Some news media have been openly hostile in confronting the racist occupant of the White House who has encouraged police to attack protesters and criminal suspects. When the police murdered George Floyd and police viciously attacked peaceful protesters, some news media moved away from neutral, balanced reporting about such matters and began to openly support the protesters.
That news media support now also includes the Black Lives Matter movement for equality:
It is still a good idea to report the facts in a neutral way and seek balance when reporting about most controversies. But when a president threatens democracy, the environment, and the institutions that make America in some ways a great nation, journalists should take stock as to whether they are unwitting accomplices in reinforcing the president’s destructive agenda. And as media critics have pointed out, in many cases that is exactly what many news organizations have done.
It is not just the extremist Fox News or Sinclair that have promoted the fascist president‘s agenda. Mainstream news organizations, too, even though they did not want to be his accomplices, have strengthened Trump as he tears apart the nation.
Trump is very skilled in manipulating public opinion. He not only gets fawning press coverage from the right wing media, but he also gets a disproportionate amount of coverage from the mainstream news media. He wins either way.
The answer, though, to the question of what the news media should do is not to ignore Trump. Doing that would just result in even more corruption and destruction. Instead, the news media should use the truth sandwich story structure when reporting about Trump.
The truth sandwich story structure reports the truth at the beginning of a story. It then points out that Trump is lying. After accomplishing those two goals, the bulk of the story should provide fact checking evidence that repeats the truth and reveals its consequences. This story structure neutralizes Trump’s ability to manipulate public opinion.
Unfortunately, for the past four years the news media have used the story structure of reporting Trump’s latest statements or actions at the beginning of the story for several paragraphs. Then, after most people quit reading, the story points out that Trump is lying. Trump wins in that case.
News media in recent weeks have started to embrace something similar to the truth sandwich story structure in their reporting about Trump and the protests. Their relentlessly hostile reporting about Trump and violent police is getting closer to the truth about what is actually happening to African Americans. And that, ultimately, is their job: to report the truth, even if it means in unusual circumstances throwing neutrality and balanced reporting out the window.
What it all boils down to is whether journalists are part of the problem or part of the solution when it comes to reporting about extreme threats to the nation and its people. Most journalists certainly do not want to be part of the problem, but unless they evolve that is what they will be. Increasingly, editors who cling to old, ineffective ways of presenting news and opinion are being fired because there is too much at stake for journalism to stand in the way of progress.
The appropriate way to think about police brutality is not that most police officers are not violent. Instead, the public and the news media should realize that there are a lot of bad cops. And when the police intentionally fire on peaceful protesters and journalists, the police only reinforce this perception: