THE raging give-and-take between Donald Trump and US mainstream media is an instructive guide for leaders and media practitioners and us in the Philippines as well, in understanding the controversy over fake news and the real contribution that the media makes to the betterment of society.
If we in the media just throw up our hands in frustration every time a top public figure hurls an accusation of “fake news” against our media organizations, we would be allowing a falsehood to shape public perceptions of our work and our organizations. The better response is to answer criticism frontally and to lay the case before the public on what is right with the media.
It is for this reason that we bring to public attention today the recent exchange between President Donald Trump and some leading members of the media in Washington, D.C.
In an interview aired Sunday, President Trump said one of the biggest things he learned in his first 100 days in office is the extent of dishonesty in the news media.
Mr. Trump said that despite his accomplishments, he is the target of negative news stories that misrepresent what he has done.
“One of the things that I’ve learned is how dishonest the media is, really. I’ve done things that are I think very good. I’ve set great foundations with foreign leaders,” Trump said in the interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
At the time of the taping of the interview, the White House Correspondents Association was holding its annual dinner in Washington, where the US President is traditionally the guest of honor.
Mr. Trump boycotted the dinner.
At the dinner, some stalwarts of US journalism, notably Bob Woodward of the Washington Post and of All the President’s Men fame, replied to Mr. Trump and his charge of dishonesty.
Woodward in his remarks said: “Mr. President, the media is not fake news.”
“The effort today to get the best obtainable version of the truth is largely made in good faith,” Woodward said, and that any President and his administration is “clearly entitled to the most serious reporting efforts possible.”
“We need to understand, to listen, to dig — obviously, our reporting needs to get both facts and tone right,” he said.
“The press — especially the so-called mainstream media — comes under regular attack, particularly during presidential campaigns like this one and its aftermath.”
“Members of the media at times get things wrong. Like politicians and Presidents, sometimes, perhaps too frequently, we make mistakes and go too far. When that happens, we should own up to it.”
President Trump has his point. He has not gotten the fairest coverage of his work in the US media. He is a
strong critic of the press, often blasting reporters and accusing them of biased or dishonest coverage against him.
Woodward, for his part, speaks for many in journalism who have done good work and continue to provide invaluable service to society, thereby proving that a free press is indispensable to a free and democratic society.
It would be a tragedy for society if fake news were to succeed in chasing away good journalism.
The best and indisputable response is for us journalists to do our work better—to report the news honestly, and to comment on developments intelligently and fairly.
The President and the media are not playing a zero-sum game. The best outcome is when both of them win.