How Mainstream Media Abandoned Fact-Based Reporting (2023)

In recent years, the landscape of journalism and news reporting has undergone a profound transformation. The traditional media, once hailed as the bastion of objective and fact-based reporting, has seemingly sacrificed these principles in favor of promoting their own social and political agendas. This shift is not only disheartening but also a cause for serious concern. In this article, we delve into the reasons behind the deterioration of fact-based journalism, from the reporting on critical issues like Black Lives Matter to the coverage of the 2020 election.

The Rise of Agenda-Driven Journalism

Sharyl Attkisson, a five-time Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist, and author of the book "Slanted: How the News Media Taught Us to Love Censorship and Hate Journalism," has been a keen observer of this disturbing trend. Her extensive experience in the field has provided her with valuable insights into how and why fact-based journalism began to crumble.

Attkisson's journey in journalism began with a passion for investigative work and a commitment to fairness and equality. Her pursuit of logical thinking led her to this career, and her love for writing fueled her path through the highly regarded journalism program at the University of Florida.

Over the years, she has worked for major networks and media platforms, including CBS, PBS, and CNN. Her career at CBS was marked by numerous national Emmy Awards and the Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting. However, it was at CBS News that she began to witness the slow erosion of fact-based reporting.

The Smear and Narrative Industry

What Attkisson describes as the "smear industry" and the "narrative industry" began to infiltrate newsrooms, introducing a troubling trend. These industries consist of corporations, PR firms, crisis management firms, nonprofits, and political entities that seek to manipulate and influence the news to align with their interests.

These influencers don't merely aim to ensure that news reports adhere to their talking points but actively push for stories to follow a predetermined narrative, regardless of the underlying facts. This not only subverts the core principles of journalism but also erodes public trust in the media.

The influence of these interests extended far beyond CBS News, affecting other national news organizations as well. It became increasingly challenging to engage in independent reporting that followed the facts wherever they led, rather than bending them to fit a predetermined narrative.

Journalists Speak Out

One of the remarkable aspects of Attkisson's book, "Slanted," is the candid accounts of numerous executives and journalists from top news organizations. These individuals acknowledge the decline of fact-based journalism and express deep concerns about the trajectory of the news industry.

These voices come from various prominent outlets, including ABC, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, and The New York Times. Their shared apprehension over the transformation of news into a platform for political and corporate interests is a powerful testament to the magnitude of the issue.

But why is this happening? The book delves into the reasons behind the shift, revealing that the decline of fact-based journalism is not merely a result of journalistic choices but is driven by a more significant momentum that has been building for years.

Objectivity and Neutrality Under Siege

Attkisson points out that even journalism groups, news organizations, and journalism professors have been complicit in reshaping the landscape of news. The very concepts of objectivity and neutrality, once considered sacrosanct in straight news reporting, have come under attack.

Some journalism professors and news organizations have openly disregarded the importance of objectivity and neutrality. They argue that these principles are outdated, claiming that bias and opinion have a legitimate place in journalism. This shift, which extends to major news outlets like The New York Times, has profound implications for the industry's credibility and public trust.

The Role of Social Media

The advent of social media has further complicated the landscape of fact-based journalism. While the internet initially offered a relatively free flow of information, it soon attracted the attention of those seeking to control the narrative. Corporations, political entities, and PR firms recognized the potential of the internet as a means to manipulate and influence public opinion.

In 2016, former President Barack Obama called for curating information in the online media environment, setting in motion a trend where third parties, often lacking expertise in the subjects they fact-check, began dictating what information should be accessible to the public. This curatorial approach, including fact-checking and content moderation, has influenced the way people perceive information on social media, search engines, and the broader internet.

Social media, once hailed as a democratizing force for information, has become another tool in the arsenal of those who aim to shape public opinion to serve their interests.

A Crisis of Confidence

In a broader context, this shift in the media landscape has created a crisis of confidence in our institutions. People have become skeptical of the media's ability to provide accurate and unbiased information. This skepticism extends to institutions such as government, health authorities, and even the election process itself.

The media's refusal to cover issues fairly and accurately has contributed to this crisis. When the public perceives that information is being dictated rather than reported objectively, it erodes trust in the very institutions meant to inform and protect the public.

The 2020 Election and Beyond

The media's coverage of the 2020 election was marked by a lack of critical and skeptical reporting. In contrast to what neutral journalism would have demanded, many media outlets appeared uncritically accepting of the narrative that emerged after the election.

Reports of fraud and irregularities were met with assertions that "there's no evidence," a statement that bypasses the rigorous investigative journalism that should have been conducted. Such responses ignored the need for thorough examination and verification of events on the ground.

Neutral journalism would have approached the election with a rational skepticism, monitoring for any signs of fraud, foreign interference, or manipulation, as lessons from the 2016 election had suggested. Instead, a narrative-driven approach dominated the media landscape, discouraging in-depth investigation and critical analysis.

The Path Forward

The decline of fact-based journalism is a matter of deep concern, not only for journalists like Sharyl Attkisson but for society at large. Rebuilding public trust and ensuring that journalism adheres to its fundamental principles is an ongoing challenge.

To navigate this landscape, one must seek out primary sources and alternative views. It is essential to approach news with a degree of skepticism and to question why particular narratives are being pushed. The public plays a vital role in demanding transparency and accountability from the media and its affiliated institutions.

In the face of these challenges, there is hope that by collectively advocating for fact-based reporting and rejecting the narrative-driven agenda, we can restore the integrity of journalism and reaffirm the media's role as a trustworthy source of information.

Sharyl Attkisson's book, "Slanted: How the News Media Taught Us to Love Censorship and Hate Journalism," serves as a crucial resource for those seeking to understand and address the issues facing modern journalism.

As we navigate this evolving media landscape, it's crucial to remain vigilant, seek multiple perspectives, and hold the media accountable for delivering the facts, free from manipulation and bias. Only then can we hope to restore the public's trust in journalism and ensure the integrity of information dissemination.

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