Reporters miss point with United story


Amid the controversy surrounding the United Airlines passenger who was aggressively dragged off an overbooked United flight a few days ago, a flurry of misinformation has surrounded the identity of the passenger.

Soon after videos of the passenger, not yet identified as Dr. David Dao, being dragged off the plane emerged on the web, news media outlets set out to determine the identity of the passenger. This led to some confusion over there being two Dr. Dao’s, one from Kentucky who had a questionable past, and one from Louisiana.

Reports identifying the passenger as Dr. Dao from Kentucky surfaced and soon news outlets and social media feeds alike were buzzing with commentary over the passenger’s salacious backstory as a doctor who had his medical license suspended for illegally prescribing painkillers, including in exchange for sex.

Questions about the identity of which Dr. Dao was on the plane circulated, with many on social media frustrated at traditional news outlets for reporting on the doctor’s past at all.

The story that should have been the focus of news reporting was simply the mistreatment of a passenger on an overbooked flight; his past was not relevant to the story. Focusing reporting on the doctor’s criminal record serves as an attempt to shift responsibility from United Airlines to the passenger.

Unfortunately, shifting blame to the victim is not unusual in the news cycle, something that has been evidenced through the news coverage of many police brutality stories.

The story was not about the doctor’s past mistakes, but rather should have been about the mistakes made by the airline in their treatment of passengers, the involvement of the law enforcement officer and a discussion of unfair policies practiced by airlines that hurt customers.

Trump tweets change news coverage


“Mr. Trump said on Twitter,” has become a common way to source quotations from the President of the United States. In an article regarding the missile strike ordered by the president on Syria Thursday night, The New York Times referenced a tweet from President Trump from 2013.

The tweet read, “President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your ‘powder’ for another (and more important) day!”

The president’s extensive use of Twitter has thrown political pundits and news media professionals for a loop. His tweets have been regarded differently by different audiences.

Some insist his tweets are largely hyperbolic in nature; others assert that when the president tweets, that is an official statement and should be regarded as such.
Regardless of how the tweets are interpreted, they’re out there. It seems for nearly every comment Trump makes, one of his tweets surfaces. Oftentimes, they’re contradictory, uninformed, and inflammatory.

Since taking office, Trump’s tweets have been even more deeply analyzed. Many expressed concern when the timeline of Trump’s tweets on April 3 made clear that the president spent close to three hours watching Fox News that morning.

Beginning at 3:15 a.m., Trump tweeted, “Such amazing reporting on unmasking and the crooked scheme against us by @foxandfriends. ‘Spied on before nomination.’ The real story.”

He posted three more tweets, each of which correlated to coverage on Fox News at the time. This continued until 5:51 a.m.

“@FoxNews from multiple sources: “There was electronic surveillance of Trump, and people close to Trump. This is unprecedented.” @FBI,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter.

New York Times curates artisan writing


In the age of fake news, alternative facts and Facebook feeds, attempting to filter through the deluge of media we are faced with can be overwhelming.

For many, the difficulty of this task unfortunately translates into a complete lack of filtering.

Simply put, it’s often easiest to take the information presented to us at face value rather than critically examining our sources. This has led to what some have called a misinformation crisis, with “fake news” stories become a story of their own, particularly during the 2016 presidential election.

Beyond simply trying to find information that is at the very least reliable, challenging our personal views takes a step further. Many have referred to social media as an “echo chamber,” and have criticized it’s functionality as a source for news because we tend to receive information that falls in line with our personal opinions and the opinions of people in our social circles.

There is an incredible value in reading opinions that challenge ours, which is why The New York Times compiled a list of quality partisan writing to expose readers to diverse viewpoints. The list included links to articles from the right, left and center from a variety of sources. The list can be viewed here.

Times checks Trump on false claims


The New York Times released a fact check in response to President Trump’s recent interview with Time magazine.

During the interview, Trump repeatedly falsely cited The Times to support his unsubstantiated accusations of wiretapping of his campaign office.

The statements involved his continued assertion that President Obama wiretapped the phones in Trump Tower during the election, a claim he has repeatedly made despite a complete lack of evidence and support from any intelligence officials.

