Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Her latest book examines the lives of four past presidents to understand what it takes to lead in turbulent times. Their stories, she says, hold valuable lessons for today.
In this presidential election, we’ve had more access to information than ever before. Eighty-one percent of all adults get some of their news online; 72 percent from their phones, according to Pew Research. But in many ways, it’s also become more difficult to discern fact from fiction. Today’s media landscape is littered with fake news sites, hyper-partisan Facebook pages and unverified Twitter accounts. They’ve fooled even seasoned journalists into reporting information that is false. And on social media, what we watch, hear and read increasingly comes from self-curated spaces that reflect views of like-minded social networks. How much do voters still care about the facts? And how does the media defend them? Diane and a panel discuss how misinformation has shaped this presidential race.
- Brian Stelter Host of CNN’s Reliable Sources; senior media correspondent for CNN Worldwide. He reports and writes for CNN and CNNMoney.
- Margaret Sullivan Media columnist, The Washington Post
- Amy Mitchell Director of journalism research, Pew Research Center
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. If you've logged into Facebook at any point during this presidential race, you've been flooded with headlines about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, hacks, lawsuits and polling data, some of them thoroughly reported, some not. As the way we consume news changes, it's easier for journalists and the public to be fooled by fake stories. But how much do voters still care about the facts and how does the media defend them?
MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about misinformation in 2016, Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for The Washington Post, Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at the Pew Research Center, and from NPR in New York, Brian Stelter, host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and senior media correspondent for "CNN Worldwide." I'm sure many of you will want to be part of the program. Give us a call with your thoughts, your ideas, 800-433-8850.
MS. DIANE REHMSend us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And thank you all for being with us.
MS. MARGARET SULLIVANThanks, Diane.
MS. AMY MITCHELLThank you.
MR. BRIAN STELTERThank you.
REHMAnd Amy, I'll start with you. What's made this election so different? How are people getting their information this year as compared to 2012 or 2008?
MITCHELLWell, we do see that Americans, overall, have a predilection for the screen in how they're being informed, but which screen is what's changing. Cable TV overall is still deemed the most helpful. There's still a lot of folks that are turning to that television set in their home. But digital is on the rise and what's really increasing is the use of social media for news, which is now 84 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds that are getting news through social media and close to two-thirds of the public overall.
MITCHELLWhat's also growing dramatically is us turning to our mobile phones as a platform that we're using. And that, again, we've seen large increases in, which leads us to be dipping in and out of news even more so over the course of the day.
REHMAnd Margaret Sullivan, what does that mean in terms of the kinds of facts that people are getting or let's put it another way, the kind of information they're getting?
SULLIVANWell, it's much harder to tell what's real and what's not real when you are consuming information through social media and on your phone because things are coming to you in a disaggregated way. You're not going onto, let's say, the New York Times website and saying all of this has been vetted by the editors and written by the, you know, talented and experienced reporters at the New York Times. You really don't know what you're getting, what's coming across your feed, what's coming before your eyes.
SULLIVANAnd it's much harder to tell what's real, what's not real, what's trustworthy and what's not trustworthy. And, of course, as we all know, the trust in the media is at a very low level anyway.
REHMAnd Brian Stelter, is there a demographic kind of difference in how people get their news?
STELTERCertainly, we continue to see younger people getting more and more news off of social media and Snapchat and the like, but we're at the point now where almost everybody is online, is on the Internet, is swimming in this sea of both information and misinformation, whether you're 16 years old or 68 years old, you can be tricked by these fake news websites that have become a plague on the Internet and become enabled partly by Facebook and Twitter.
STELTERI would say there's three kinds. There are sites that are solely designed to trick you, completely fake, just out for laughs at your expense and then there's also sites that are just misleading. They're not wrong, but they're highly, highly misleading. These sites will tell you that voter fraud is a national emergency when it's not. And then, the most dangerous kind of site, Diane, is the hybrid. It's half fake, half real. There's some fact, there's some fiction and those are very hard to figure out.
STELTERAnd so I'm concerned that Facebook and Twitter and other sites are not doing enough to try to stamp this out or at least de-emphasize this kind of junk from showing up in your social media feed.
REHMMargaret, what have you see as the biggest challenges in this particular election?
