Whom do you trust to provide accurate information? It’s not a rhetorical question. Think about how you get your news. Some of it you get it from traditional means: television, radio, print. Others will get it from more modern methods: online publications, podcasts. Still others will keep up to date through social media and whatever their friends post to Facebook and Twitter.
Now think about who you don’t trust. If you pay even a little bit of attention to media sources, you likely have a list of go-tos and a list of liars. Those on the left will obviously take anything said by Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, Mark Levin, or The Daily Wire with a large grain of salt, while those on the right will scoff at MSNBC, CNN, the New York Times, and Huffington Post. Before the 1980s, America had three television stations, a few national print publications, and your local newspaper. That was it. With the addition of FOX and the rapid growth of cable television, more news sources became available. Now, with the advent of a myriad of different ways to attain news, bias confirmation and echo chambers are more prevalent than ever.
But who else do you not trust? According to the 2018 American Institutional Confidence Poll, if you’re like most Americans, you don’t trust Congress, and you don’t trust political parties. In fact, according to that survey, those two demographics come in dead last out of 20 categories. And if you were to account for party affiliation, they both still rank in the bottom five for Democrats and Republicans. Ironically, the only other institution to pull off that feat is Facebook. So we don’t trust media, we don’t trust Congress, and we don’t trust the political parties.
Luckily for us, all three of those were on display these last few weeks with the impeachment hearings. And no, this article won’t be about the hearings, because G-d knows we don’t need more analysis on the testimony. But here are the basic outcomes: if you are in Congress, and you went into the hearings thinking you would vote to impeach, nothing that happens over the course of the hearings will change your mind. If you are in Congress, and you went into the hearings thinking you would vote to acquit, nothing that happens over the course of the hearings will change your mind. And if you went into the hearings with an open mind, and just wanted to hear the facts play out, then you are not in Congress.
This exact divide is playing out all across the media. Listening to the left-leaning news sources, you would think that Donald Trump was about to be executed, what with all the devastating bombshells that keep landing on his doorstep. And if you listened to the right-leaning news sources, you would think that Democratic House members must be gaining a tremendous amount of weight, what with all the nothingburgers they are constantly consuming.
Political commentator Ben Shapiro has a constant refrain that he wants everyone to read his website and the Huffington Post website. Whatever you see that overlaps is news. Everything else is editorializing. That’s not true anymore. If a devastating piece of news breaks, many sites just won’t cover it. Just look at the issue I covered last week, wherein a severely damaging leaked video from a news agency resulted in the firing of an employee by another news network. You know who didn’t cover those stories at all? Those two news networks. The same holds true in politics. If a story is too damaging to one party, it’s not guaranteed to be covered at all by those outlets who align politically with the damaged side. How many reporters did Fox News send to the US-Mexico border during the immigration crisis? How many reporters did CNN send to the border during the Obama administration? The media covers what it wants to cover, and that is definitely outlet-specific.
Let’s look at one story in particular that is getting absolutely no media coverage, and that is the story of David Daleiden. It’s amazing to me that Daleiden’s name is not more known in households, as he is responsible for perhaps the most important undercover investigation in the past 20 years, maybe longer. In 2015, Daleiden exposed Planned Parenthood for selling off baby body parts, as well as many other unethical practices. Planned Parenthood is now suing Daleiden on many grounds including breach of contract and unlawful recording of conversations.
This should be headlining the news everywhere. If journalists aren’t able to do undercover investigations, they aren’t going to be able to expose many of the corrupt practices being committed every day by the nation’s worst offenders. If you think about it, many police and federal investigations begin with media reports. And I’m not sure why media outlets wouldn’t be paying closer attention to this case, as the outcome will have a major effect on their ability to continue to do the work they currently do. Oh wait, never mind. I do know why they are ignoring it. The footage looks really bad for Planned Parenthood. By bringing attention to this case they will have to focus on the terrible practices employed by their favorite organization, damaging Planned Parenthood’s “stellar” reputation.
All this plays into trust. If the stories you care about are being ignored by certain networks and publications, you tune out of them, and into one that covers it. This continues to create two ever-growing echo chambers that are only exacerbated on social media.
So what can actually be done about it? How can we actually separate fact from opinion? Unfortunately, I don’t have a great answer for that as far as the general news is concerned. However, as far as the specific case of the impeachment hearings are concerned, watch the testimony on CSPAN without commentary. Make up your own mind on how the facts are presented by witnesses, and then you can listen to the talking heads explain why the president is either Satan or saint. At least this way you can make an informed, untainted decision on your opinion. However, this literally can only work when the facts unfold in front of you. Unfortunately, we’re not able to be at the scene of every incident being reported on the news. We have to rely on biased opinion. Just remember that the news networks, more than reporting the facts, want to retain your eyeballs. They will do anything to make their programming more inviting, and if that means twisting it so that you can confirm what you are thinking, they’ll do it. There is very little money in reporting facts. There is a lot more in reporting opinions, especially ones that agree with you.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.