A Feb. 13 letter to the editor in The Gazette caught my attention. It implied that corporate-owned media outlets can’t be trusted to present credible information. The writer then took specific aim at—you guessed it—conservative Fox News to help make his point. This left me wondering if the writer truly had a problem with “corporate-owned media” or just those that present a particular bias within their commentary.
The writer, Norman Aulabaugh, suggested that a local “community” radio station offers the answer to his and your prayers and can provide relief from our “fake news” epidemic. Among the shows Mr. Aulabaugh says offer “real news” is the Thom Hartmann program, the “No. 1 progressive talk show in America.” He fails to point out, however, that Hartmann’s show is syndicated by a corporate media firm, and it broadcasts on many commercial radio stations.
The writer demonstrates a misunderstanding in how media works and what separates credible sources of information from untrustworthy ones. As someone who has spent the bulk of my career in and around news/talk media, I would like to offer some points of consideration before shouting “fake news” or making grand assumptions about the consumers of certain programs.
Journalism requires training. It requires critical thinking and the ability to investigate and then report the facts. Reporters must filter out their opinions about the topics they cover, while seeking out only credible information.
The reporting from certain media outlets isn’t better because their programming tends to support a particular viewpoint on politics or other topics. Just because the Thom Hartmann show is popular among progressives doesn’t mean the information provided by the show is somehow more accurate.
Opinions and biased analysis permeate the media these days. The self-proclaimed news networks often spend much of their time discussing news reports with panels of so-called experts who offer only opinions and speculation.
While viewers or listeners might agree with their assessments, they’re not getting news.
Which brings me to the biggest point I want to make: Opinions that you don’t like are not “fake news.” They are not news at all. Opinions as presented on many shows today are strictly for entertainment purposes (to capture, grow and keep an audience that can consume advertising), though many people can’t tell the difference. When they hear an opinion they don’t like, they call it “fake news.” Likewise, they consider opinions that align with their beliefs to be “real news.”
To avoid any confusion among WCLO listeners, WCLO does not allow our news reporters to be hosts of opinion-based segments. We want to make it easy for a listener to discern between news and opinion.
As a person whose career has been spent in the news-talk industry, I would not presume to direct you to some source where you can be isolated from “fake news.” I can only encourage you to view information through a lens of facts. I encourage you to be an intentional media consumer and to remain alert for opinions that might be masquerading as “news.”
In assessing an opinion, ask yourself whether any tangible evidence backs up a claim. I also encourage you (and me) to consume at least a small amount of programming and media that runs contrary to your personal beliefs.
Also, work to separate program opinions from actual news, and resist the urge to reject any facts that might reflect poorly on your favorite politician or political party. Remember, facts don’t become opinions just because you don’t like them.
And to that letter writer who is convinced that his suggested media outlet somehow rises above the “fake news” and presents nothing but truth, well, to coin a digital term: LOL.
Tim Bremel is host of “Your Talk Show on WCLO Radio.”