The War on Journalism

“It is often said that journalism is the first rough draft of history; by contrast, investigative journalism provides the first rough draft of legislation. It does so by drawing attention to failures within society’s system of regulation and to the ways in which those systems can be circumvented by the rich, the powerful and the corrupt.”
Hugo de Burgh; Investigative Journalism, Context and Practice

“Democracy Dies in Darkness”
Washington Post

When disinformation is rife the world suffers. Truth and understanding are the foundations of sound decision making. Without information and the knowledge of what is going on around us we, the population, are powerless.
We all have the capability to double check and triple check everything we are told, and we should. The mantra: “question everything” has never been more necessary. And it is this mantra that leads me to put more and more faith in journalism.

Journalists and media outlets have been hounded since news was conceived, and sometimes they deserve it. False claims, conjecture and low-level reporting have often lead to news organisations having to print redactions, apologies and sometimes face lawful action as a result of their claims and how they go about collecting evidence. News of the World’s phone hacking scandal is the obvious case that comes to mind. But the wayward actions of the few should not taint the legitimate, decent work of the many.

People go into journalism because they want to tell the truth. Some just want to break a story and achieve a level of fame. Some people want to attend parties, drink champagne and hang out with the elite. Some journalists make money from commenting on food and drink or art and movies. Journalists report on everything. Their job is to comment on the world, hold a mirror up to society and, if you still believe there is decency in the world of journalism, to shine a light into dark places and hold those who have wronged to justice. As journalist Robert Rosenthal states in his TED X talk on 2nd April, 2011 regarding reporting that it has a role “as a watchdog facing the abuses and the lies and the threats of the government.”

The more we know what is going on in the world around us, the better.
It was investigative journalism that blew open the case of fourteen assassinations on U.K soil by Russian agents by Heidi Blake and her team at Buzzfeed. The story is a mind-blowing piece that goes from Russian actions to potential cover ups by the then Home Secretary, Teresa May. Investigative journalism podcast, The Tip-Off, gives a profound insight into how this particular story was broken (link below).

When the public first heard about Russian interference in western democratic processes many believed that it was unsubstantiated nonsense from the mouths of liberal fanatics.

The weight of Russian interference in western affairs first came to my notice in another podcast, News Roast, when guest, John Sweeney told of multiple sources corroborating the claim (link below). Since then it has emerged that Russian interference through the sharing of supposed confidential information, hacking and the sharing of fake news through social media platforms has been substantiated by the heads of Facebook and Twitter as well as by MI5, the C.I.A and the F.B.I.

The only people that seem to be denying this claim are President Donald Trump, the far-right, and the Kremlin.

Russia aside, it is journalism that shines light on things that we do not see on a day-to-day basis. Louis Theroux is an exemplary figure to look at when it comes to delving into the stranger aspects of life. Actor turned documentarian Ross Kemp is another shining example looking at crime, immigration, drug abuse etc.

These people dive into the worlds that are only on the fringes of our conscious and bring them roaring onto our television screens. Because of this kind of reporting we become more knowledgeable about what is going on around the globe. It makes the struggles we hear about in faraway lands and in other communities more personable, something we can relate to.
But for all its triumphs, journalism is under threat.

When Donald Trump rose to power throughout the presidential campaign of 2016, he aimed a direct attack at journalists screaming “fake news” and claiming that he wanted to open up libel laws so that journalists would be more susceptible to being sued for their work. But that was not all. He was provoking such a hostile environment at his rallies that reporters and news crews were under physical threat from frenzied mobs who screamed at, and tried to attack them. Members of the press were often put in sectioned off areas where crowds could locate and hound them.

Bob Woodward, the man who broke the Watergate scandal, recently released a book: FEAR – Trump in the White House. Trump has already slandered the book putting it under the “fake” banner but the volume is one of a few that have surfaced since he took office.

One person’s claims against Trump does not necessarily mean that he has done something wrong. What does, however, bring doubt regarding his suitability for the role of president of the United States is when multiple sources of information consistently corroborate with one-another, bringing into question his actions and his ethics. So it is through the corroboration of evidence where weight gathers on the scales of truth.

Trump is the most obvious example because he is hot topic and has been since he put his name forward as a candidate for the presidency. But aside from Nigel Farage and recently Jacob Rees-Mogg, he is one of the biggest threats to truth in the western world. Through belittling and an almost child-like rebuttal of news stations, he becomes impervious to truth’s grasp. It is quite extraordinary.

