Seares: Fixing the news, Sarah Sanders way; How Noli de Castro ‘distorted’ the story

“... We have to start taking so much of the opinion out of the news... There’s a big difference between commentators and news and we have blended those so that there is no difference anymore and we’ve got to go back where those are separate.” — Sarah Sanders, in a segment on Fox Business, Sept. 18, 2019

IN MAINSTREAM media, it is the broadcast commentary programs where news and opinion are mixed. The media consumer—watching on regular TV or cable or by video clip or live streaming on computer or phone– may see the anchor give the news and opinion at the same time.

But they are commentary programs. The news—in visual and/or video support flashed on the backdrop—merely complements the opinion, which is the bulk of the show.

We are not sure whether Sarah Sanders, former House press secretary and now working as contributor to Fox News, referred to commentary shows when last Wednesday (Sept. 18), in a segment of Fox Business, she criticized too much opinion in the news and cited the need to take it out to fix the problem.

She could be referring to that, in which case her criticism of mixing news and opinion is misplaced.

Noli de Castro case

Or Sanders might mean news programs where opinion is thrown in by the news anchor. That is a different situation altogether.

A memorable illustration of that in the Philippine setting was this incident: Then President Noynoy Aquino on July 27, 2012 slammed broadcaster Noli de Castro, anchor of ABS-CBN “TV Patrol,” right in the 25th anniversary party of the program at Manila Hotel in which the “Kabayan” was present. De Castro had made allegedly baseless speculation and attack against Noynoy’s administration on “TV Patrol” where theoretically he reads only the news.

Mixing opinion with news was supposed to be banned, although loosely enforced on A-list TV personalities. Compounding de Castro’s breach was that in 2012 he had just left politics where he wallowed (from 2001 to 2010) and presumably had yet to shed off totally his political biases.

Partisan interest

The same thing can be said of Sanders who was (1) complicit to and active defender of US President Trump’s hundreds of distortions of facts and outright lies and is now (2) working for Fox News that is known for “conflating” right-wing opinions with news.

The partisan interest taints the issue of separating opinion from news. De Castro couldn’t defend what he did because of political shadows that at the time darkened his job as news anchor. Noynoy Aquino lunged at Noli and “Kabayan” had no strong defense, for he violated a precept of journalism and there was apparent malice and selfish personal/party interest in what he did.

In Sanders’ case, who was she to talk of “good news” and say conjecture is a problem in media, given her track record of covering up for and sugar-coating her president’s falsehoods?

But she was right about separating news from opinion.

In most of regular media, here and abroad, the media consumer is still served by journalists who adhere to the precept. The wall between news and commentary still stands. The signs “News” and “Opinion,” even in digital media, still hang separately.

Wall not breached

What must have disturbed Sarah Sanders are the commentary programs that use news as basis for their opinion. Those are opinion shows but use news as springboard for discussion. They constitute a model in programming, not even new anymore, where the host commentator presents the news and then his view before he leads a discussion with guests, including columnists, gurus and journalists. Occasionally, visuals on the screen are news clips and video footage relevant to the topic discussed.

Those are talk shows, not news programs. The wall is not breached.

Sourcing the opinion

How about opinion in the news story that is clearly labeled or presented as news? The requirement is that each opinion included in the story must be sourced. The person expressing the view must be identified. Most newsrooms enforce a strict rule against information or opinion from anonymous sources. The withholding the name of the source could be used for the reporter or editor to insert his personal view or advance the opinion of others whom he favors.

Sanders spoke of a situation “where there’s no process, there’s no accountability, no check and balance.” Odd, even incongruous, yet no longer surprising that she, accused of rampantly violating precepts of journalism, would use them to assault media.

But then that’s standard strategy of scoundrels, even of some heroes, to use precepts and rules to throw at and displace the enemy.


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