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U.S. journalism and the election: Americans are poorly informed

The three leading U.S. newspapers by circulation are the Wall Street Journal (2.38 million), New York Times (1.87 million), and USA Today (1.67 million). With a combined circulation of only 5.92 million it is clear that most of the 121 million American voters are getting their news elsewhere.

With the loss of paid subscriptions and advertising revenues, the newspaper industry has reduced its number of journalists, and has cut back on coverage of important worldwide and national events (Didn’t North Carolina have severe damage from a hurricane? What happened in Kansas’ elections?). Most Americans get their news from Fox News and hate AM radio. Both have served the right-wing Republican ideologues well. Facebook and Twitter also provide a vast amount of uncorroborated “news” to their users.

The facts of the last eight years of Democratic presidency are that an economic depression has been averted; the unemployment rate has decreased from 6.5 percent to 4.9 percent, more than 20 million more Americans have access to health-care insurance under the ACA, and the United States has not had another 9/11. The Iran nuclear program has been stopped for the time being. Osama Bin Laden and leaders of al-Qaeda and ISIS have been decimated.

Because of seditious Republican political behavior we have had a weaker stimulus than necessary to restore good-paying infrastructure jobs to Americans; a 2013 government shutdown; refusal to honor our nation’s debts by raising taxes and the debt ceiling; endless politically inspired congressional investigations (Benghazi, Clinton emails, IRS, Climate Science); and failure to confirm nominees to the federal bench and ambassadorships.

Congress’ approval rate has fallen to 9 percent.

Of the two presidential candidates in last week’s election:

  • Hillary Clinton has had a proven record of honorable government service and has never had any record of corruption or dishonesty. Despite repeated investigations, she has never been charged with any crime.
  • Donald Trump has no record of public service, no military service, no personal charitable contributions, no record of paying any federal income taxes, multiple bankruptcies, lawsuits, “birtherism” claims, lies, ignorance, racist and misogynistic behavior. Trump University has been sued for fraud. He has engaged in illegal racial discrimination in New York. He could have been charged with bribing public officials in Florida and Texas.

Only a poorly informed electorate would vote to give more power to Republican politicians at the federal and state level.

American journalists are supposed to practice ethics in their reporting of the news. The cardinal principles of ethical journalism are: truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability. Nowhere is “entertainment” or “shock value” or “propaganda” or “ratings” a journalistic value.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 11/15/2016 - 06:22 am.

    Don’t blame the messenger

    American voters are the only ones responsible for the election’s outcome. There was plenty of good, factual information for those willing to seek it from credible sources. Those who do not like the outcome will accomplish little by pointing fingers at a free and hard-working press.

    MinnPost is a good example. It’s political reporting is excellent, and it’s available to almost all of us.

  2. Submitted by Jim Million on 11/14/2016 - 10:32 pm.

    “Because of seditious Republican political behavior…”

    A neutral reader might justly question Mr. Terry’s preferred sources, as well.

    This is a letter to the Editor, so we must suppose opinion stated as fact is to be accepted, if not quite taken to entirely be fact. I take Mr. Terry’s submission to be fair grieving, but grieving none-the-less.

    Perhaps a grieving society is better than what some have called a “grievance society.”
    As long as the grieving comes to catharsis, that is.

  3. Submitted by Rick Prescott on 11/15/2016 - 12:38 am.

    The great horror of this election is that it proves we live in a post-fact, post-rational society.

    Think back to the debates. How long has Hillary Clinton been in Washington without solving any problems? We all know that it’s 30 years, right? Because her opponent said it over and over, in debates and rallies, for a year and a half.

    Except that, well, it’s not. It’s actually about 20 years (from January 1993, when she became First Lady, through February 2013, when she left the Obama Administration). For most of that time, she did not hold elected office, or have any official power to take action on any of the things she stood accused of having failed to fix.

    You can argue that the difference between 20 and 30 years is just splitting hairs, that the criticism still stands. But that would miss the point, which is that REPETITION, a well-known technique in advertising and propaganda, works. We are suckers for it every time. That’s why you thought it was 30 years. And if you did think that, I hope you feel at least a little embarrassed, because you should. You fell for it.

    What’s more, we are considerably more likely to believe something if we want to. Over the last few weeks, both John Oliver and Stephen Colbert did demonstrations of this by making up scandals, presenting them as real, and immediately admitting that they were made up, while also chiding the viewer for believing it, if only for a second.

    A modern candidate has no incentive to use the truth. The smart candidate will pound on exactly the things that people WANT to believe without regard for whether the have any basis in reality. They only need basis in some IMAGINED reality. Truth is irrelevant. Facts are annoying and inconvenient and, in the mind of the average American, “Who knows what’s really true anyway?” The media could tell the truth, or not, and it would make no difference. (For the record, I hope they continue to tell the truth. Maybe somebody will notice.)

    In other words, I disagree with the central premise of this post. Americans are not poorly informed. They are humans, with flawed reasoning mechanisms, being carefully manipulated with propagandistic techniques that have stood the test of time. Even now, the President-elect, having not needed to call the election result into question, has decided to undermine the mainstream press as much as possible by using accusations, innuendo, and, yes, our old friend REPETITION.

    If there is a way in which Americans are poorly informed, it is in the techniques (rhetorical and otherwise) being used against them. Perhaps if they could recognize them, they could arm themselves against them. The great horror in this election is the demonstration that we may already be beyond the point of no return in the malicious manipulation of the masses.

    • Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 11/15/2016 - 09:51 am.

      Seek out truth and reason…

      Repeat as needed until the horror recedes. 😉

      More than a few people noticed, Mr. Prescott. As you note, we have the ability to recognize and withstand propaganda, once we know how to recognize it and its methodology.

      In two more years, we have another election. Let’s see if something changes before then.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 11/15/2016 - 04:00 pm.

      A cautious barbershop stop today…

      I intentionally waited a week for any haze or glaze to dissipate. My hair and mind will wait another week.
      The REPETITION was still much in evidence, from both usual viewpoints.

      I often wonder if many people at all consider that some others immediately divine their sources by knowing
      their statements require atmospheric quotation marks in the absence of attribution admission.

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