Let’s move on. The reason why I trust journalists is because good investigative journalism does its best to sit outside the usual spheres of influence. Good investigative journalism is not a mere opinion piece or a work of speculation. Investigative journalism is the digging for hard evidence to support claims. This kind of work can take weeks, months, or years. But it is diligent and is often of such quality that it becomes evidence in courts of law. The only real difference between an investigation undertaken by police and one undertaken by journalists is one of method.

We all want the truth. But sometimes flying close to the truth puts journalists in peril. Daphne Caruana Galizia, former journalist, writer and anti-corruption activist in Malta was killed by car bomb after receiving multiple threats about her work investigating Malta’s Labour party, organised crime, money laundering and the liberal providing of European passports to wealthy individuals.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was a prolific journalist and blogger whose online publications often received more readership than Malta’s own newspapers. Despite the tragic fate that befell Daphne her son – Matthew – is a Pulitzer prize winning journalist and part of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). This is a true testament to the determination to find truth.

Three Russian journalists (Alexander Rastorguev, Kirill Radchenko and Orkhan Dzhemal) were killed in the Central African Republic in July of 2018 whilst investigating private military company – Wagner – that had supposed ties to the Kremlin. At least 58 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992. The world of journalism, especially in places where unethical practices have been undertaken, is a dangerous environment.

We read newspapers. We watch the news. We rely on providers for information to inform us about the state of affairs from sport to politics and global trends. If we did not have some form of news we would have absolutely no idea what exactly it is that government is up to, what legislature is passed and how that legislature is going to affect us. It is our right to have access to this information. It is right to know when corruption or unethical actions are taking place.

It is our right to be informed. It is our right to know and to be holders of the truth. In a constantly shifting world to have truth is to know your place. Know your stance, and know the next steps you wish to take.

And that is why the war on journalism must stop.

The Age of Unreason – The Post Truth Era

“Britain has had enough of experts.”

You may remember that memorable line by Michael Gove in the interview with Faisal Islam on June 3rd, 2016. The quote was ricocheted throughout the media by journalists who simply could not believe what they were hearing.

I listened to the sound bite on the radio whilst at work. I was furious that someone who had chosen to go into politics, a career that demands expertise in myriad aspects of life (and we trust them to be experts in their fields) could say such a thing.

When I got home I pulled up the video on youtube and watched, and re-watched, the interview. That was the first time that I actually wondered if the country really would vote to leave the European Union. Twenty days later, the answer came.

With that crippling simple statement Michael Gove became one of the many people who helped propagate what is known as the Post-Truth movement. Post-truth politics – the rebuttal of facts by appealing to emotion – became a leading theme in western politics throughout 2016/17. In the case of Brexit, Ian Dunt wrote:

‘At the core of Britain’s current dilemma is a refusal to engage with objective fact. The debate about Brexit was lost, almost as soon as it began, in a tribal and emotional dogfight which bore little relation to reality.’

Brexit, What the Hell Happens Now?
Tagline: “For people who still believe in experts.”

Michael Gove’s statement had an incredibly negative effect and not just for Brexit. He made it acceptable to ignore truth.

This was a theme that ran on throughout the referendum campaign in the United Kingdom. Disinformation, or at the very least the shooing of information, became the spearhead pulling the campaign through that pesky cloud of facts. Aaron Banks, a man who put millions into the Leave campaign said: ‘Facts don’t work. You have to connect with the people emotionally. It’s the Trump success.’

A blatant declaration and admission that facts were ignored, and that it was okay to ignore them. And this coming from one of the key figureheads of the Leave movement.

This is the kind of mind-frame that took the United Kingdom into one of the biggest crises to shake our foundations since the Second World War.

The leave campaign was driven with slogans to incense the people “Take back control” (from the European Union) “Don’t let them in” (regarding refugees) and then lies to clinch the deal such as: the European Union are the ones that allowed free passage of immigrants from outside the E.U into the country. This is a falsehood since the government had the power to increase border force and stem the flow of immigration whenever it chose to. The real problem facing the government here was that they were not prepared to admit that they had always had the power to implement change but had simply decided it was too expensive to go ahead. This would weaken the Conservative position which they had absolutely no intention of doing.

The worst lie uttered by the Leave campaign was one that played on the heartstrings of the majority of the U.K regarding one of its most cherished institutions – the National Health Service.

We all remember the giant sign plastered on the side of the red bus declaring that the £350 million we give to the European Union would be put back into the NHS. This was a deception of the highest magnitude and was ditched as soon as the Leave vote was cast.

The crucial thing to remember is that the people who voted Leave had some genuine concerns that were not being addressed by the government. The issue is that the Leave campaign latched onto these concerns and redirected the anger toward an outside force.

Across the Atlantic during the presidential campaign of 2016, the soon-to-be president Donald Trump rebutted economic strategy and plans for reforms from the democratic side with slander. The entire campaign instantly lost any level of authenticity. Unfortunately the already controversial candidate, Hilary Clinton, stooped to his level. The fight for the White House was a fiasco.

When Donald Trump gained power, Kellyanne Conway (counsellor to U.S President Donald Trump) gave the new government free reign to lie when she addressed the press regarding Sean Spicer’s blatant inaccuracies regarding the number of attendees to President Trump’s inauguration. During an interview on 22nd January, 2017 with Chuck Todd on NBC, Conway claimed that Sean Spicer had not lied but had instead used “alternative facts”.

Trump’s presidency was born in a cloud of misinformation.

Chuck Todd also recently interviewed ex-mayor of New York, Rudy Guiliani, who – when talking about Donald Trump’s meeting’s with Mike Comey – said that people have “different versions of the truth” and “the truth is not the truth”. The pollution of the truth is an ongoing tactic throughout Donald Trump’s presidency, something that he bolsters with the firing of anyone who questions his authority. This is a blatant disregard of a democratic process in which government officials are meant to be held accountable by the people and governing bodies.

Without a doubt the most useful tool in Donald Trump’s arsenal is the use of “Fake News”.

Used throughout his run for presidency and still used to this day, Trump throws “fake news” at any news station or journalist that does not bathe him in good light. The use of “Fake News” shakes peoples trust in what they read, what they hear and what they see so that, when the truth is told (whether it be in regards to his interactions with Stormy Daniels, the silencing of his ex-wife with huge payoff or possible collusion with Russia) it will only be lost in the fires of confusion constantly fed by the words of Trump and his associates.

The age of unreason is a new and devastating era. Post-truths, alternative facts, having had “enough of experts” – this is all intrinsically damning to our way of life.

Corroborative hard evidence is being met with opinion. Measurable facts met with blasé indifference. People are being told that it is okay to go on their gut instincts and throw facts to the wind.

What this does in reality, is give reason (or the illusion of reason) to the unreasonable. A stomping ground to anyone with a gripe who does not truly know where to point their anger.

It was most succinctly put my Matthew D’anconia in his book Post Truth, The New War on Truth and How to Fight It when he says in his introduction that he will “explore the declining value of truth as society’s reserve currency, and the infectious spread of pernicious relativism disguised as legitimate scepticism”.

This can be said for a number of views that have become widespread and accepted by some communities, for instance:

– Climate change denial in which 97% of climate scientists believe that the climate is changing due to human impact and yet Senator James Inhofe can bring a snowball into a senate committee to show to everyone that it is cold outside as if that was evidence that the entire planet is fine.

– Holocaust denial in which a small group of people believe that the systematic slaughter of Jewish people never happened despite countless pieces of evidence in the forms of written statements, prisoner names and numbers filed away in folders at death camps as well as actual video footage. Holocaust deniers put the evidence down to fabricated documents and actors.

– The Anti-vaccination movement in which people fight the science of modern medicine and believe that vaccinations cause autism whilst what it is really doing is making their children susceptible to disease.

– Flat earth theory

The crux of the issue does not just come down to people being fed false information, but people willing to believe false information that matches their own views. It is no secret that Donald Trump aimed his argument at the disgruntled white working class and told them their problems were because of Democratic party policy and, of course, foreigners. The same tactic was used throughout the campaign to leave the European Union. After all, it is easier to point the blame at an easy target when the problems are much deeper and run through our own governments and the way we handle businesses.

Arguments, conversations and campaigns should take place, after all they help our society progress and evolve. But they need to be backed with truth. After all, if we do not have truth, we live in a society in freefall.