Editorial: Credibility and the news media

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted11/19/2016 2:00 PM
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  • 60 MINUTES Correspondent Lesley Stahl interviews President-elect Donald J. Trump at his home Nov. 11 in New York for his first post-election interview.

    60 MINUTES Correspondent Lesley Stahl interviews President-elect Donald J. Trump at his home Nov. 11 in New York for his first post-election interview. Associated Press / Chris Albert for CBSNews/60MINUTES

One of the calls we received shortly after the recent election was from a pleasant woman who noted our keepsake Donald Trump headlines of "Stunning Victory" on Nov. 9 and "America's CEO" on Nov. 10 but seemed disappointed that we hadn't used the headline, "45th President."

Her suggestion -- an interesting one we well might adopt on inauguration day -- was more than a suggestion. She called on us to "do the right thing," hinting that she saw the headline option as something of a moral obligation.

One of the letters we received prior to the recent election began by saying, "Your aim to tell the truth is a joke since you endorsed H. Clinton for president."

Let us talk today about truth and accuracy, particularly given President-elect Trump's repeated assertions along the campaign trail that the news media is "dishonest" and given the disturbingly low level of trust polls indicate the public has in those of us who try to serve our communities and the country through a life's work of journalism.

Let there be no doubt about how important we think this matter is. Democracy is rooted in the foundation of a free press, and the first thing tyrants throughout history have done has been to discredit and then to muzzle the independent purveyors of news.

And let there be no doubt about how complex we believe the issue of media credibility to be. In reality, it is made up of several issues -- how accurate news coverage actually is; how biased and responsible news coverage is; the implications of the reinvention of news delivery in the digital, social media, "fake news" age; and a cynical full-scale assault now taking place on media credibility by powerful vested interests who think nothing of slandering the institutions of journalism for their own gain.

All of these are vital matters and truthful assessments on each must be layered. We will get to all of that in the days ahead.

But let us start with definitions.

A headline choice of "America's CEO" rather than "45th President" is not an issue of accuracy or bias. It is a matter of preference.

An endorsement of a candidate is not evidence of dishonesty. It's an opinion, hopefully supported by a good argument that uses facts to make its case, but an opinion nonetheless. We can have differences of opinion without either of us being liars. Or for that matter, without either of us being ill-intended.

The press is not perfect.

Far from it.

But those of us who have spent a life in the newsroom can testify to this: Our aim is to report nobly and with honor. Our aim is to serve. In decades of that service, we have on occasion gotten things wrong, but we've never once wavered from striving resolutely to get them right.

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