SULLIVANWell, we're in our echo chambers. Everyone is seeing and is participating with their own kind of information and you could easily go for days or weeks without coming across a point of view or an opinion that really differs from your own. This is a big change from a time when we had, you know, three television networks and a few newspapers that would present us with information that pretty much everybody was seeing and that gave us a spectrum of points of view. That's no longer true and that really drives us into our corners in a very destructive way.
REHMAnd Amy, we know that newspaper readership tends to be on the decline all over the country.
MITCHELLThe print. Print platform, in and of itself, is down dramatically compared with a decade ago. Only about 20 percent that are often getting news from a print newspaper itself. Now, certainly, there are members of the public that are coming across newspaper news stories in the digital realm, but print as a platform is what's really declining. And when we look more at social media and that makeup to build a little bit on what Margaret was saying, we do find that most Americans tend to come across a mix of views in social media.
MITCHELLIt's actually hard to live in a complete bubble just because things come at you. But what's happening is two things. One is that those that are more ideologically driven, sort of more consistently aligned ideologically on one side of the spectrum or the other, those are the people that tend to isolate themselves more in their choices in social media, have more reinforcing views that they run into. It also means that one of the big questions is one of trust. How are you going to respond to that news that comes at you that may not be something that you're seeking out yourself.
REHMBut at the same time, Brian, it would seem that the public's mistrust of all media seems to be way, way down so how do you separate what they believe in from what they don't believe in?
STELTERIndeed. And we are all media now and we should all recognize off the top that whenever we post on Facebook or take a picture, we are participating. We are part of the media. We're talking about national news media, like this program we're listening to. I would separate out Republicans and Democrats when it comes to trust in media. Yes, trust in media levels are love overall.
STELTERBut there is a big difference between how critical Democrats are of the national news media, how critical Republicans are. And what happened in the past year is that Donald Trump's cynical, brazen attempt to delegitimize the media caused a further erosion in trust in media, mostly among Republicans. So we are at a record low in terms of trust largely because of Donald Trump's campaign, which he has taken credit for to delegitimize the press.
REHMHow do you see it, Amy?
MITCHELLWell, we have certainly seen trust levels decline, you know, over the course of time. One of the other things that we've found is it's not just when you ask about the national news media and there, we do find conservatives and Republicans that tend to be less trusting overall and they have a greater sense of bias. But one of the striking differences is when we ask about specific news sources. There, the divide is very dramatic. So, for example, the outlets that conservative, consistent Republicans tend to trust, those are the ones you're most aligned, liberals tend to distrust. So a real divide in the way people approach different news outlets.
REHMSo what about -- go ahead, Brian.
STELTERI was going to say, those are the outlets that are misleading their audiences the most. If you take a look at a recent BuzzFeed study of hyper partisan Facebook pages, it finds there are lies and misinformation on both liberal and conservative Facebook pages, but there's many more misstatements on those conservatives pages. There's a lot more fake news on the right right now. And the same is true on networks like Fox News.
STELTERYou know, Fox News is telling its audience voter fraud is running rampant. Fox News is telling its audience Trump has a much better chance than most polls would indicate. It's that kind of subtle misinformation that I think has consequences on a day like today.
REHMBrian, what happened to Sean Hannity the other day?
STELTERWell, Sean Hannity got fooled by some of these fake new sites, some of these hybrids that have a mix of fact and fiction. He wanted something to be true, the story that was online that was a lie was totally made it. It said that Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Warren and President Obama had all unfollowed Hillary Clinton and deleted their tweets promoting her and praising her. Now, if Sean Hannity had looked at Twitter, he would have seen that wasn't true. But he saw these headlines on blogs that said it was true and he really wanted to believe it because it made sense in his world view so he said it on the air a couple of times.
STELTERAnd, you know, as you know, Diane, this microphone is powerful. This microphone is special. You shouldn't just repeat something that you haven't checked out before you say it on the air, but that's what happened. He had to apologize for that. But it's an example of how these fake news stories on the web can actually spread into mainstream media.
REHMAnd indeed, I got caught with Bernie Sanders saying something really horrible on the air, that I should have checked even further. But how does the ordinary person go about checking, Margaret?
SULLIVANThat's a real challenge, Diane, and it's something that I've been thinking about a lot. I mean, it really comes down to something as wonkish-sounding as news literacy. People have to bring a kind of critical thinking to what they're seeing and that's a lot to ask of the ordinary news consumer, but I do think it has to happen. You have to look at a source and say, is this a trustworthy source and compare and contrast.
