By Ken Frederic | May 06, 2019

Last week was the second week of Easter. The story of "doubting Thomas" challenges Christians to examine their own belief. Our pastor took that challenge a step further, asking not just do you believe, but, what do you believe? The question is intentionally unsettling and more difficult to answer. It is, moreover, not limited to questions of faith.

A phone app advertisement includes the line “…I was only listening to news I agreed with.” Is it even possible to agree or disagree with news? If so, what do you believe "news" is? Is getting news from “all sides” even a rational thought? If so, what are the sides?

The term “yellow journalism” dates back to 1883, when competition between William Randolph Hurst and Joseph Pulitzer for readership spawned something also called “checkbook journalism.” The competition for sensational headlines and a good narrative led to selective reporting of facts and exaggerated interpretation of what those facts demonstrated. Checkbook journalism is intense today. The proliferation of cable news channels, online publications and social media has done nothing to reduce the homogenization of exaggeration, opinion and fact. Few people get their news from printed media, so providers can target readers with individual pieces based on what they’ve read before: We’ll be fed news we “agree with.” But much of the media actively advocates for one "side," and that has led to opposing "news" being suppressed.

We complain about negative political advertisements, but consultants tell candidates a negative assertion, once attached to the opposition, will require eight repetitions of refuting facts to overcome. Smearing is just good economic strategy. And, despite what is often said, purveyors of "news" have no pocketbook motive to unite Americans. We’ve become divided and subdivided into opposing groups by political affiliation, economic status, gender, age, religion, race, region and ideology. Feeding the divisions gets clicks, and clicks get advertising dollars. If what we believe about the other side is about negative personal characteristics ,not specific actions, it’s likely we’ve uncritically consumed selective reporting (fake news).

Getting real news is hard work, and it’s unpleasant, because checkbook journalism is pervasive and so is openly advocating for an agenda or a political party or an ideology. Sensational negative assertion sells better than boring facts. Senate Democrats last Wednesday confirmed, as if confirmation were needed, that all pretense of civility and truth-seeking has been abandoned in favor of hateful and offensive speechifying that will feed the hatemongers for weeks. Anyone who had read Robert Mueller’s report would know that none of those berating the attorney general had read it. But those senators were duty bound to read it, and not just throw a tantrum because the facts in it ended their attempted coup. What do you believe about the Mueller report, the "collusion" assertions, and the "obstruction" assertions?

What do you believe about Michael Avenatti, William Barr, Michael Cohen, Brett Kavanaugh, Robert Mueller, Nick Sandmann, Jussie Smollett, Michael Steele or others who’ve been in the news? For many of us, the answer may be: “Who do they play for?” But these people are key figures in current events and their stories represent information about issues that we are obliged to understand as citizens of our republic. While we elect representatives to make decisions on our behalf, it remains our duty to understand and oversee what they do and how they do it. It’s not enough to pick the candidate we’d most like to have a beer with, or worse, pick a candidate because someone we did have a beer with pronounced him a good guy. Sadly, that is what most of voters do.

If we would like less checkbook journalism and more adult behavior from our representatives, it will be up to us to make that happen. We must listen to what is unpleasant and separate facts from opinions and assertions. Only then is it valid for us to conclude which sources and individuals are honest brokers or dishonest and unethical "feather merchants" not worthy of further attention (or reelection). Only when people stop listening will the behavior of news providers change. Only when we make informed and rational, not emotional, choices at the polls and show our legislators we are paying attention by calling and writing will their behavior change.

What do you believe, and what will you do about it?

Comments (2)
Posted by: George Terrien | May 14, 2019 10:19

Compellingly put, Mr. Horvath.  Your words swell the growing river of good sense wide and deep enough to carry us all to a better future.

Posted by: Ronald Horvath | May 10, 2019 07:37

"So all the “fake news” was true. A hostile foreign power intervened in the presidential election, hoping to install Donald Trump in the White House. The Trump campaign was aware of this intervention and welcomed it. And once in power, Trump tried to block any inquiry into what happened.

Never mind attempts to spin this story as somehow not meeting some definitions of collusion or obstruction of justice. The fact is that the occupant of the White House betrayed his country. And the question everyone is asking is, what will Democrats do about it?

But notice that the question is only about Democrats. Everyone (correctly) takes it as a given that Republicans will do nothing. Why?

Because the modern G.O.P. is perfectly willing to sell out America if that’s what it takes to get tax cuts for the wealthy. Republicans may not think of it in those terms, but that’s what their behavior amounts to."  -Paul Krugman

Truly, Ken, only a rabid partisan could write " hateful and offensive speechifying that will feed the hatemongers for weeks" without ever mentioning trump, the most "hateful and offensive" speechifier in our nation's history.  When we ask right wing hacks like Ken Frederic what they believe  the obvious answer must be "nothing."  No "principle," no belief, no self-evident truth must stand in the way of protecting the worst monster to ever hold the oval office and the power of Republican obstructionism.

Patti Davis, daughter of Ronald Reagan, said it best perhaps in regard to the Republican party's betrayal of every America value:

"Yet at this moment in America’s history when the democracy to which my father pledged himself and the Constitution that he swore to uphold, and did faithfully uphold, are being degraded and chipped away at by a sneering, irreverent man who traffics in bullying and dishonesty, you stay silent...  If you are going to stand silent as America is dismantled and dismembered, as democracy is thrown onto the ash heap of yesterday, shame on you... But don’t use my father’s name on the way down.”

Or even Chris Wallace of Fox News (the yellowest news source on the planet):

“I know there are some people who don’t think this March 27th letter is a big deal — some opinion people on this network who may pushing a political agenda,” Wallace said, holding a copy of Mueller’s letter in his hand. “But, we have to deal in facts, and the fact is that this letter from the Special Counsel — and it was one of at least three contacts with the Attorney General between March 25th and March 27th — was a clear indication that [Mueller] was upset, very upset with the letter that had been sent out by the Attorney General and wanted it changed, or wanted at least added to, and the Attorney General refused to do so.”  

And, Yes, despite what you claim, they have read the Mueller report:

"It stuns me how quickly an investigation initiated by Republicans and run by Republicans looking into crimes committed by Republicans that resulted in a report written by Republicans and covered up by Republicans became "thanks for wasting everyone's time, Democrats" in the media."  -Jeff Tiedrich @itsjefftiedrich

Sorry, Ken, but this poor attempt at political harckery has nothing to do with gathering "real news" but only proves where the "pretense of civility and truth-seeking has been abandoned."  There's too much Russian oligarch money festering in Republican campaign coffers -$800,000 for Lindsay Graham, $2.5 million for Mtich McConnell (and you didn't see fit to mention that?)- to describe Republican motivation as anything else but "checkbook politics." And we all know the result, don't we.

"Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this, I will manage this process. … Michael, Putin gets on stage with Donald for a ribbon cutting for Trump Moscow, and Donald owns the republican nomination. And possibly beats Hillary and our boy is in. … We will manage this process better than anyone. You and I will get Donald and Vladimir on a stage together very shortly. That the game changer.'" -Felix Slater,a Russian-American mobster, convicted felon, and real estate developer.


That's what you're defending, Ken.  And what will you do about it?

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