I awoke this morning to two stories in my news feed I feel are pretty strongly related to one another.
First was the results of a Pew Research study into public perceptions of the media. According to Pew, far more right-of-center Americans distrust the journalism industry than their left-of-center neighbors:
Fresh data affirm a long-running crisis for U.S. media organizations: Republicans and conservatives just don’t trust them. A May 2017 Pew Research Center noted in stark terms how the media-trust gap is widening between the parties. Now comes a Gallup/Knight Foundation survey with a finding that cements common wisdom on the topic.
Asked to estimate the percentage of news on TV, radio and newspapers that qualifies as “misinformation,” Republicans said 51 percent; Democrats, 23 percent. For conservatives and liberals, the corresponding figures are 54 percent and 24 percent.
The article’s author Erik Wemple goes on to blame President Trump “harrumphing baselessly” about “fake news,” but it’s not like this is a new development in the Trump era. Conservatives and Republicans have long had a problem with left wing media bias. Trump didn’t create that situation. He just capitalized on it.
Anyway, right after I read Wemple’s article I read another which uncovers the fact that the crying child on a recent Time cover, one supposedly representing the thousands of children separated from their parents at the southern border in recent weeks, was not in fact separated from her parents:
The photo of the little girl crying as a U.S. Border Patrol agent patted down her mother became a symbol of the families pulled apart by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the border, even landing on the cover of Time Magazine. But the father of the girl confirmed to The Washington Post Thursday night, June 22, that the child and mother were not separated.
The heart-wrenching image, captured by award-winning Getty Images photographer John Moore, was spread across the front pages of internationalnewspapers. It was used to promote a fundraiser that has collected more than $18 million to help reunite separated families.
You wouldn’t be wrong to argue that this doesn’t really change any of the facts on the ground about family separations at the border. That this girl specifically, the subject of a particularly heart-wrenching photo, wasn’t separated is beside the point.
But it does illustrate a very real problem the journalism industry has. Our nation’s newsrooms simply do not have a lot of thought diversity. Most reporters are left-of-center in their politics. This creates a situation where even well-meaning people trying to portray the truth for the masses can be sympathetic to narratives and arguments which fit how they see the world, and more hostile to those that do not.
When I’ve had a debate about this with friends and colleagues who are journalists they shrug the issue off. “What do you want to do, implement an ideological quota for hiring?” one asked me.
It’s a fair question illustrating that there are no easy fixes to the problem. But it might help if the nation’s editors and publishers and producers acknowledged that this is, in fact, a problem.
The Time cover is intended to make a provocative point about President Trump’s immigration policies, but that point is undermined by the fact that the child used in the image isn’t what she portrayed as being.
A newsroom more diverse in its worldview might have been able to catch that.