MASTERSON ONLINE: Where is truth?

Posted: November 4, 2017 at 2:05 a.m.

This is quite an untenable predicament we’ve allowed ourselves to be steadily dragged into over the past three decades.

And it’s reached the point in this hyperpoliticized, party-desires-trump-truth society where most of us no longer know whom or what to believe. As a result, how are we to know where truth lies in virtually any national issue? Is anyone’s word from government credible any longer?

Without truthful and trustworthy sources, how do we stay informed with facts we need to make informed decisions?

I don’t know about you, but I need only watch a few minutes of any self-declared news program, or read national press coverage, to recognize the obvious bias behind their offerings. The American people by and large recognize the sustained attempts to influence their political opinions and attitudes by what is and is not reported and how they do it.

The prejudice and smears are palpable in all the slanted writing, display, verbiage and spin.

Far too many purveyors of “news” have abandoned their objectivity and any sense of fair play and balance in what they dispense for public consumption. It feels more like a calculated effort to intentionally alter the hearts and minds of those they hope will believe them.

However, lately these attacks have been backfiring. The more a group of news types tries to poison the minds of those who watch or read their obvious pushes to discredit one group, the more astute readers and viewers become alienated from the press.

The failures to neutrally report documentable truths about both political parties equally increasingly causes many adults to dismiss and discredit the easily identifiable agenda advocates.

Our press was intentionally left free under the First Amendment, enabling it to function as the so-called Fourth Estate to scrutinize government. It wasn’t to protect propaganda or cheerleading for a favored group of mutual back-scratchers.

Which brings me to my opening point. Where do Americans turn to learn the best obtainable versions of truth in an era of fake news, biased national media and endless hyperbole? Each of us has to answer that for ourselves.

I’ve written previously of the friend who asked years ago if I knew what product would be worth money one day which wasn’t considered valuable then. I smiled and playfully guessed “rutabagas.” His response: “It’s credibility. Just wait and see!”

I won’t be surprised one day to meet this same fella offering psychic readings at a state fair.

This widespread loss of national media credibility soon became obvious, as evidenced by a 2005 report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. That group found that over the previous 17 years Americans had “come to see the press as less professional, less moral, more inaccurate and less caring about the interest of the country.”

At that time, columnist John Leo also wrote that the report showed fewer than half of Americans thought of the press as highly professional (49 percent, down from 72 percent 17 years earlier).

Gallup agrees (if you can find credibility even in polls anymore). Its pollsters found in 2016 that Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” had plummeted to its lowest level in Gallup’s history.

Only 32 percent said they had a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. That pathetic figure is a drop of eight percentage points from the previous year.

There’s no question for me the national media’s credibility remains slowly circling in a nose dive of its own creation. That can’t bode well for bottom line in a business aggressively vying for viewers and readers. It also can’t be positive for credibility that in 2012, reportedly 90 percent of the nation’s media was controlled by just six corporate business (not journalistic) owners.

I don’t care to watch any news program I no longer trust to be fair and honest, do you? Once sacrificed, how is that faith ever restored?

Like most journalists of my Watergate generation, I wasn’t trained to become a flaming activist for one political party or protective of favored politicians. I can’t recall a single class on how to aggressively push one ideology and denigrate another for personal beliefs, or further polarize a frustrated, angry America.

We journalists-in-training during the early ’70s were largely guided toward pursuing the best obtainable versions of truth we could find and reporting them objectively, as the First Amendment intended, for our readers’ information. I don’t recall being told our responsibility was to report almost exclusively on (and inflate) the shortcomings of one party when there was plenty of waste, fraud and corruption in both parties to require constant watchdogging.

The journalism instruction I recall from UCA was to root out facts and report them fully and impartially (no intentional, inconvenient omissions). That included choice of wording and the way gatekeeping editors chose to play the stories and headlines. After all, our readers came from all political, social and religious beliefs.

We were neither political operatives, nor social engineers calling ourselves journalists. It was a serious calling. For if we failed in our sacred responsibilities, who would, or could, inform the people without favor or animus?

So, valued readers, where do we turn today for the truths we desperately need in an unprecedented era where special interests with enormous caches of money clearly have perverted the democratic republic that directs our lives?

Somehow, I don’t believe it’s social media, Facebook or Twitter.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.