The Whole Truth

Two stories caught my attention over the last week. On Sunday, 60 Minutes ran a Bill Whitaker piece on the dangers of reporting facts in the Philippines since Rodrigo Duterte became president. Maria Ressa, who runs a news site call Rappler, has been harassed by police and by Duterte supporters alike–not for running opinion pieces that disagree with his policies, but for reporting facts about the human costs of Duterte’s war on drugs. Her reporters have been threatened with murder and rape. Duterte has been so irked by Rappler coverage that he has created a ministry that reports only government-approved “news” on social media, decrying everything else as “fake.”

Sound familiar? How sad that we live in a world where any reportage of facts that cut against a preferred narrative results in the rejection of the facts–and the media outlet reporting them–rather than the preferred narrative.

Closer to home, the week before that, the Northwestern Daily, the student newspaper of Northwestern University, apologized for coverage of students who protested the appearance of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had been invited to speak by Northwestern’s College Republicans. A photographer took a picture of a student protester who later tweeted that she didn’t want to have her picture on the site. She found Sessions’ political beliefs and campus speaking engagement genuinely jarring, and accused the newspaper of capitalizing on the “trauma porn” of students who felt like she did. The paper took down the photo and apologized for running it, a decision widely mocked in the world of journalism.

As a recovering journalist, I often thank my lucky stars that my career path eventually led to teaching. I cannot imagine a field more beset by financial worry and political angst than journalism. What’s happening in the Philippines gives us a cautionary tale about autocrats who seek to suppress the freedom of the press. The Daily’s issues illustrate the importance of teaching journalists to report facts even when they’re uncomfortable–even when peers may face discipline for breaking campus regulations regarding protests.

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3 Responses to The Whole Truth

  1. Gracie Rowland says:

    In the modern age, suppression of the press has become commonplace, and the Duterte situation exemplifies this perfectly. The world of journalism is dying, and the only cure is clear truth. News stations in particular have become riddled with bizarre headlines and suppression of fact. 24 hour news stations lead to a constant need of news, which leads to a constant presentation of opinion as fact. The accuracy rate of many common TV news stations such as Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC is appalling. I think that the current widespread political bias in the world of journalism is absolute trash. There is a clear place for personal opinion in the place of news, but when fact and opinion blend into one there’s a definite problem.
    Pew Research center has some cool statistics on this: https://www.journalism.org/2016/07/07/trust-and-accuracy/
    https://www.people-press.org/2009/09/13/press-accuracy-rating-hits-two-decade-low/
    As for the Northwestern article, I hope that the girl who opposed the publishing of her picture understands what the hell a protest actually is. It’s a public (emphasis on public) display of indignation, and her willing participation in the protest existed as a marked acceptance to public view. I’m also kinda disappointed in the Northwestern newspaper staff for taking down the picture. Journalism is founded on the principle of raw truth, and the categorization of the picture as “trauma porn” is absolutely ridiculous.

  2. Andie says:

    I used to have a friend who lived in the Philippines (haven’t talked to her in a while, though), and I remember her being really scared when Duterte was elected president. The lack of accurate news coverage just serves to justify that: when a government begins to control what knowledge its citizens have access to, the power of the people will slowly diminish. I wish that the reason why freedom of the press is so important was more widely-known, so that maybe hearing that governments are controlling news media is a little more jarring. We’re becoming desensitized: it’s now all too common to hear about in countries such as China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba (https://cpj.org/2015/04/10-most-censored-countries.php is a convenient list published by the Committee to Protect Journalists with more countries with more countries, as well as their specific policies). At home, discreditation of the media by government officials (found especially in the popularization of the term “Fake News” by you-know-who) is a problem as well. I agree with Gracie in that the presence of political bias among different news outlets has only made it worse. Charts and graphs with inaccuracies and/or misleading details published by Fox News especially were common examples of what not to do in the Statistics 1 class earlier this year. These should be called out. Presence of bias should be called out. Grey area between someone speaking their opinion and someone reporting facts should be called out. And, again agreeing with Gracie, these callouts should be public: anonymous protests rarely mean much. If that weren’t the case, petitions would be pages of tally marks rather than names. Exceptions would be with anonymous polls, perhaps, but those are more displays of statistics than active protests. Or the white-hat hacking group Anonymous, where the identities of each member is unknown, but their protests are action along with displays of opinion. The difference between these instances and the Northwestern student’s case was that their form of protest demands their names and faces be attached. Anonymous polls are simply a third-party’s display of people passively having an opinion, and Anonymous’ actions are actual destructive action against entities. If your protest is only a display of opinion, that means inherently you are willing to attach yourself to it. That isn’t “trauma porn,” that’s just how you show that something means a lot to you.

  3. Auriel Q says:

    I was in the 8th grade when the 2016 election craze was consuming every outlet of media. I never took research seriously then because of how young I was and politics were (blindly) a serious topic to me but this goes to say that I repeated what family members said more than anything. However my teacher gave the assignment of researching the candidates and having a debate for the side that you agreed on during your research. I thought that would be easy enough and I was more than wrong, because each and every article carried a contradiction or an obvious bias towards one side. I felt that I had to choose which article presented facts correctly rather than consuming information just as it was presented. I mean it is never correct to just take things as is, however, the amount of dodging I had to do in order to find some sort of seamless facts was so incredibly awful that my 8th grade self couldn’t choose a side. I unaware of how to research properly.Now I am not trying to say that opinion pieces are bad but what I am saying is that the line between what is fact or just a very sided opinion is so smudged that with a normal reader or someone not as educated on the topic it could change their whole opinion. (This kind of branches to another topic but this definitely needs to be said here. If media continues to go out in this pattern then I feel that it is imperative to teach the youth of proper research because the only thing that I was taught was not to use Wikipedia and that anything with “.org” was a-okay)

    With that being said I think as time progresses there is no longer an emphasis on the culture of informing the world but rather trying to get the world on YOUR side. This goes with large leaders of course trying to suppress individual thoughts in fear of retaliation, but it also goes to even individuals being uncomfortable with how information was laid out about them even if they are true.( just like in the article of the protestors) Information is wonderful and the truth is even better, so I could not fully understand why someone would not want to be a part of it because when people understand the facts then that allows for so much growth and great change because people actually know what the *heck* is going on.

    I also would love to know what “trauma porn” even is

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