The Media's Credibility Gap
Back in 1967, the press was so frustrated by President Lyndon Johnson’s constant lies and manipulations that they used the term “credibility gap” to describe the difference between what he said and what he actually did.
Today that term can be applied, not only to some politicians, but to the press itself. Journalists say they’re reporting the facts, that they’re objective, but their articles are anything but truth-telling. They either leave out facts, picking and choosing which best fit their social justice narrative, or they use imagery that communicates sympathy for one side of the story while they merely give you the cold hard facts about the other. For example, they might tell you how most people aren’t for abortion on demand, but then they’ll show you images of poor women who are suffering from unwanted pregnancies. The bias is in how the story is emotively presented.
Worst yet, they spread fake news, like the nonsense that Donald Trump had removed the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. from the White House. The fake report spread like wildfire, but it wasn’t true. It’s no wonder that trust in the press is at an all-time low and that 84 percent of the population say fake news is a problem in this country.
Yet, many in the media don’t see themselves as the ones with the credibility gap. They’re the righteous ones, don’t you know, and if there is any delegitimizing of the media, they say the finger needs to be pointed at President Trump. In reality, they should be pointing their fingers at themselves.
During the past eight years, the press lost its credibility by not holding President Obama to account. Now they want to hold this president to account, but Trump is saying, “Hold on a minute, you’ve been lying for years, and you continue to lie and spread fake news about me” — and they have — so he says he’s going to hold them to account for the lies they spread. They won’t get away with it any longer, because he’ll just bypass them and use Twitter to get the truth out.
This is a disturbing trend, not because there’s anything wrong with the president using Twitter, but if the public loses all faith in the watchdog media and takes whatever the president tweets as truth, then an essential check on abuse of power will be lost. As much as we’d like to implicitly trust the president, we know that power corrupts, and it’s necessary to hold those who wield that much power accountable for their actions and words.
But instead of doing some self-reflection about their goals and methods, the media are crying foul, saying the president has no right to wage war against the holy and sacred media, as if they’re the untouchables. But they’re the ones who have sacrificed their credibility on the altar of their ideology, subjectivity, and ego. And yet, they want to make us believe that Trump is the problem because he “lies” and “manipulates facts.” They want to put all the focus on his lack of credibility, instead of admitting their own.
They distract with smoke and mirrors, claiming that Trump’s war on the press is unprecedented, the worst ever. But this simply doesn’t conform with history. Trump is not unusual. Presidents have been waging war against the press since the dawn of the nation. Both for good reasons and bad. From John Adams with the Sedition Act in which anyone critical of the government was arrested; to Abraham Lincoln, who arrested editors and publishers; to Richard Nixon, who yelled at his press secretary never to let another Washington Post reporter in the White House — there is plenty of precedent when it comes to presidents warring with the press.
JFK, the darling of the left, was compared to Hitler by journalists when he refused to give them information about foreign policy during the Bay of Pigs. Eisenhower, Johnson, Carter, and Obama, who went after Fox News, all attacked the media, causing reporters to opine that the end of the republic was near. And don’t forget Theodore Roosevelt, who called the fake newsmakers liars and "muckrakers."
The point is that Trump is not unprecedented or unusual. When he is telling the truth and the press is lying, he has every right to hold them to account. Just as the press needs to hold him to account when he’s lying. The thing is, our republic was built on the assumption that people in power will lie. This is why our founders put checks on political power, and it’s why we need a free press to do its job.
It’s the media’s responsibility to hold leaders to account. If they were inherently trustworthy, we wouldn’t need a press. But we’re not governed by angels. We’re governed by sinners. That’s why we need a free and responsible press. If they refuse to do their job, then they’re the ones undermining their own legitimacy.
Instead of seeing where they have failed, too many in the media are merely calling for journalists to form a united front against the administration, as if no one should be calling them out for their own lies and bias. But it’s not the job of the press to stick by one another when they lie or spread fake news. The greatest check on the press is ... the press itself! Journalists should hold one another to account, standing by each other when truth is told, but calling each other out when fake news is reported as fact.
As reporters compete in the public sphere, working to report facts with an aim toward fairness and objectivity, the best will rise to the top and they will be the ones with credibility. The press is not a monolithic institution, even though that’s how we use the term. It’s not us versus them, as in the unified “press” against the government. Sometimes it’s one media outlet against another, one reporter exposing another in the quest for truth.
In the end, the question posed to the American people won’t be “do you trust the media?" but "which media do you trust?” Those who win that trust will be the gatekeepers of our freedom.