“All the news that’s fit to print.”
That’s the historic motto of the New York Times. But the media often misses “all the news” and is selective because of limited resources or its own biases. Maybe the press hurries too much to beat competition; not everything is “breaking news.”
Here are some questions the media might have answered.
Last week’s Maine GOP convention featured former Gov. Paul LePage, seeking to recover his old office just as might former President Donald Trump, his political ally. Will Trump follow LePage’s lead? Does he now endorse LePage? Did anybody ask him?
In summing up the Legislature’s work, the media reported that Gov. Janet Mills’ utility accountability bill had passed. Democratic opposition was noted, but the substance of intra-party differences was not explained.
Was Mills’ proposal meant to immunize her from criticism of her veto of a referendum on consumer-owned power? Did Democrats finally accept her bill, because they fear weakening her in her race against LePage?
A U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion has been leaked that would reverse its earlier Roe v. Wade ruling that abortion is a constitutionally guaranteed right. The media reported that a slim Court majority would oppose the views of about two-thirds of Americans, who favor the right.
Reports of political opposition to the draft implied that the decision could lead to added backing in November for the Democrats, who support the right. But did the pollsters ask how many people on either side will let abortion rights bring them to the polls or determine their vote above all other issues?
The U.S. has pulled out all the stops to help embattled Ukraine. Both political parties support massive spending to provide weapons that President Volodymyr Zelensky has requested. American tolerant policy toward Russia has shifted, and the U.S. has reasserted its role as leader of the West.
Does Washington quietly believe there’s a good chance that Russia can be finally toppled as a world power as it depletes its economy and its military?
To cut the world’s use of Russian fuels, the West wants to ramp up oil and natural gas production. That means more drilling and fracking, not less. At the same time, experts are beginning to say that the world may be chasing unrealistic climate change goals, which undermines chances of success.
Are we backing off ambitious climate change targets to deal with a war that has disrupted the world? Do our electric cars and other individual efforts to protect the environment matter when China boosts its coal use?
Inflation may be the biggest news, mainly because it affects almost everyone. With voters aware of the problem, the media reports on Republican efforts to blame President Joe Biden.
How did the GOP vote on big spending bills, including aid to Ukraine? Is inflation party due to Covid-19 and the Ukraine war’s disruptive effect on trade? How much did Federal Reserve policy cause the problem? The pundits may speculate, but attacks on Biden are easier to report.
We hear a lot about “fake news,” but this failure to ask the right questions is really “half news.” Reports are not inaccurate, but they are incomplete. When news lacks context allowing us to understand its background and complexity, it can confuse.
Of course, there are the serious problems of reports based on false assumptions and fake news.
We are often told, perhaps in good faith, that something is true and then “logical” conclusions are drawn from that supposed truth. We accept the assumptions and often readily accept the logic.
The media errs almost daily in its assumptions about Russia’s moves in Ukraine. Can it really draw instant political conclusions from a draft Supreme Court decision?
Questionable assumptions, stated as though they were self-evident, exist in both the liberal and conservative media. When conservative and liberal outlets differ even on their assumptions, the political divide is understandable.
Even worse is “fake news,” a statement that the writer or speaker knows to be untrue. The New York Times has been covering Fox commentator Tucker Carlson, who broadcasts from his home in Maine. He has stated that “Gypsy” refugees left Pennsylvania “streets covered — pardon us now, but it’s true — with human feces.” He offered no evidence of that, and it is not true.
Scientific American recently commented that fake news is believed and shared more by certain conservatives than by other viewers. But we all like news that confirms our opinions.
The print media sometimes fact checks its own reports, though not often enough right in the news item itself. Who checks news clips on the electronic media? Both need to do more.
We cannot expect perfection from the media. We, too, need to do more to find the facts in our complex world.
Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.
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