Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Donald Trump is gutting journalism with his Twitter

Gage Skidmore/Flickr
(Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

The firestorm that ensued after Buzzfeed’s release of a dossier, alleged to contain information about Russia’s long-term “cultivation” of President Donald Trump, was remarkable. An irate Jake Tapper, correspondent of CNN, challenged Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith, calling their publication “irresponsible journalism.” Though, Smith and his reporters insist that we live in a new age that must engage with better with audiences: “If you’re going to report on a document, the presumption is that you share the document with your audience.”

Perhaps to a stickler on traditional journalistic ethics, Buzzfeed made an error of judgment; whether that judgment was for the greater good is for time to tell. But CNN and other mainstream media outlets have done far worse than Buzzfeed in damaging journalistic integrity. For example, the media’s relentless attention to President Trump’s Tweets in the place of actual quotations poses an unprecedented challenge to journalistic ethics: are these Tweets really news?

Even though the dossier is gradually receiving more endorsements of credibility, Tweets continue to be a source of supplemental information. The Twitter account used by Donald Trump, @realdonaldtrump, is allegedly controlled by the President himself—though there is no proof that his staff, including senior counselor Stephen Bannon, does not write them for him. Given that Twitter is not fully secured, the dangers of reporting on these Tweets are endless. If a hacker can enter the State Department, one could almost certainly hack Trump’s Twitter and put out a provocative, but believable Tweet to advance some kind of conflict or interest.

Yet these Tweets are used by CNN and other outlets as though Trump had spoken them at a press conference, and in doing so they are hurting their own access to information. In one CNN article entitled “US Spy Chief Rejects Trump’s Attacks Over Russia Dossier,” it states, “Trump confirmed on Twitter he had received a call from Clapper.” If major news outlets are relying on Twitter for facts, they are wasting an opportunity to hear it from the President and ask a follow-up question. If the practice continues, transparency will be damaged day by day.

Even if we are to give the President the benefit of the doubt, mainstream media outlets need to recognize that these tweets are not filtered. Most standard forms of communication with the White House requires a level of advisory not to send out confidential, false, or endangering information before making an appearance; even if it fails, there is an attempt to stay honest.

Twitter has no such filter. Journalists need to be able to analyze these Tweets with a degree of critical thinking in order to justify reporting on them. There needs to be a vigorous effort to check the President on facts and motivations. By setting the impression that the Tweets are quick and reliable texts, they are allowing President Trump to be the unquestioned gatekeeper of all White House news.

What is most disturbing is the lack of self-reflection upon these mainstream media outlets. James Comey’s controversial letter to Congress eleven days before the election put this very hypocrisy on display. Despite the letter being a non-story since the beginning of its conception, Comey is blamed unilaterally for his poorly-timed request to bring in former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s emails considered “pertinent” to the investigation of Clinton’s email server.

Comey certainly bears some responsibility. But by Tapper’s logic, the information contained in the letter did not make any confirmed proclamations, and while it was an event to note, there was extensive news media about the event riddled with speculation and mixed messages from unconfirmed leaks.

There is reason to believe this fumble had deep consequences. Statistical journalists at FiveThirtyEight studied panel surveys—polls that follow up with specific respondents—and discovered that late deciders flocked to Trump in the days leading up to the election. Whether that had anything to do with the media’s constant spinning of the letter, then misleadingly describing the occasion as a “reopening” of Clinton’s case, is not known.

Tapper touts CNN’s decision to withhold the dossier as a testament to their journalistic ethics. What were they doing during the Comey affair? Was that story worth beating to the pulp? And what is ethical about depending on the President’s self-satisfying social media account for vital information?

I digress, because the point is not to paint CNN as “fake news” either. At a time when faith in news media is at an all-time low, we need news platforms to lift each other up, not hold others to hypocritical standards. Buzzfeed may or may not be correct in its thesis to use transparency to fight anti-fact parties, but there is no moral high ground. News should not be afraid to try everything and help each other find out how to best report the news effectively in the 21st century.

But for now, if the President’s aim is to dismantle the idea of “facts” and discredit the platforms of his political opponents, the mainstream media is falling for it. Hard.

James Mazarakis is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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    elizabethwJan 25, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    It’s comical the great emphasis placed on twitter and President Trump’s twitter account; you could endlessly go into the hypocrisy and how they didn’t make similar demands over Obama’s use of twitter and other instances of selective outrage and a sudden interest in holding a president accountable.

    I think the writer missed the larger point; MSM no longer has credibility. It lost it in 2016 and over the past few years; the standards of journalism have become in reality almost defunct.

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    David Hunt 1990Jan 23, 2017 at 10:00 am

    Actually, IMHO the reason for the press-titutes and their fury over Trump’s tweeting is that it prevents them from filtering and spinning what Trump says. They are the Elites, the Gatekeepers… how dare a mere politician want to communicate with The People without their “spin” on things?