Accuracy in Media

Dan Rather appeared in a video on the Young Turks website with some advice on how to consume news.

“Identifying fake news and figuring out what to believe … if you’re truly invested in the work of being a good, informed citizen, may I respectfully offer a short primer,” he began.

1.       Understand that trusting a news outlet does not mean they’re perfect. No one’s perfect. It means they tell you when they screw up.

2.       Don’t rely on just one news outlet.

3.       Don’t just rely on just the news to understand an issue. Read books. Find the experts. Find out how the issues are discussed outside of news.

4.       If you find yourself agreeing with everything your news outlet says, you’re doing it wrong. If your news doesn’t challenge you, challenge your news.

5.       Find a commentator whose politics differ from yours … intellectually honest even though their values differ from yours. If you can’t find such a person, maybe the media’s not the problem.

6.       Remember that what the news tells you is far less important than what they decide to talk about in the first place. If they focus on personal, salacious and speculative stories, find a new outlet, one that drills in on issues that actually affect real lives, your wallet or pocketbook, health and education, schools, social justice … and the environment.”

In 2004, Rather, the former CBS News anchor ran a story that purported to show documents that he claimed proved President George W. Bush avoided serving in Vietnam during his time in the Texas National Guard and received preferential treatment in the Guard because his father, George H.W. Bush was then a member of Congress.

No news outlet is perfect, but Rather has refused to admit the story was incorrect, even though four other CBS employees – three of them executives – were fired for it after an independent panel determined CBS News “failed to follow basic journalistic principles in the preparation and reporting of the piece” and Rather himself retired before the panel announced its conclusions.

The best he has done is admit the documents on which he based his reporting – which were widely acknowledged as fake – were “fake but accurate,” although he continues to insist they were not forged.

“The whole documents argument was a camouflage,” Rather said in a Reddit session. “What was described in the documents was factual …. What I know, all I know is, we reported a true story. Whatever you think of the documents, facts are facts.”

President George W. Bush has admitted he had problems with drugs and alcohol earlier in his life. He quit both before he entered politics, and he’s never been accused of relapsing.

The news that he might have gotten “sugar-coated” evaluations because of his father being in Congress in the mid-1960s seems to run afoul of Rather’s sixth rule. What the news told us about President Bush in this case is far less questionable than why Rather and his network decided to air it at that time. It’s a focus on personal, salacious and speculative stories.

It has nothing to do with our “real lives … wallet or pocketbook, health and education, schools, social justice … and the environment.”

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