Friday, October 26, 2018

Interview from the Archive: Bernie Goldberg warns that "fake news is not news we just don’t like"

Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 12, 2017.

This is the final article of my discussion with Bernie Goldberg. The first and second segments 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. 
Over the last several years, veteran journalist Bernie Goldberg -- whose resume includes, among many other things, the CBS Evening News and Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor, has devoted much of his career to analyzing media coverage. While this has not come without controversy, it has resulted in a string of bestselling books and a revived conversation about the role that bias plays. 
He recently spoke with me about key issues relating to the American media. Some of our conversation is included below.
Joseph Ford Cotto: 'Fake news' became the buzz-term of late 2016 due to the role it played in last year's presidential election. This term is a loaded one, with those from different sides of the political divide having their own favored definitions. What does 'fake news' mean to you? 

Bernie Goldberg: Fake news is news that is made up out of just about nothing.  The story about Hillary Clinton running an underage sex ring out of a pizza parlor in Washington is fake news.  Attributing things to Donald Trump he never said is fake news.  But fake news is not news we just don’t like.

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?

Goldberg: People believe news they want to believe.  So if one hates Hillary, they’re more likely to believe she ran that sex ring out of that pizzeria.  You have to be an imbecile to believe such garbage, but if you detest her, you’re more likely to believe it.  And the same goes for fake news about the president.  If you detest him, as the hard left does, you’ll believe just about anything bad about him – no matter how crazy.

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?

Goldberg: It’s justified when the news is real and is only called fake to discredit the story. Then, journalists have every right to be offended. Let’s be clear: Mistakes aren’t fake news.  Biases aren’t fake news.  Fake news is “news” concocted out of nothing.  Every now and then a journalist is guilty of that.  But it’s rare.

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?

Goldberg: Yes.  Investigative reporters do the heavy lifting.  They spend months, sometimes years, on stories that need to be told.  So their findings, if legitimate and accurate, shouldn’t be minimized.  But our attention spans are not what they used to be.  I’ll leave the reason for that to the people who study evolution – but I suspect it has something to do with the fast pace of technology in our modern world. So I’m not sure we accept long investigate reportage the way we used to.  But if the story is big enough and important enough and accurate enough, we’ll listen.  And if we don’t, the consequences will fall on all of us.

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