REHMMargaret Sullivan is media columnist for The Washington Post. Short break here. We will be taking your calls, comments, questions, 800-433-8850. Stay with us.
REHMWe are talking about a very important subject today -- information, how and where you get your information, what is fact checking, how are we misled by misinformation, and misinformation deliberately put out there to confuse you, to convince you, to create some malicious kind of rumor that then goes round and round and people believe it. Margaret, who runs these fake news sites?
SULLIVANWell, Diane, these days it's not very hard to do such a thing, because we all have a printing press, as it were, in our phones or in our computer. So it doesn't really take a lot of funding. It doesn't take a lot of organization. It's people who are motivated, for political or other reasons, to put this misinformation out there. And it's troubling.
REHMBrian, talk about the young Macedonians.
STELTERBuzzFeed has done great reporting on this. Craig Silverman of BuzzFeed found that there are young people in Macedonia who have come up with a thriving business creating hundreds of pro-Trump websites. A lot of them look similar, sound similar, have similar stories. And as a result, when you look at these sites, it seems like they're covering a lot of important news, because they're all linked into each other.
REHMWhat kind of -- okay. And what kind of stories are they putting out?
STELTERThese are relentlessly pro-Trump stories, anti-Clinton stories, stories that give Trump supporters reason to doubt the media and believe that Trump is doing better than he might be actually doing in the polls. The reason these kids make these sites is because it makes money for them, you know. These sites are only as powerful as we let them be, by clicking on them and by viewing the ads. If you set up a fake news site and you get it trending on Facebook, you can get a whole lot of traffic. And that's a whole lot of advertising revenue. And so this is really a business calculation that has political effects for us voters.
REHMAmy, you've seen them as well.
MITCHELLWell, and what's interesting is how these have developed over the course of the year. So we did a study back in 2010, 2011, where what was starting was at the state level. There were these watchdog news sites and on both the right and then the left. A group that was funding largely by partisan foundation kind of groups. And they were putting out what would be -- what would fit into, you know, Brian's sort of second tier, which is that partisan, twisting the facts kind of reporting. They didn't get the same kind of traction that we're seeing now. And that's...
MITCHELL...because of the development around social media, that these things can just take off in a way today that never would have been possible in the early era of digital, before we had so much social media activity.
REHMHere is an email from Rob. How do we move forward on making decisions on issues like climate change, when we reject vetted facts as a nation, Margaret?
SULLIVANIt's a very good and it's a very troubling question. We -- some people think we live in a post-fact or a post-truth society now, so that facts don't matter. I mean, of course they still do. And actually the media has come a ways in a positive way by stating established fact about climate change and other things like that, rather than doing this kind of he said, she said reporting that lets the viewer or the listener or the reader do the work.
REHMOr let the reader or the listener believe that there is an equality to both points of view. Brian?
STELTERPrecisely. And then, you know, in some ways Donald Trump made this easier. There's been a rise in fact checking, a flourishing of fact checking that's partly because, as Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star said, Donald Trump's not a normal political liar. He is someone who lies in very obvious ways to catch. These are not complicated shades of truth, these are just black-and-white things. And so, as a result, we saw journalists take a more forceful posture this year. The big question is whether that's going to continue after the election, whether it's a Clinton administration or a Trump administration. Will this kind of full-throated fact checking continue? Let me say, I hope it does. But I'm skeptical. I'm hopeful, but I'm skeptical.
REHMAnd a tweet from David, who says, I'd like to know why during debates there wasn't some kind of mandatory fact checking. Amy.
MITCHELLOne of the challenges is, I mean, the public strongly agrees on the sense that fact checking is a really important role for the news media to play and that journalists should emphasize inaccurate statements so the people are aware of them. And people on both sides of the aisle say that. But just as we talk about it -- putting more onus on the public, more burden on them to figure out what's true, what's not true, where it's coming from -- it's also another job for the journalists to take on, whether it's figuring out fake news sites or what a candidate says, amid their depleting newsroom staff, when we have newspaper staff that's, you know, close to half of what it was 20 years ago, it is another really difficult job for these journalists to try to take on.
REHMYou know, it's fascinating. Because even people who are members of the same family are reading and going to sites that reflect their own views, which may be totally different from those of other members of the family, you get in to a terrible situation, Margaret.