In his interview, Trump said that The Times altered a headline on an article that originally read as, “Wiretapped data used in inquiry of Trump aides.” He went on to say that the headline was changed to drop the word “wiretap.”

In response to the statements, The Times’ fact check clarified that this was false, and that the original articles which appeared both online and in print were released with different headlines, neither of which were changed at any point. The Times included in its fact check screenshots of the cached website showing the article and headline, unchanged, at various times as the story developed.

The fact check refuted Trump’s usage of The Times’ headline to back his claims. “Neither the print nor online version of the article supports Mr. Trump’s accusation that Mr. Obama ordered surveillance on him,” The New York Times wrote, arguing that Trump’s statements were misleading.

Media compare Russia issue, Watergate


Unable to resist the allure of a catchy nickname, the writer of a CNN opinion piece wasted no time in dubbing the latest White House controversy “Russiagate.”

Much of the news media have been quick to draw comparisons between the investigation regarding the apparent communications between the Trump campaign and Russian officials and the Watergate scandal.

The opinion piece run by CNN argued that it’s time for “a Watergate-style select committee” to investigate the issue. Vox published an interview with President George W. Bush’s ethics lawyer, who told Vox that, “the facts now in this investigation are much worse than the facts in the early stages of Watergate.” The Fix, a politics blog for The Washington Post, wrote that “Nixon’s former attorney sees ‘echoes of Watergate’ in President Trump’s first month.”

In The Fix’s article, the writer shares that attorney John Dean, who sat before the Senate Watergate Committee, feels an air of familiarity between the current administration and Watergate. In the article, reporter Cleve R. Wootson Jr. writes, “Dean said in an interview aired Friday that President Trump’s first month in office — with its anti-media tirades and efforts to use intelligence agencies for political purposes — has “echoes of Watergate.”

Following the chronology of Nixon’s presidency, The Washington Post piece ended by acknowledging the concern of Trump’s presidency mirroring the ending of Nixon’s, questioning the possibility of impeachment.

The suggestion raised by the question itself could be seen as further evidence of the news media’s rocky relationship with the president; some may argue it was just evidence of wishful thinking.

FBI refuses to discredit news media


In an exclusive story, CNN reported that the White House asked the FBI to deny news media reports regarding communications between Donald Trump’s advisers and Russia.

The stories discussed were reports by The New York Times and CNN that there was “constant communication between high-level advisers to then-candidate Trump, Russian officials and other Russians known to U.S. intelligence” before the election.

According to the White House official who informed the story, the request from White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus came after the FBI told the White House that it did not believe The New York Times’ reporting was accurate. The FBI has not commented publicly on the story and has not backed this position.

These requests were reportedly made despite restrictions that are meant to limit communication between the White House and the FBI regarding pending investigations, according to CNN’s Evan Perez, one of the journalists who investigated the story. Perez explained on “Erin Burnett OutFront” that these restrictions date back to 2007 and 2009, when the Justice Department issued memos limiting such communications.

In what has become a common practice of Trump’s administration, the White House issued a denial of the reports. Priebus called the New York Times story “complete garbage,” going on “Fox News Sunday” to say, “That story is not only inaccurate, but it’s grossly overstated and it was wrong. And there’s nothing to it.”

Despite these efforts to discredit the reporting of The New York Times and CNN, the investigation into the possible communications between Russian officials and the Trump campaign is ongoing.

Fox News’ Smith criticizes Trump


Fox News anchor Shepard Smith surprised many with a biting criticism of President Donald Trump on his show Thursday. Smith’s comments were in response to the president’s continued criticism of the news media, most recently during his Thursday press conference, which Smith described as “absolutely crazy.”

During the press conference, President Trump berated CNN’s Jim Acosta, averting his question and going on an extensive, dizzying rant about the news media.

Smith was critical of the president’s response to the question, defending Acosta and the news media as a whole.

“We’re not fools for asking the questions and we demand to know the answer to this question. You owe this to the American people,” Smith said on his show, pressing the president to take reporters’ questions seriously.

