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The Cost of Unethical Journalism

Staff Editorial: An opinion piece written by the Editor-in-Chief, which reflects the collective view of the publication staff.
CBS News Anchor Dan Rather once said, “Ratings don’t last. Good journalism does.”
The opposite, however, seems to be the foundation for current news media. For every story and every report, major news networks sacrifice what makes journalism good for what makes ratings soar.
But, in a twenty-four hour news cycle, the demands to return high ratings combined with the sheer amount of time anchors have to fill forces journalistic integrity into the back seat. Wall-to-wall reporting demands that news stories stray from fact-based, unbiased reporting into the realm of talk shows—they become a platform for extreme opinions which draw ratings, rather than representing the truth.
The easiest example of this is CNN’s track record when reporting on the issue of climate change. A study, conducted by Stanford University and the University of Toronto, on the opinions of publishing climatologists, found that 97% of experts agree that greenhouse gases have contributed to the “unequivocal” warming of the earth. In other words, 97% of experts agree that climate change is happening.
But when CNN reports on it, they give equal airtime to the 3% who deny climate change.
This isn’t unbiased reporting, because it leads viewers to believe that the percent of scientists who don’t believe in climate change to be closer to 50%, because that’s what gets airtime.
The exact same thing occurred during Donald Trump’s bid for president of the United States, and in their treatment of former Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.
Donald Trump’s presidential run would not have been possible without the current state of news media. Following a strict pattern, Trump has gained maximum news coverage by saying something outlandish and offensive, feeding the controversy over the statement and then making an even more outlandish statement in order to move on.
The New York Times found that Donald Trump had received $2 billion of free media coverage. And that was last March.
What major news networks did is give credibility and free air time to a man who, at the beginning of his run, was just a fringe demagogue shouting at no one. They gave him someone to shout at.
On the opposite side, CNN routinely ignored Sanders rallies which accrued thousands of people at a time.
I actually recall one night where CNN was showing an empty Trump podium, waiting thirty minutes for him to take the stage. And Bernie Sanders? He was busy delivering a speech to upwards of 10,000 people.
What I’m saying is that irresponsible news coverage is what led to Donald Trump’s popularity. His messages of racism, xenophobia and hatred gained traction because they were playing on the news twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Because in the world of our news media, facts aren’t real—you can find an ‘expert’ anywhere who will deny them. You can find anyone who will tell you that Trump isn’t really racist or even that he didn’t really say what video shows he did.
So what has to change?
Well, the Founding Fathers determined that the right to free press was worth fighting for—that it was so important it should be the first Amendment to our Constitution. If we want to protect that right, and the integrity of that right, we have to hold our journalists accountable. If we are to remain the kind of nation worth being proud of, one which doesn’t fall prey to racism and xenophobia, we have to hold our press to the highest possible standard.
At its best, journalism is how we remain informed. It explains, it focuses in on, and it highlights the issues we would never be exposed to otherwise. At its worst, it’s a platform for demagogues to preach to a captive audience.
This country deserves journalism at its best.
Not five weeks on Malaysian flight 370, and not constant coverage of Trump’s racist remarks.
It deserves to be informed based on the facts, not what’s the most outlandish, the most controversial, or the most ridiculous. It deserves to be given that respect. We deserve to be given that respect.

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