People who work for media companies are like people in most other professions. Some are really good at their jobs, some are horrifically bad. Some are as honest as a saint, others lie just about every time they open their mouth, or put hand to keyboard. Most are generally decent people just trying to get by and do the best they can.
Media companies follow the same pattern. Some try real hard to get the facts right, others try real hard to convince their viewers. Some achieve those goals better than others.
For a functioning democracy and civil society, it is very important that we learn to tell the difference between good journalism and bad. Between the real and the fake. Between those whose purpose is to educate and those whose purpose is to indoctrinate. Between legitimate media, and the rest.
What makes the legitimate media legitimate is that their internal purpose is to report things that are true and be factually correct. Illigitmate media’s internal purpose is to makes us to believe what they want and act how they want.
I define legitimate journalism as being both true and factually correct because one of the the ways we get tricked by untrue stories is when they selectively use facts to tell a bigger lie.
Illegitimate media lies to us purposefully.
Legitimate media tries to be good, and often is, but sometimes lets us down. Anyone who writes about current issues is going to make factual mistakes. Legitimate media corrects them, and doesn’t employ people who make them regularly.
The best way to understand what is happening in the world is to identify legitimate media and get your news from them, and to find outlets and individual journalists who have a good track record in being both factually correct and true. There will always be failures, but that is the best you can do. If you are getting your news from a source that is often wrong, you need to find a better source.
The links on this page offer are meant to offer insight into the news media, legitimate and not. Of course I don’t agree with all of what they have to say, but I find them all educational, and hope you will too.
This is a typical list of traditional journalistic ethics from Jim Lehrer from a journalist conference in the late 1990s. The whole document is an interesting, if very dry, read if you are interested in traditional media ethics. Lehers statement is about as good as any I’ve seen, it provides good guidelines for Congress people as well. I will abide by it in my campaign for Congress, and if I am elected.
- Fairness: treat people as you would like to be treated. Make fairness as high a newsroom priority as speed and accuracy.
- Behave with civility: while honoring the special role of the press in American democracy, remember that journalists are no more important to society than people in other professions. Avoid macho posturing and arrogant display.
- Do not use the First Amendment reflexively as a shield against all criticism of journalists. Journalists do not have special rights. It is not our First Amendment, but the people’s.
- Give people attacked or criticized, by you or others, a fair opportunity to respond.
- Correct errors quickly and prominently.
- Practice transparency: let your values and practices be known to your staff and the public. Be willing to discuss how well you implement those values when challenged.
- Put news in a context necessary to avoid distortion.
- Respect complexity. Other people’s lives and professions are just as complicated and fascinating to them as ours to us. They deserve that presumption when we approach them.
- Do not sensationalize.
- Respect privacy unless there is an overwhelming need to invade it.
- Avoid “gotcha” journalism.
- Do not ambush.
- Quote accurately. Do not invent quotes. What appears inside quotation marks must have been said by the person quoted.
- Journalists are also citizens of the democracy and have an inter- est in the health of its institutions.