Since public opinion exercises the greatest power and authority today in every sphere of life, both private and public, every member of society must fulfill the demands of justice and charity in this area. As a result, all must strive, through these media as well, to form and spread sound public opinion.
Justice in reporting requires the pursuit of the truth, however inconvenient it might be for those in power. Likewise, reporters must understand that by the nature of their work they will be put under constant pressure by those in power to ratify the desires of those in power or else face the wrath of those authorities, risking, perhaps, their very life. Authorities often enjoy the media, not as a source for truth and justice, but as a means of manipulating the public; they can easily turn the media into a propaganda wing, and in doing so, engage an aggressive manipulative campaign against the public.
Truth is important. The truth not only sets us free but opens us up to the greater good. When the greater good is overlooked or undermined, the truth is lost. But what comes out as a result will often have the appearance of the truth, for, as Pope Francis explained, it becomes disinformation which mimics the truth. Thus, he said, we must become accustomed to how such disinformation is produced, how truth is mixed with falsehood, facts with disinformation, to lead us astray:
Yet preventing and identifying the way disinformation works also calls for a profound and careful process of discernment. We need to unmask what could be called the “snake-tactics” used by those who disguise themselves in order to strike at any time and place. This was the strategy employed by the “crafty serpent” in the Book of Genesis, who, at the dawn of humanity, created the first fake news (cf. Gen 3:1-15), which began the tragic history of human sin, beginning with the first fratricide (cf. Gen 4) and issuing in the countless other evils committed against God, neighbour, society and creation. The strategy of this skilled “Father of Lies” (Jn 8:44) is precisely mimicry, that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments.
Reporters are not perfect. They need to constantly examine the evidence, and provide, to the best of their ability, what they know, informing themselves of what they do not know, and sharing the results to the public so that they can be better informed. But, when there is a war against the truth, when there is a war against the reporting of truth, these imperfections will be used and abused by those who hate the media to ferment similar hatred for the media by the populace. They will decry all news as “fake news” if the truth does not fit their own desire. Authoritarians will make war against the media because they know the media can reveal the truth which they want to remain hidden; but if it will not remain hidden, then authoritarians will want their followers to distrust revelations which come out of the media so that they will not believe the truth even when it is reported.
Who should we believe in a war between the media and some public authority? Pope Francis suggests we look at what is being promoted; when someone speaks with a desire to manipulate others so that those being manipulated lose sense of the common good and so ignore the plight of their neighbor, we have a violent authoritarian response which does not promote the truth but falsehood:
Whenever communication is primarily aimed at promoting consumption or manipulating others, we are dealing with a form of violent aggression like that suffered by the man in the parable, who was beaten by robbers and left abandoned on the road. The Levite and the priest do not regard him as a neighbour, but as a stranger to be kept at a distance. In those days, it was rules of ritual purity which conditioned their response. Nowadays there is a danger that certain media so condition our responses that we fail to see our real neighbour.
Because of Donald Trump’s war against the media, many are now left unsure as to whom they should believe. Even when it can be shown that what Trump says is fake news is actually the truth, Trump doubles down and takes it out on the media, punishing reporters who annoy him with inconvenient questions.
But why do people trust him so much? How can anyone trust Trump when he constantly distorts and misrepresents what is being done? He can’t even speak correctly about the weather. What he says has already caused harm, as can be seen in Puerto Rico. Do we really want to believe only what the President tells us and not what we see, hear, or experience?
People, it seems, want to be duped. They want an excuse to continue to follow a strong authoritarian figure who promotes their ideology. They do not care for the common good, which is why they have no care or concern for the truth. They care about their own particular desires being fulfilled, and they do not care who gets harmed in the process. So long as Trump acts like a wish-fulfilling gem for their ideological biases, they will not only let him stomp over the truth, but also over those who seek to bring the truth to light. As Trump grows in power, other authoritarians are following his example, beginning their own attacks against media critics. As the war continues, because of the violent nature of the authoritarian rhetoric against the news media, reporters now feel that they could face actual violence as they push back against falsehood. They will be silenced if they will not silence themselves. It is, as Dan Rather suggested, a very “Orwellian” situation we find ourselves in.
We cannot let the war against the media continue. We can and should recognize reporters are human and make mistakes. We should therefore continue to search out for the truth, the whole truth, the truth which is revealed in the promotion of the greater good. We have a right to this truth, and the more some authoritarian figure fights against it, the more we need to come together and protect the media and demand such authoritarians stand down.
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