Newsman to news media: Stick to the facts!

The news media in America is becoming its own worst enemy, in some ways.  Aside from questions raised about whether the media is biased, there are increasingly blurred lines between objective reporting and opinion.  We see it all the time on Fox News and CNN — news mixed with the often-shrill opinions of pundits, yielding a mush of information to be trusted … or maybe not.  Our colleague and friend – veteran television network correspondent Greg Dobbs – was recently bothered by coverage in his hometown newspaper, The Denver Post.  Here is his column that appeared in the newspaper:

By Greg Dobbs

Right on the front page of The Denver Post, you could read that Donald Trump’s proposal to prohibit Muslims from entering the country “marked a sudden and sizable escalation … in the inflammatory and sometimes dangerous rhetoric of the candidate.” The article went on to compare Trump’s rhetoric to “the racially based appeals of then-Alabama Governor George Wallace,” and “the anti-Semitic diatribes of the radio preacher Charles Coughlin.”

Veteran journalist Greg Dobbs.

Veteran journalist Greg Dobbs.

Remember, this wasn’t here on the op-ed page where it should have been; it was on the front page of the paper. And those phrases weren’t quotes from Trump’s widening class of critics; they came from the author of the piece himself, Dan Balz, the chief correspondent for The Washington Post, where it originally had been published the day before. Mind you, The Denver Post labeled it “analysis,” but given that Balz is a reporter, not a commentator, the point might be lost on a lot of Page One readers.

That same day, NBC Nightly News ended its broadcast with a story about Trump’s proposal, which anchorman Lester Holt introduced this way: “History is replete with examples of what happens when fear and intolerance take hold and an entire category of people is marginalized, as Tom Brokaw remembers.” Then former anchor Brokaw said, “Trump’s statement, even in a season of extremes, is a dangerous proposal that overrides history, the law, and the foundation of America itself.”

Sadly, you’ll find this kind of thing almost everywhere. This past week in The New York Times, reporters referred to Trump’s “divisive phrases” and “the dark power” of his words. In news stories, not opinion columns.

Greg Dobbs - reporting on location in Moscow.

A career of reporting from around the world: Greg Dobbs – on location in Moscow.

Excuse me, but if reporters do their jobs right and give us just the facts, can’t the audience decide what’s dangerous and what’s not, what’s dark and what’s not, and whether Trump’s rhetoric resembles “racially based appeals” or “anti-Semitic diatribes?” Although I think it’s absurd to even hint at anti-Semitism in Trump’s case, I can buy the rest and personally agree with the deluge of denunciation from both ends of the political spectrum. But once reporters tell us about it, it’s our job to figure out what we think about it. Not theirs’.

As a reporter myself until getting into the business of commentary, I have tried to defend my profession from the widespread impression that we put our biases into our stories. Sometimes I have tried by example (as best I could), and sometimes by argument. This week though, my efforts have been trashed, by the very people I’ve long tried to defend.

The issue at stake here isn’t whether Trump’s proposal would be effective (who knows?!), or constitutional (some scholars say, maybe it would be), or even moral (you’ll get a split decision in this country on that). The issue is whether we want someone else, namely journalists, to “steer” us toward our conclusions. For the greater good of the nation, we don’t.

The people who report the news have one job and one job only: to collect the facts and deliver them. They should stick to it.