SULLIVANYou do. I mean, it's -- it is really difficult. And just to return to David's tweet about the debates and the moderators, you know, there was a real controversy before these debates about whether the debate moderators would try to fact check. And Chris Wallace went out of his way to say, I will not be a truth squadder. And -- squadder , not squatter. And it, you know, it's very difficult for them to do that in the moment. But a number of news organizations did a great job, including NPR and certainly The Washington Post and others, by doing real-time fact checking during the debates. So it was on another screen.
REHMAnd CNN tried to do exactly the same thing, did they not, Brian?
STELTEREven sometimes right on the screen, in the banner, something that we had not seen before. You know, that's again because these were pretty black-and-white issues, you know? When Donald Trump would call Barack Obama the founder of ISIS, that was a pretty easy thing to summarize in a banner.
REHMYou know, I remember that moment and it still shocks me that someone would say something as outrageous as that.
SULLIVANIt was really a great moment for CNN, because it did have one of those banners that said -- repeated Trump saying that Clinton was the founder of ISIS. And then there was a parenthetical and said -- that said, she wasn't.
SULLIVANOr maybe it was Obama, he wasn't. It was really great.
REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones now. First to Randy in Tulsa, Okla. You're on the air.
RANDYThanks for taking me on here.
RANDYGreat to be here after listening for so many years.
RANDYHey, I wrote my thesis in 1990 on global warming theory. And the subtitle -- I defended it against three professors -- subtitled, the environmental strategy to a new world order. In the 20 years since then we've seen more evidence of the media, how they've taken only certain groups. And by the way, let's get it clear, all the major media that you all represent and appeal to are members of the Council on Foreign Relations. Is that not so? I mean, you have executives that are members. You're all sponsored by corporate sponsors.
RANDYSo when we get junk science that advances things like the theory of global warming and what you now call climate change, the public has become very skeptical. And the media's ratings are down at this level, below 5 percent and under, because you're full of half truths. All of you. Every damn one of you.
REHMAll right. Brian, do you want to comment?
STELTERWe have seen many conspiracy theories during this election. And I was very disturbed toward the end of this election season to see what the GOP nominee, saying the media was part of a grand conspiracy theory to deny him the election. There is some truth about, you know, what executives belong to what groups, to what executes donate to what campaigns. You're always going to be able to find examples of that.
STELTERI would just point out that newsrooms are fiercely independent. I would point out that journalists oftentimes do not know what their bosses are doing in terms of donations or anything like that. I would point out that it's not possible to have grand conspiracy theories in newsrooms because, well, journalists, we're flying by the seat of our pants or incompetent, if nothing else. That would be a fair critique, I would say. What I've learned, being inside CNN for three years, things are happening minute by minute.
STELTERThey're not the results of grand strategies.
SULLIVANI always like to say that, in newsrooms, it's more likely to be chaos theory than conspiracy theory.
STELTERAh, there you go.
SULLIVANBut just addressing the idea about corporate ownership and so on, The Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos. He does not interfere in the news product at all. He leaves that to a great editor, Marty Baron. And it's not as if orders are coming down. It's just -- it doesn't work that way.
REHMAmy can you speak...
STELTERBut I think we do need to...
REHMOh, go ahead, Brian.
STELTERI was just going to say, we do need to address the issues though. I think it's important. You know, CNN was recently -- there's an agreement for CNN's parent, Time Warner, to be acquired by AT&T, one of the biggest companies in the world. We need to be open about that. We need to be transparent about that. We need to show that we can continue to cover our corporate parents. It's important to show transparency because media distrust is so high. But I would just note, audience levels are incredibly high right now. Viewers are watching. Readers are reading The Washington Post, they're listening to NPR. Even if there's not much trust, the audience is passionately paying attention to this coverage.
MITCHELLYeah, that's absolutely the case. This, if anything, is a penetrating election when it comes to the number of Americans that are paying attention and hearing about it. We had, you know, nine and ten, even back in January, that we're learning about that -- the news on a regular basis. But one of the points Brian mentioned is what I was going to stress, is as there's more and more kind of information out there, this mix on -- in digital, of opinion, of commentary, of analysis, of straight fact, the level of transparency from any news organization or individual journalist becomes all the more important and is one of the ways that that public trust can be gained is that -- by allowing that member of the public to feel like they understand where that information is coming from, what that journalist or news organization knows or doesn't know and how they're going about that process.
