Donald Trump lies and we know this because journalists tell us. If a journalist is not willing to call Trump a liar, they are no doing their job. The journalist’s job is now to confirm the popular or desired prejudice. Trump has brought journalism’s hidden crisis to the surface. Social media had forced journalism to reassess itself, its purpose, and its audience, but it took the Trump crisis to challenge its existence. Is journalism a truth teller, a source of opinion, or does it gather the facts to report? These different roles were bound up with and hidden by the idea of objectivity and implicit impartiality. Journalism might not have the Truth, but it would help the public to discover political truths needed for citizens to act in the public domain. Armed with the facts, a citizen could take part in the public domain. News organisations could appear objective and impartial because the only facts or opinions in the public domain were mediated by them. With social media changed journalism no longer mediates the public domain.
Social media allows you to tell your own story and create your own facts.
Social media has shattered journalism’s political consensus. Instead of citizens and politicians who rely on journalists to give the facts to develop and define political truths, the public domain has been transformed by social media. The public domain is beset by opinions, often extreme opinions that masquerade as facts and truths. If you can get enough followers, you can promote whatever truth you want regardless of the facts. With a seductive “truth” they want to hear, you can shape the public opinion so your opinions are accepted as the truth. The audience believes that what it disagrees with must be a lie so that what they agree with must be the truth. Opinion, not a lie, is the opposite of the truth, which requires us to discern and develop the truth when opinions conflict. The hard work to develop a political truth is no longer trusted to journalists. No one has emerged to who can discern or develop a truth from conflicting opinions. Instead, the public avoid the hard work needed to judge whether one opinion corresponds more or less closely to the facts from which reasoned judgement can develop a political truth.
Easier to call someone a liar than to discern the truth between opinions
With this changed audience, journalism attempt to be a truth teller or to mediate the public domain has collapsed. A truth teller is not a journalist who writes a headline to say that Trump lied. Journalism requires is faithful adherence to facts, the hard work to uncover and fit them within a reasonable narrative. From this work, we create a political truth. As opinions easily parade as fact if not as truth, it is easier to indulge opinions paraded as facts than to counter opinions unmoored from facts.
Journalism must recover the fading art of truth telling.
If journalism cannot develop truth teller, it will succumb to the easy allure of politics. In time, it will contribute to society’s attempt to tyrannize thought. When it calls someone a liar, *as if* they possess the Truth, they act politically, not objectively.