have triggered a series of potentially murderous attacks on political opponents. When Bernie Sanders supporter James Hodgkinson opened fire on the Republicans he targeted and nearly killed Representative Steve Scalise, I don’t recall much Times speculation about whether he could have been set him off by Democrats urging their supporters to get aggressive — “get in their face”; “if they bring a knife, we bring a gun” — when dealing with political adversaries.

Many will attribute these thoughtless, fact free attacks on Trump and the right as simple media bias. It's certainly part of the problem. But there's a deeper, more troubling issue in journalism that has no solution.

Marshall McLuan's famous adage, "The medium is the message" has never been truer than it is today. The "medium" is the internet and the message is "Get it out at the speed of light and if its wrong, fix it later."

For those born and raised in the internet age, it might come as a surprise that, at one time, "journalism" was a reflective craft. A reporter would gather the facts, confirm them, assemble them in a (hopefully) coherent manner so that the news consumer could understand them, and offer a clearly marked "opinion" or "analysis" of what it all meant.

But there is no "reflection" on news broadcasts today or on newspaper websites. Events are reported and commented on in real time. There's no time to assemble facts. There's no time for anything except reaction by the reporter - augmented by talking heads and "experts." That reaction is almost always, by necessity, full of a reporter's biased assumptions of "what it all means."

Even after some of the facts have been revealed, the reporter tries to fit those facts into the "narrative" that has already been established. Hence, the first blush reporting of a major story - a terrorist attack or an attempted bombing - becomes nearly set in stone. Try altering the narrative once the facts have been carefully placed to "prove" various assumptions and you're usually labeled a conspiracy nut. 

There's no solution to this problem. We just have to relearn how to be a good news consumer. What for the facts. Try to divorce the facts from the narrative and form your own opinion about what those facts actually mean. 

It may be that the attempted murderer of prominent Democrats will turn out to be a right wing nut acting out Donald Trump's bellicose language about the media and his other enemies. Or, it may not. The simple point is that for all the millions of words and hours of cable news broadcasts already devoted to this story, nobody knows jack crap about the old fashioned mantra of old school journalists; who, what, when, how, why.