Journalist: Mainstream Media Just Mouthpieces for Outside Interests

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A former star investigative journalist for CBS has slammed mainstream outlets for acting without integrity as the mouthpieces of outside interests, engaging in ideology-based rather than fact-based journalism.

Garland Nixon and Lee Stranahan of  http://Radio Sputnik’s Fault Lines spoke to Sharyl Attkisson, a veteran journalist who worked for CBS before leaving over perceived bias in the network. She is now an investigative journalist for Full Measure News and the author of several books on media manipulation.

The same can be said about news media in South Africa. 

On January 20, online publications rushed to tell us of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene’s appointment as chairman of Eskom’s board. He hadn’t accepted the job but the media, who have taken a side in the goings on at Eskom instead of simply reporting facts, rushed to conclude he was the chairman of Eskom. Many of these outlets tweeted the story as fact but just about all of them then removed their tweets when it emerged that Jabu Mabuza was the chairman instead.

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Look at how the headline changed when newspapers were exposed to have misinformed the public.

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Sunday Times recently confirmed that it had not checked the authenticity of a statement on which it based its front page story. A tweet by M&G said: “The Sunday Times admitted tat the document on which it based its front page story – claimed to be an official indictment against the Gupta family – was identical to a guideline document drafted by the DA last year”.

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The Mail & Guardian reported that Sunday Times had received a document from senior prosecutors, which passed its verification processes.

“‘Our story was based on a document provided to us by senior prosecutorial officials, and it was identified to us as an official indictment,’ Siqoko said in an email to the Mail & Guardian. ‘Given the seniority of these officials and the communications channel they used to relay the document to us, I was satisfied that the lead met our ethical criteria, standard and requirement tests applied to all our news stories,” he added. ‘However, had it come to our attention at the time that the indictment sent to us was identical to the one drafted by the DA, we would have still published the story. But we would have treated it differently after interrogating these officials regarding the origin of the indictment.

“The Democratic Alliance has confirmed that a document purported to be an indictment against the Gupta family and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane is actually a “guideline” the party gave to the Hawks when it filed a complaint against the Estina dairy farm in 2017.

It is unclear how the document, circulated widely on social media on Monday, was then claimed to be a legitimate indictment.”

But back to the Sputnik interview….

Stranahan started the interview by asking the five-time Emmy award-winning journalist what red flags people should be on the lookout for when watching the news.

“Let me start broadly and say, sadly, I begin with the presumption that almost everything I hear on the news today has been put out by some sort of interest that’s paying or pushing to get a narrative out, rather than any independent research,” said Attkisson. “One way you can tell that is there are literally thousands of news stories that could be reported in a given day and a number of ways to report them, but when everybody is reporting the same few stories and relying on the same sources and even using the same phrases, that’s not a naturally occurring event.”

“Whether they’re doing it on purpose or they’re simply subject to it, they are forwarding somebody talking points. It’s often through third and fourth parties, the news people may not even know that’s what they’re doing because they’re copying it off a wire service, or someone else has written about it, or they got an e-mail or a source whispered in their ear.”

“Number two: when the news seems to be shaping or censoring opinions and facts, rather than reporting them; when they seem to be trying to make you believe something and convince you, rather than simply presenting you with sets of facts. I think those are those are two really important things to watch for,” Attkisson said.
Trump Dubs US Mainstream Media a ‘Failure’ Setting Twitter Ablaze
Stranahan then asked a logical question: if news outlets are pushing narratives, then whose narratives are they pushing? Attkisson explained.

“There are certain people in the newsroom who are helping shape the narrative, either because of their own beliefs and contacts or because they have been contacted by these people that are with these multibillion dollar industries that have worked for decades to figure out how to make us report a certain way. So in some cases, people in the industry actually work in our newsroom to shape and influence the story.”

“We’re not asking the right questions, to understand that when five nonprofits all put out a press release, or raise something on social media and circulate it, it’s not just some organic independent movement. It’s not real news. The five nonprofits are all connected to the same group, if you look back far enough, [they’re working on behalf of an] organization that has paid them a multibillion dollar donation in some cases.”

