Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Interview: Norman Solomon says "there's a dire shortage of media literacy and appropriate skepticism"

Editor's note: This interview was originally published in March 2017.

This is the second half of my discussion with Norman Solomon. Read the first article here. 
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. 
Norman Solomon is a longtime activist for leftish causes, ranging from the anti-nuclear energy movement to opposing various military conflicts. Solomon is most well known, however, for his journalistic work, which revolves around exposing and preventing biased reportage. In 1997, he founded the Institute for Public Accuracy and had a nationally syndicated column from the early ’90s until 2009. 
He recently spoke with me about many issues concerning the American media. The first part of our conversation is included below.
Joseph Ford Cotto: Despite having unparalleled access to news outlets which confirm one's view of reality, a majority of Americans view the press itself negatively. To what can one chalk up this odd state of affairs?

Norman Solomon: Runaway corporate power has denigrated actual quality journalism, pushing it to the margins. At the same time, right-wing corporate media figures and outlets -- whether Rush Limbaugh and his countless imitators or Fox News and its numerous imitators -- have been on a longtime campaign to trash all news media that don't adhere to their political, social and cultural agendas.

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?

Solomon: The term "fake news" has become largely meaningless as a rhetorical tool aimed at media content that is intensely disliked, for whatever reasons.

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?

Solomon: You mean "outlandish, unconfirmed claims" -- such as the ones solemnly reported as absolute fact by the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR News, Fox, CNN, MSNBC and virtually all other mainstream U.S. media outlets -- that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein certainly had weapons of mass destruction just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003?

More generally, continuing in the current era, there's a dire shortage of media literacy and appropriate skepticism.

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?

Solomon: The term "fake news" has become a catch-all blunderbuss, brandished in all sorts of directions. At this point the phrase is about as useful as "political correctness" -- which is to say, not at all useful.

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?

Solomon: We need genuine investigative reporting more than ever.