REHMYou know, it's interesting, because our caller clearly is a global-warming rejecter. And he's complaining because, he says, all the news outlets -- the major news outlets are owned and operated by corporate interests. You, Margaret, said that Jeff Bezos in no way interferes with the day-to-day operation. I can say the same thing about this program on NPR. I wonder, Brian, does somebody put a thumb on the scale when you choose your topics?
STELTERIf they do, I don't feel it. You know, I was thinking about this with regards to that AT&T merger I mentioned. I realized, on the day it was announced, that I hadn't talked to the CEO of Time Warner, Jeff Bewkes, in well over a year. You know? That's the kind of disconnect or independence is the better word, the more optimistic word, between a corporate boss and a newsroom. That said, you know, this presidential election has been everything. So I haven't needed anybody to say, go cover Trump and Clinton. It's been clear what's top of mind this year.
REHMBut it's fascinating that people continue to believe otherwise, Amy.
MITCHELLYeah, absolutely. And, you know, one of the dynamics that -- there was actually a New York Times story out today, a piece where they were soliciting help from the public to identify these fake news sites that we were talking about earlier. And one of the things that was stated in that piece was this clarification of what is meant by fake news, that it's not just what you disagree with, but it's what's actually, factually wrong.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go back to the phones to Jason in Cleveland, Ohio. You're on the air.
JASONHi, Diane. I just want to say, before I make my comment, it's an absolute honor to speak to you on your show. I mean, I talked to you when you visited my member station and I'm very sad to know that soon you'll be off the air. I'm going to miss your show very much.
JASONAnd I just want to say, I want to know what your panel thinks about, you know, because they've talked to -- about the fact that, you know, it's easy these days to put, you know, anything you want on the Internet. And I wonder what they think about the fact that a lot of times when people make these, you know, bogus or misleading stories, that a lot of times they play on people's anxieties or fears to, you know, to generate the story, you know, generate interest.
STELTERThis is why, frankly, election night matters so much. Because we can have two separate views of the facts, we can have two separate worldviews, but we only have one set of data later today. And my hope is that conservative media leaders and liberal media hosts and everybody in between will agree on the same set of data. Because, ultimately, we are, you know, increasingly siloed off with regards to views of the world and views of what the facts are. This is one of those rare opportunities where we can sort of, hopefully -- I'm maybe being Pollyannaish here -- come together and agree on the set of facts in front of us.
SULLIVANIt's also important to recognize that the idea of sensationalism as a draw for the eyeballs is not entirely new. If we look at sort of local television and the idea of, you know, the fire or the car chase drawing eyes in, other kinds of tabloid newspapers that would look, you know, for catchy -- for headlines that are going to draw readers in, what's different is the degree to which there is access digitally now.
REHMAll right. To Drew in Oklahoma City, you're on the air.
DREWYes. I wanted to go back just a few steps about -- talking about the demographics and use of social media to consume news. I'm a former military journalist, public affairs specialist, and now I do account strategy for advertising agencies. Basically, I make -- I'll contest that it's 18 to 29-year-olds that might be putting out more misinformation. Just because they happen to be using social media more doesn't necessarily mean that they're the ones doing it. And the argument is this, so when I first became a professional 12 years ago, a professional journalist and mass communicator, I used the Internet solely. That's how I've done it forever. And that's kind of true for pretty much every millennial out there.
DREWOur -- when news became serious to us, we only kind of ever used the Internet. So for us, I know how to read a news site the way my grandmother knows how to read a newspaper. I know what's an ad...
DREW...or what's a site like Duffel Blog, or what's a site like The Onion, that are clearly satire. Because we know -- we have cues that we're looking for. We know what kind of headlines are click bait and what's going to be from fake news stories. What's an advertise and click bait operation? We've seen it forever, our entire adult lives. And so I make the argument, in fact, that most of the misinformation that I've seen come across my personally newsfeed comes from -- I keep people around from both sides. I read blogs and news stations from all sides. It's just the nature of my business. But I see it more and more from the older generations, pushing out something and like, okay, I get why you might have thought that was news, but you didn't do enough.
DREWYou know, I hate to quote Sarah Palin here, but I read it all. You know, I mean, you have to in there and really dig though a news story. And I think my generation knows that.
REHMAll right, Drew. And thanks for that call. We'll talk about your points after we take a short break. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. Our last caller made a very important point about the way young people use the Internet, how educated they are about making choices, but it's the older people he was talking about. What do you think, Margaret?
