“We Don’t Make The News” And Other Lies The Media Tell Themselves

By Mark Jacob

Journalists like to tell us what’s happening, but they hate being held responsible for what happens. “We just report the news,” they say. “We don’t make the news.”

And if MAGA fascism prevails in America, most journalists won’t think they bear any responsibility.

We warned you, they’ll say.

We put the fascists on TV so you could see how bad they were. We let them lie about the government and spread hatred toward marginalized groups. We showed you who the fascists were. And to make sure you got the message, we gave right-wing extremist liars huge amounts of airtime day after day, year after year. We amplified fascist hatred. We figured the public would know these people were lying and hateful. And we pushed back sometimes, too, but man, do those fascists talk fast, so we couldn’t correct everything.

You see, it’s not our fault. We were just doing our job.

When news organizations defend their platforming of fascist liars, they don’t seem to understand the power of television, especially its ability to legitimize extremism. Many viewers think if someone is on TV, it means they’re important. And if they didn’t have something significant to say, TV stations wouldn’t put them on the air. Right?

Millions of people thought Donald Trump was a great businessman because they saw him fire people on “The Apprentice” and because he hired someone to ghost-write a book called “The Art of the Deal.” And when he ran for president in 2015 and 2016, he was an instant generator of controversy, which made him a favorite of television’s ratings chasers. News execs may have told themselves they were just covering politics, but there’s no doubt they had an irresistible Trump addiction back then.

And even today, major media seem unable to resist the supposed entertainment value of Trump. A recent New York Times story described Trump as “famously blustery,” treating him like a lovable scamp rather than a liar who poses a lethal threat to our democracy.

Other MAGA prevaricators also get a bright red carpet on mainstream news.

On the Sunday news shows, CNN and ABC platformed two of the biggest liars in America, Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Lindsey Graham, to ask about Trump’s indictment on charges of stealing classified documents. Jordan argued that Trump declassified the documentseven though Trump is on audio saying otherwise. Graham claimed that “Hillary Clinton did very similar things” when she clearly did not.

Both CNN’s Dana Bash and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos pushed back against their guests’ dishonesty. But so what? The news media likes to fool itself into thinking it wins these clashes. But the liars get to lie on national television.

So what should media do? Ignore a major political party completely? No. But avoid live interviews with consistently dishonest people. Record the interviews and fact-check them thoroughly. Consider not sharing their dishonest statements with your audience. Also, tell your guests that if they keep lying, you won’t invite them back.

Instead, Bash told Jordan: “Thank you so much for joining me this morning.”

And Stephanopoulos told Graham: “Senator, thank you for your time this morning.”

In other words, thank you for lying to our audience. Please come back and do it again.

Mark Jacob, a former metro editor at the Chicago Tribune and co-author of eight books, is a consultant for Courier Newsroom.