Legitimate media criticism needed to hold the press accountable


See also: “Is US press freedom declining under the Trump administration?”

Incidents such as the White House pulling CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press credentials in November have reignited a debate about the rights of journalists and the media.

Acosta’s credentials were restored about two weeks after the initial incident, and CNN, in turn, dropped its lawsuit against the Trump administration, according to the New York Times.

The incident highlights the ongoing controversy since U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, tweeting in February 2017 that “fake news” is “not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

For example, the Washington Examiner released an op-ed in May 2018 in response to Reporters Without Borders yearly World Press Freedom Index, written by Jamestown Associates content manager Dylan Gallimore.

Gallimore wrote it’s “pearl-clutching nonsense” and “intellectually lazy” to argue that calling out the media’s biases and shortcomings is a threat to its freedom. He also wrote that bias, misinformation, shoddy reporting and thinly veiled on-air editorializing aren’t “bogeymen that conservatives makeup” but daily, well-documented problems plaguing the media.

It is perfectly reasonable to point out the fact that mainstream outlets far too frequently favor preferred narratives over hard facts, and routinely misreport major stories as a result of either liberal groupthink, inherent political bias, or abject incompetence,” Gallimore wrote. “Media outlets should be called on the carpet for those kinds of egregious disservices to American audiences.”

Press criticism isn’t new. In June 2008, Fordham University communication and media studies professor Arthur S. Hayes released a book called “Press Critics Are the Fifth Estate which argues “robust, uninhibited, provocative, and even scurrilous criticism of corporate media by the Fifth Estate — composed of private citizens and watchdog and partisan groups of all stripes — is vital to the functioning of the American democratic process,” according to a description from ABC-CLIO.

Writer and scholar Jeffrey Scheuer writes in the book’s foreword that it may not occur to the average citizen that media critics are essential to democracy, as people tend to think of constitutions, laws and elections as “the main tools that get the job done.”

However, although journalism is essential to an open society, so is media criticism — both from professionals and from citizens.

“Our system of self-government is based not just on laws but on informed and active citizens; and such citizens need timely, relevant, clear information,” he writes. “Democracy, therefore, does not simply demand journalism; it demands journalistic excellence. And that in turn demands … a culture of criticism.”

Scheuer also writes that such criticism is a “rare and undervalued civic commodity” but like the peer review process of the scholarly world, a critical news culture “maintains standards for the brokering of information that ultimately secure democracy itself.”

“It behooves us as citizens to be attentive to the media, and to how the media cover and criticize themselves: we should care how journalists (as much as our elected representatives) do their job and how they might do it better,” he writes.

He also writes that the “true guardians” of democracy are not just lawyers or politicians, but the teachers, journalists and critics, as well.

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