“They know how to make it look like real news is happening and the press, under pressure to turn news quickly and fill the time, or in some cases because they ideologically agree and are lazy and don’t want to look too far, they take this information as if it’s news rather than doing their own critical thinking,” she said.

“It is, more so than ever.” Attkisson agreed. “I attribute that to the fact that in 2016, many in the media suspended themselves from the normal rules that govern us. We normally don’t use anonymous sources on the air; you can use them to gather further information, but you don’t put them in your stories — with very few exceptions. When you do use them, it’s only because you couldn’t get the information another way. You verify it, you describe in as much detail as possible without saying their names, and you characterize why you had to keep their names secret.”

“But all those roles were thrown out of a window because the press wanted to, and in some cases had said, they wanted to get Trump. They were willing to take information that was from questionable sources that has been proven wildly wrong time and time again. That’s why we saw some of the worst media mistakes you can imagine from formerly well-respected news organizations: because they’re being sloppy, because we’ve suspended ourselves from our normal rules in order to get a certain candidate.”
Unfair and Unbalanced: Nearly 60 Percent of Americans Think Mainstream Media Coverage Biased – Poll

“I would say there’s a subculture of Americans who are looking for fair information on stories that aren’t being reported, and I’m shocked everyday. It’s not hard to find the stories others aren’t covering well — it’s so easy, it’s a matter of which do I pick: there are so many important stories. I’m amazed, time and again, when I have time to dig into one arena to see that no one or few have dug in when it’s something that’s just so obvious.”

“Meanwhile, everybody is digging into Donald Trump’s corner. I think that’s fine, the president should be covered aggressively and fairly — but when everybody’s doing that and nobody’s looking in another direction, you’re going to miss so much stuff. What the public sees is going to be completely out of whack with what’s really going on.”

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  1. That is why then Cde PK it becomes very important that we develop and grow alternative sources of information like Uncensored Opinion. We are not writing simply because we enjoy doing so. You yourself will be the first to acknwowledge the fact that hosting this platform is very difficult. It demands a lot of dedication and resources. However difficult it is to do so , we soldier on simply because it is our revolutionary and internationalist duty to do so.

    1. Indeed Cde Greg. I mean if you look at the number of fake news in the last 48 hours surrounding President Zuma’s exist, you realise that journalism as a fourth estate, with the goal to inform accurately and fairly is just a myth. Your contribution is much appreciated Cde Greg.

  2. Cde Pk I have been thinking hard about the very same topic over the past few days. In fact I was in discussion with my mother on this very same topic early this afternoon. The long and short of it is that far from reporting on the situation in our country, our media constructs stories which they then purport to put out as news. I am not sure as to what drives this agenda. Is it poor training? I dont know. Is it driven by a cynical attempt to shape the political direction in our country? I dont know . Whatever the reason, it can only be described as shameful .

    1. Cde Greg, in years past we used to put it down to the juniorisation of newsrooms and the shrinking purse strings of media.
      Nowadays it is plain cynical – newsrooms blatantly take sides – not that they didnt in the past but they have joined one political side or another.

      Take the President’s departure, recall or whatever it’s called – removal from office by force or voluntarily. It’s been happening for a long time now – according to the media JZ was toast at the first NEC before the 106 Celebrations. Like the ANC is that stupid to recall Zuma ahead of those celebrations and risk a half-empty stadium.

      This morning for example, media announced that the “President had summoned ministers to a cabinet meeting”. Ministers on Twitter refuted this. The Presidency issued a statement saying the meeting was of cabinet committees which takes place every tuesday. Despite the explanation, the media continued with their statements.

      This morning too, another newspaper reported notes from lawyers the Guptas were briefing on their appearance to the Eskom inquiry. Like for goodness sakes, what have we come to – what happened to the client-advocate confidentiality.

      Fortunately, this is not unique to SA. Its happening all around the world.

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