In the current state of things it occurred to me that one reason we are so divided in this country is that we cannot even agree on what the facts are. Even when faced with a pandemic like COVID there have been naysayers and followers of naysayers who denied its existence to their peril. There have always been arguments for and against government policies and programs depending on views related to whether they work or not. Statistics can usually be cited to argue both sides of the argument. At least there is some science to statistics. What seems to be happening now is that the arguments are not over statistics, but simply opinion and hearsay. If you don't like the facts, find alternative facts, or just call it fake news. There is certainly some justification for that. We have no confidence in journalism, because journalism is not what it is supposed to be.
I was once a student of journalism. The values once revered in the practice of journalism have gone by the wayside. There seems to be an angle behind every story. What you tend to believe in the media depends on who you look to for the story. You choose your sources depending on which side you're on. There is no middle ground, no unbiased, fact-based, independently researched, confirmed and verified source of information that is to be found anywhere any more. Maybe there never really was, in truth, but that was once held to be the ambition of good journalism.
The press was once referred to as the Fourth Estate. That term was used to express the independence of the press as a source of reason, unfettered from the influence of higher powers, to the benefit that it served as a check on the abuse of influence. The press once served this purpose well. It was once among the most respected of occupations because it served its purpose so well for so long. It continued to hold the public trust because it upheld its values and did not become a pawn of special interests.
Now there is a clear and present danger to the survival of an independent press. In the aftermath of the Watergate scandal a Gallop poll revealed that 69% of the American public had a high level of trust in mass media. The most recent Gallop poll found that only 13% trust mass media a great deal and 28% trust the media a fair amount. The beginnings of the erosion of public confidence in the media was already well underway before the 2016 election cycle, but has been in a constant rate of decline since the press was maligned as an enemy of the people. The assault on the press continues as press corps seating arrangement at presidential press conferences are being allotted to those sources who report the news in a manner that is favorable to the incumbent. In the early days of the administration, certain members of the press were excluded from press conferences altogether. There have been reports recently of the family of the incumbent being involved in negotiations to acquire an interest in a media company that reports favorably on the programs and policies of the current administration. All the while we are allowing this to happen without outrage.
Is it any wonder why the press is held in such poor regard when you can go to the internet site of most any newspaper and find paid ads on the site which masquerade as news items but are in reality clickbait which will send you to some outrageous material that has nothing to do with real news. The attraction of increased revenues from such traffic has proved too enticing. The press media have sold their soul to the devil. The blame lies with themselves, the purveyors of the information, whether they intend to be that sleazy or not, when you lie down with dogs you're going to get fleas.
The internet of things has opened up the floodgates to outpouring of misinformation and rumor. The public is poised to gobble it up like it once did the sensational weeklys at the grocery store checkout counter with stories on celebrity divorces and ufo sightings. The grocery store rags were inexpensive but the internet of things provides us with its stories for free. All you have to do is click.
The way forward to healing the divide lies in the search for truth. If we could all find the truth, we may still disagree on the solutions, but at least we would have a better idea of how to resolve our differences. The problem is, the truth is so hard to find. In the recent flap over the Michael Flynn matter with Attorney General Barr attempting to drop the charges of crimes Flynn has already admitted to, the truth is a mystery. It appears that it could be true that Flynn lied to his boss and also to the FBI about his contacts with the Russians, while it could also be true that the FBI ensnared him in a trap which was designed to get him to lie with the idea of getting him fired or discredited. So this story like so many others will go on for some time until the truth will be so shrouded with differing points of view that it may be impossible to discover. Perhaps we can't handle the truth.
There is one thing for sure, with the facts and the truth so hard to find, with so much misinformation and biased reporting in the mix, and without a reliable independent press to report the news to us, we will forever be divided.