By Neil Foote, President & Founder, Foote Communications
President Donald J. Trump’s senior adviser Stephen K. Bannon told New York Times reporter Michael N. Grynbaum that the media, “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” If Bannon truly believes in this great democracy, then he would do all he can to encourage a free press – and not try to squash it. Just take a look at the World Press Freedom Index to reports “that there has been a deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels.” The report goes on to say, “The climate of fear results in a growing aversion to debate and pluralism, a clampdown on the media by ever more authoritarian and oppressive governments, and reporting in the privately-owned media that is increasingly shaped by personal interests.”
No matter what your politics are or what industry you’re in, the core tenets of the First Amendment is why we love our country. What we know is that the presidency of the United States is a position that is much higher than any individual’s personal agenda. What we know is that media outlets, particularly the major newspapers, TV, cable networks and news websites, have a responsibility that requires them to provide its audiences credible and fact-based news. In a recent essay, Thomas Rosentiel, the noted journalist and author, urges journalists to “cover what is important, and not to bark at every car.” He’s quick to point out how journalists are doing a great deal of soul searching since the November election. Rosentiel suggests journalists need to be more transparent than ever about its reporting process, focusing on the facts and making it very clear to its audience what is analysis and what is opinion. This couldn’t be more valuable than ever as we live in a world where the lines between “real news” and “fake news” are truly blurred. There’s a need for a national network of media literacy seminars – in person and online – to ensure that everyone at all ages understand how media work and how to discern the difference between what is fact and what is hyperbole.
Rosentiel reminds us that the role of fake news is not to get “people to believe the lie. It is designed to make them doubt all news.” If we believe a free and open press is critical to our democracy, it’s more important than ever for every company, journalist, public relations professional, marketer and advertiser – to do all we can to question those who may want to hide behind “lies”, especially our elected officials regardless of their stature and their political affiliation. None of us can afford a reckless disregard of the First Amendment.