“Many Americans,” according to a new report from the Pew Research Center, “say the creation and spread of made-up news and information is causing significant harm to the nation and needs to be stopped.”
Chartbeat, a company that offers a reader-engagement tool to clients including the Star Tribune, historically has found little correlation between what people share on social media and what they read. Even those who click on a headline may decline to scroll past the initial information.
Perhaps these things are related. But perhaps, too, people worry about “fake news” because journalists provide openings. Two recent examples come to mind.
Late last week, President Donald Trump tweeted that NASA “should NOT be talking about going to the Moon” but “should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part) … .”
Headlines mocked the parenthetical bit, even though it was understood that Trump meant the moon is a waystation for any Mars endeavor, not that the two heavenly bodies are one. The false focus distracted from a more appropriate one on the president’s whirling vision for the space agency, especially how it can be expected both to include and not include the moon in its Mars ambitions. (NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine clarified this week that inclusion remains the plan.)
Earlier this month, headlines reported that Trump had belittled Meghan Markle, the American-born Duchess of Sussex. An interviewer in Britain had asked during the president’s trip there if he knew Markle once called him “misogynistic” and “divisive,” and Trump replied, “I didn’t know that she was nasty,” omitting the implied ending “toward me.” It’s dismaying that the president trips to that word when talking about women, but in this case he didn’t hurl an insult unbidden. He answered a question in syntactical shorthand, as people do.
“Media” today encompasses many things, from national publications and broadcasts to websites to personal Twitter feeds. Traditional newsrooms like the Star Tribune’s handled these news items appropriately. At issue is the quality of coverage blending news, analysis and commentary. As purveyors of that varietal ourselves, we at Star Tribune Opinion (who coordinate neither coverage nor tone with the newsroom) believe it to be a useful adjunct to straight reporting when done in the interest of understanding.
Trump can be capricious, inscrutable and crude. But back to Pew, whose poll respondents absolve the media of the debasement of news but hold it responsible for a repair. Supplies for that job are found on the high road.