Vanquishing the “Big Lie” | Should journalists ignore Trump? | Overuse of polling | Right to be forgotten

Vanquishing the “Big Lie”

Talk that the “Big Lie” — that the 2020 election was illegitimate — has not stopped since Biden’s inauguration. Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post has suggested steps for journalists to combat the spread of these untruths. Rather than pointing to claims of election fraud as “baseless,” journalists need to take the time to explain why these claims are false. The media also should use an “honesty litmus test” for election deniers since this kind of misinformation shouldn’t be given airtime alongside other news. Journalists have a role to play in countering propaganda. Says Sullivan, “democracy depends on a society accepting a common set of facts.” 

Should journalists ignore Trump?

According to Poynter reporter Kelly McBride, completely cutting Trump out of the news now that he is no longer president may backfire. Ignoring the former president, who is unlikely to be satisfied slipping out of the spotlight, might lead to the “Voldemort effect” in which Trump gets a sort of “ironic power” from a confirmation that media coverage of him is unfair. Reporters still need to be extremely conscious of how they are covering Trump, though. They can start by explicitly telling readers why Trump is being mentioned or quoted in their story, refraining from giving him headline quote attention and generally being cautious and selective in deciding which stories to cover. 

Overuse of polling

Media workers are arguing that polls are overplayed and unreliable, according to a new study coming out of Medill School of Journalism. 63.1% of the respondents “either agreed or strongly agreed that there was too much coverage” of polls. This matters because polls can affect voting patterns and donations. However, the negative responses may be emblematic of a larger issue, which is that overall election coverage needs to be reevaluated. 

Right to be forgotten

The Boston Globe has followed suit with some other newsrooms across the country with their introduction of a “fresh start” initiative which allows people to request to have stories published about them to be reviewed and removed from the Globe’s website. The process of anonymizing people who have been shadowed by embarrassments, mistakes, or minor crimes is part of an effort to improve criminal justice coverage. The initiative has changed the way that the Globe is looking at coverage.

Trump & platform bans | Distance from neutrality | $3 million from Google | Fox’s startling settlement

Trump & platform bans 

Tension between unchecked powers is escalating as Amazon has stopped distributing Parler and Trump’s voice continues to be shut down by social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Big Tech’s ability to place bans at will are headache-inducing conflicts. In his Columbia Journalism Review article, Mathew Ingram also writes that journalists have a responsibility to stop Trump from amplifying his pro-violence message.

Distance from neutrality

Roy Peter Clark, in Poynter, praises John Woodrow Cox’s Washington Post article covering the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Clark writes that Cox covered the event in a way that laid out the information with engaging language without being overly partisan. Clark examined Cox’s four paragraphs, admiring his storytelling-style writing and word choice that convey a message that wasn’t quite neutral, but was nothing short of the truth. The article questions whether or not journalistic practices need to change going forward.

$3 million from Google

The Google News Initiative is offering $3 million to news organizations to fact-check vaccine information. This not-so staggering amount adds to the total that has been given out by Google to combat misinformation regarding COVID-19. In this Nieman Lab article, Sarah Scire interviews Alexios Mantzarlis, Google’s “news and information credibility lead.” Mantzarlis argues that although it’s difficult to combat the huge amount of fake news out there, the process will hopefully be somewhat effective. The fact checkers are being presented with the ever-exhausting issue of partisanship, and fact-checking has become an unusually difficult task. There is ideology to be considered, and the people and organizations pursuing this fact-checking endeavor are trying to avoid accusations of falling too heavily on one side of the spectrum. 

Fox’s startling settlement

Ben Smith of the NYT has a story about a startling settlement paid by Fox News for its role in spreading false rumors about the death of Seth Rich in 2016. While the settlement this past October was costly for the network, what was even more surprising was an unusual clause — details of the settlement had to be kept secret until after the election. What is all that about?, asks Smith.

Fox News and Right-Wing Radicalization | Journalists as Targets | New Conservative Talk-Show Guidelines | How to Describe Trump’s GA Phone Call | Social Media and Riots

Fox News and Right-Wing Radicalization 

Ouch. In a scathing criticism of Fox News and other pro-Trump media outlets, The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan speaks to the past five years of conservative reporting that preceded and instigated the outburst of rioting at the capitol last week. Columbia journalism professor William Grueskin labeled the events as the logical conclusion of the past five years of reporting from Fox News. From birtherism in the Obama era to Covid denial and claims of election fraud, Fox News and other right-wing media have played a huge role in the radicalization of the right wing. 

Journalists as Targets

The public wanted to hear about the riots happening at the Capitol. The rioters had been trained not to trust the media. The combination of these two volatile elements led to journalists becoming a target during the January 6 events in Washington. Reporters Hsu and Robertson of the New York Times reported that during the insurrection, protesters were trying to suppress the media, carving “Murder the media” into a door of the capitol and fashioning a camera cord to a noose and hanging it from a tree. This clash between the radicals and the journalists increased the chaos of an already chaotic display of violence and rage. 

New Conservative Talk-Show Guidelines

Following the display at the Capitol last week, some conservative media organizations have taken action to counteract escalating anger from right-wing radicals. Cumulus Media, which specializes in conservative radio shows, has directed its talk-show hosts to stop espousing claims of election fraud. Executive vice president Brian Philips ordered his hosts to “help induce national calm NOW.” It’s still unclear as to whether or not the hosts will actually stop their inflammatory rhetoric and tell their listeners what they don’t want to hear: that Trump lost the 2020 election and the results must be accepted. 

How to Describe Trump’s GA Phone Call?

After Trump called Georgia election officials to attempt to change election results last week, journalists grappled with how to label the phone call. Some news organizations like New York Magazine called it a coup attempt, while others were more hesitant to label it as such. Poynter’s Kelly McBride weighs the pros and cons of calling it a coup. The anti-coup argument is that there was no military involvement, no arrests, and using the word “coup” is too harsh of a term, especially when the use of the term is not explained in the piece in which it is used. However, other journalists argue that the phone call fits the definition of a coup and is not too strong. Either way, the choice to use or not to use the term is one that carries a lot of weight, and it’s important that readers are given the ability to make their own decision and distinction. 

Social Media and Riots

In his weekly column, Ben Smith follows the career history of one of his previous colleagues at Buzzfeed, Anthime Joseph Gionet, who livestreamed his involvement in last week’s insurrection at the capitol. Gionet participated in the siege, but Smith described his interests as “aesthetic” rather than “journalistic,” explaining that Gionet was not motivated by ideology but rather fame and internet attention. That this man was driven to extremism by his own desperate need for a memorable online presence showcases the fact that the role of the internet and social media in these riots must not be underestimated. Furthermore, it proves that there is real danger in social media’s ability to foster extremism, Smith argued.