Apples and Bananas: The Necessity of Differentiating Facts and Opinion

December 15th, 2023 9:00 AM

The following is an excerpt from chapter six of A Future for the News: What's Wrong with Mainstream News Media in America and How to Fix It, edited by Professor Jim A. Kuypers, out today from Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. The book "brings together academics and news industry professionals with individual chapters taking a specific area of concern and making a case for particular solutions to the problems presented. Solutions range from ones designed for individual reporters to consider, to those that target newsrooms, the institution of journalism, and news consuming audiences. Together they aim to help a beleaguered institution restore itself as a fully functioning asset of the American Republic."

In response to Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, CNN International’s Christiane Amanpour, whose show is simulcast in the United States on PBS, wrote, “Now, more than ever, we need to commit to real reporting across a real nation, a real world in which journalism and democracy are in mortal peril, including by foreign powers like Russia paying to churn out and place false news, and hacking into democratic systems here and allegedly in upcoming crucial German and French elections too.” 

An appropriate response to Amanpour’s article could be “Now?” Amanpour can claim that revulsion to facts is a recent Trumpian feature that threatens democracy, but the people she would need to convince most are unconvinced. For instance, many political moderates as well as conservatives do not hear a journalist such as Amanpour using “now” and think of Trump, they hear “now” and think of just the next Republican who is replacing a Democrat; so even if Jeb Bush had been elected president, they would have gone after him too.

This response is not new to the 2016 election, because in their minds, in 2012, elite journalists went after Mitt Romney too. For example, Neil Newhouse was a pollster for the Romney campaign and in September of that year he created a sensation when he proclaimed, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” Responding to Newhouse, Neil Brown at PolitiFact wrote, “This fact-check business, it turns out, makes some partisans very uncomfortable.”

Romney’s rival, President Barack Obama, also attempted to seize on not only Newhouse’s remarks but the reaction to them: “Somebody was challenging one of their ads, they just— they made it up about work and welfare. . . . Every outlet said, ‘this is just not true.’ And they were asked about it and they said—one of their campaign people says: We won’t have the fact checkers dictate our campaign. We will not let the truth get in the way.”