SOON after U.S. President Donald Trump took his oath of office, the leader of the most powerful nation in the world declared a “running war” with media, his senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said a falsehood is an “alternative fact” that may be used in public conversation, and his press secretary Sean Spicer defended his lie and condemned the press in his first briefing at the White House.
And it was all about media comparison on the size of the crowd in two inaugurals: Barack Obama’s in 2008 and Trump’s in 2017. But it was followed by Trump’s lie that three to five million people illegally voted in the last election, padding Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote.
Both had been proven as untrue but the Trump camp, led by Trump himself, says they are not. At most, they’re just “alternative facts,” which is not only euphemism but a total perversion of the meaning of “facts.”
The problem U.S. media is grappling with, intimations of which it already experienced during the campaign and the transition, has refined methods on how the press must deal with the Trump menace.
They may be useful to Philippine and other media in dealing with public officials influenced by Trump’s conduct.
Across the American media landscape, these have become part of the attitude and strategy of a media under siege by a shrewd politician who attacks and yet exploits the institution he flogs:
■ CALL A LIE WHEN IT IS A LIE. The he-said, she-said presentation in old journalism days would no longer do. If the mayor said he didn’t plan to cut off aid to the police, state in the same report that he actually did, citing his previous word or deed on record. If the president said he didn’t say he’d cut corners on martial law, replay the tape or reprint the quote.
■ SET UP FACT-CHECKING DEVICE. In the story itself or in a prominent sidebar, the true version that contradicts the claim may be run. Various ways of calling it have been shown by U.S. media. But to call it, a quick and reliable way of fact-checking must be set up by the journalist or his newsroom.
In community papers, the library or archive may adopt a system to support journalists’ work.
■ SPOT DISCREPANCY, ASK TOUGH QUESTIONS.
The lie may be uncovered by questioning an inconsistency in the news source’s statement. Polite yet persistent inquiry may shoot down the falsehood before it can travel further. The likes of Trump who uses non-sequitor and unrelated issues to distract an interviewer must be foiled by journalists who won’t be diverted by such tactics.
■ EDITOR’S EYE MAY HELP in detecting the untruth. His intimacy with the background of an issue may identify the “fact” that doesn’t fit in, the ugly blot in a mass of seemingly clean data. Community papers may have a full-time researcher to help reporters on the field.
Against the bogus or distorted information that fills pretty much of the internet, mainstream media may need to sharpen its basic edge over unedited news. That’s the core of its credibility.That’s where it must pour a big part of its energy and skill.
The U.S. has produced a president whose election was propelled in part by half-lies, outright falsehoods and distortions. He hates media and battles media because he must know it’s only media that can expose to the nation and the world how he actually governs.
Footnote, chyron and other devices to expose the lie
● FOOTNOTES. Where in the world does a newspaper story carry footnotes?
“New York Times” has started doing it to explain parts of a news story where a lie lurks or stands out
● CHYRON or that note at the bottom of the TV or cable screen tells the watcher that Trump’s claim is false
● SIDEBAR FACT CHECK. Beside the main story, in which the lie is also reported, a short companion piece tells specifics about the untruth
● TRANSCRIPTS, LENGTHY QUOTES. When Trump or his surrogates deny a statement or alleges wrong context or misquotes, the paper or TV story reproduces transcripts or lengthy lift-outs from what he actually said. Same thing can be done about Duterte denials.
● COMPARING CLIPS. A clip on what Trump says on Day X is shown along with a clip on what he says on Day Y, showing graphically the flip or the outright lie.
And similar ways to tell the reader or listener that the news source lied through his teeth and should not be believed and trusted.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 28, 2017.
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