“We have a right to know. You call us fake news and put us down like children for asking these questions on behalf of the American people,” Smith said, referring to the president’s habit of referring to widely regarded organizations as “fake news.”

Smith’s response is only the latest in the saga of conflict between the president and the news media. Throughout his campaign, President Trump has repeatedly alleged that a plethora of news outlets are dishonest, ineffective or failing. The only program spared from the criticism seems to be the morning show “Fox & Friends,” for which the president has previously expressed his praise, and which he specifically mentioned during the press conference for being “very honorable people.”

Despite the president’s many attempts to discredit CNN, the news organization has not suffered, according to CNN President Jeff Zucker. In a state-of-the-company luncheon on Thursday, Zucker and other top executives from CNN and Turner announced that ratings are high, no advertisers have pulled out, and there has been no harm to the CNN brand.

Journalists confront Trump’s claims


In response to the White House’s list of 78 terror attacks that President Trump said were unreported by the news media, journalists have taken a direct approach in shutting down Trump’s claims.

The list included events that were reported nearly ad nauseam, including even the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting and the November 2015 Paris attacks. These events and many of the others listed dominated news coverage for weeks, filling hours of air time and countless articles in print and online.

The list seems to have been primarily released in an attempt to support Trump’s repeated assertion that the media is dishonest and ineffective; the focus on terrorist attacks that were apparently influenced by radical Islam seems to be an effort to validate Trump’s recent policies regarding Muslim-majority countries.

In response to the list, journalists from news organizations across the nation and abroad have chimed in. CNN’s Anderson Cooper clarified on air that many of the attacks mentioned in the list he personally reported on, playing clips of him reporting from San Bernadino, Orlando and Paris, among many more.

On screen, the lower third read “WH releases list of undercovered attacks,” and in parenthesis, “(We covered many).” The New York Times published the list from the White House along with links to its own articles on nearly each attack.

Business Insider Australia reported on the five Australian incidents mentioned on the list, one of which was the fatal stabbing of two Australian backpackers. The incident was never determined by Australian police to be related to terrorism.

The family of one of the deceased reacted to the list with an open letter to Trump on Facebook, in which she shared that she began blogging to dispel what she called the myth that Islamic fundamentalism was the driving factor behind her daughter’s death.

The victim’s mother ended the post by denouncing Trump’s actions and framing of the attacks, writing “This vilification of whole nation states and their people based on religion is a terrifying reminder of the horror that can ensue when we allow ourselves to be led by ignorant people into darkness and hatred.”

The dilemma with ‘alternative facts’


Anyone who considers themselves a fan of 1990s television knows it: The truth is out there. In 2017, however, the truth may be harder to find than it was for the “X-Files”’ Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.

For the past 100 years, since President Woodrow Wilson held the first one in March of 1913, the presidential press conference has been at the very least, credible. If the White House press secretary refrained from saying much, the little they did say was of significant news value to the journalists in attendance.

In one of the first press briefings of the Trump administration, new White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer accused the news media of misinformation while distributing misinformation himself. After the briefing, Kellyanne Conaway, one of Trump’s senior advisors, described Spicer’s blatant lies by using a phrase that has become infamous in the days since: “alternative facts.”

For members of the news media covering the Trump administration going forward, reporting on a White House that disseminates these falsehoods poses multiple major issues.

Since the beginning of his campaign, Trump has fueled the narrative that the news media has an inherent bias against him. If the news media chooses to continue to report on his administration’s lies as they are, he will continue to use it as evidence that journalists are against him. By doing their jobs, journalists will unfortunately encourage his narrative and as it is, much of the public already considers the news media to be biased against the president.

The government collects and reports an incredible amount of data, ranging from mundane to critical. While journalists have had to verify and check government data before, for the most part, journalists have never been in a position where questioning and vetting every piece of information from the government was necessary. However, when the line between fact and “alternative fact” becomes blurred, news organizations may have to rely on their own resources more heavily than the government agencies that they relied on in the past.

As the “X-Files” told us, the truth is out there. Finding the truth while reporting on an administration that completely disregards it, however, may pose a greater challenge than expected.