This is the final article of my discussion with Craig Aaron. The first and second pieces are available.
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
Like actors on tour, issues enter and exit America’s political stage. Debate rages, then quells, and is often forgotten -- if not rewritten -- in the pages of history.
One topic that manages to remain en vogue, though, is media bias. Both sides of the aisle claim that powerful press agencies have stacked the cards against them. They say it is all but impossible for the whole story to be told because certain individuals have no interest in truth.
Where there’s smoke there must also be fire, correct?
An interesting, not to mention important, question for our day and age. The dawn of Donald Trump's presidency ignited a firestorm of scrutiny toward media figures. There has likely never been a time during which so much distrust and hostility flows at our supposed 'guardians of democracy'.
When the public no longer, on a general basis, places stock in the watchmen-and-women-on-the-wall, it does not take a clairvoyant fellow to see that dark storm clouds are on the horizon.
Troubles brewing within our national media go back long before the Donald took his famous ride down the escalator, though. Craig Aaron, as well as the group he leads, have watched with a keen eye as the dismay unfolded.
"Craig has led Free Press and the Free Press Action Fund since 2011," his biography at FP explains. "For more than a decade, he has been a leader in major campaigns to safeguard Net Neutrality, stop media mergers and consolidation, oppose unchecked surveillance, defend public media and sustain quality journalism. He works in Washington and speaks often to the press and the public on media and technology issues. He has written for The Daily Beast, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, The Hill, MSNBC, Politico, The Progressive, The Seattle Times, Slate and many other outlets. Before joining Free Press, he was an investigative reporter for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch and the managing editor of In These Times magazine. He is the editor of two books, Appeal to Reason: 25 Years of In These Times and Changing Media: Public Interest Policies for the Digital Age. He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism."
Aaron recentl spoke with me about many issues relevant to the American media. Some of our conversation is included below.
Joseph Ford Cotto: Regardless of however one should define 'fake news,' why do so many Americans believe outlandish, unconfirmed claims made by outlets that often have less-than-stellar track records?
Craig Aaron: I don’t really know. But I think it’s connected to how many folks haven’t been exposed to real news -- it disappeared from their TVs and local newspapers long before social media came along.
Cotto: Some in the mainstream -- or 'establishment' -- media have come to view 'fake news' as an offensive term. Do you believe that this perspective is justified by the facts?
Aaron: Yes, I think the way the president is using this term is offensive and dangerous. It smacks of authoritarianism. So I think reporters should recoil at the term and use it as inspiration to keep digging. But I also worry about mainstream outlets using the term to try to shut out voices that are doing real journalism even if it’s shaped by an ideological perspective. Trying to paint some progressive outlets, for example, as agents of Russia because they question U.S. foreign policy is preposterous.
Cotto: In our day and age, where individuals seem to care about evidence-based journalism less and less or are inclined to dismiss reportage on account of suspected bias, do investigative reporters still have a meaningful role?
Aaron: Their role is more important than ever. I question the idea that people care less -- I think they aren’t getting as much of it, in part because this kind of reporting has a much harder time cutting through all the noise. Imagine if we had fewer anchors making $20 million a year and fewer pundits on the network payroll and put that money back into real reporting. Imagine if we were asking the reporters we do have to spend time in the field rather than trying to post 12 stories a day. I bet you would see the attitudes about journalism change.
But that’s also why I’m hopeful. Because this political moment is the best case I’ve ever seen for having and investing in more investigative journalists. For every journalist who got into the field because they wanted to be Woodward and Bernstein but ended up doing something else, now’s their chance to remember why they became journalists in the first place.