SULLIVANWell, it's true that young people seem to, you know, and understandably so, these are so-called digital natives, they've grown up knowing exactly what they're seeing online. Some older people may read news differently or see news differently and be more susceptible to fake news because they are a little less conversant with it. I don't really have the numbers, and Amy may, I don't know.
MITCHELLI do not have numbers that would speak directly to that, certainly, though, to the fact that young people are digital first and are much more oriented to the digital realm than older generations. It's how they communicate about everything. So news is a part of that. They're on these social sites in most cases before news is there. News comes later to most of these social networking sites. So the ideas of sort of the pace and the flow and the way to connect with information is something that's definitely more ingrained in the way young people approach the digital realm.
MITCHELLWe've also found when we ask about reading versus watching news that young people are actually far more likely than the older generations to prefer reading news. Your older generations are much more -- have much stronger affinity to watching news, and that's done on the TV screen largely. Your young people have a very large portion that prefer to read, and they're doing it on the Web. And part of that is because they went digital first, and the Web is still more primarily text than it is video at this point.
REHMSo are you suggesting that older people may get fooled by fake websites, fake news, more than younger people? That seemed to be what our caller was suggesting.
MITCHELLThat I couldn't speak to one way or another. Certainly we find also those that are the most inclined politically, that are most involved, that follow politics and political news most closely, are also the ones that tend to be more connected to it online, whether they're older or younger.
REHMI must confess for me it's newspapers, still newspapers. Brian, what about you?
STELTEROh, I'll be buying several papers in print tomorrow and not just as souvenirs. I'm going to need that context from reporters who have spent years covering this endless race. Yes, I think one of the most important things we can say right now, at the end of this vicious anti-media campaign by Trump, is if you care about news, pay for news, pony up, support news, support the Washington Post digitally or buy it in print, et cetera, et cetera.
STELTERBut I think the caller has a really important insight. He knows the Onion is satire because he grew up reading the Onion online. He knows all the visual clues of the site. And it gets back to Margaret's point, news literacy is what this is all about, media literacy.
STELTERIt's getting harder and harder to be literate, but it's getting more and more important to be literate online.
REHMAnd that goes to a point from Sara, who says most people do not have time or resources to conduct meaningful, in-depth professional fact-checking of all the news that comes our way every day. So what are some ways people can make sure they're getting good information, Margaret?
SULLIVANWell, one of the most important things you can do is to have a couple of dependable and respectable and responsible news sites that you go to regularly. And when you see something trending as a topic on Facebook, or it's coming across your social media in some other way, you can go to those places, let's just say the Washington Post might be one of them, and say I wonder if the Post is -- I wonder if the Post is reporting this thing that sounds so strange.
REHMOr the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or the LA Times.
REHMWhat do you say, Brian?
STELTERYou know, to triple-check before you share something online because we can either be part of the problem or part of the solution, and if we -- if we share something online that tends -- that isn't true, if we share it with our friends, we're making it go viral, we're spreading it more widely. So yes, check those reliable sources, whether it's the Post and the Times and CNN and PolitiFact. There are news rooms that are at least trying to get it right, and even if we fall down on the job sometimes, we're trying to get the facts for you.
STELTERYou know, I would say NPR's website is also a wonderful resource. NPR did fantastic fact-checking during the presidential debates. And increasingly that's going to be our job. You know, we're in a world where candidates or media companies and corporations are all media companies, everybody know is making media, as we were saying earlier. So the jobs of journalist are increasingly going to be verify all that information and misinformation that's out there.
REHMAll right, here's an email, lots of questions about CNN and Donna Brazile, Brian, and paid analysts coming in. What about the blurring lines between big media and political parties? How can we trust the reporting from analysts if we know they're part of a political machine? Please ask your guest from CNN to address the Donna Brazile scandal.
STELTERYeah, Donna Brazile recently resigned from CNN because it was found within the WikiLeaks trove of stolen emails that she had been sharing potential debate and town hall questions with members of the Clinton campaign. Now we don't know if these questions went all the way to Hillary Clinton. They were pretty obvious questions, honestly. But this was highly disturbing. And honestly, it was embarrassing, and it was bad for everyone at CNN.
STELTERBrazile had two roles. She was a CNN commentator, paid by CNN, but she was also an official at the Democratic National Committee, and there are good reasons to have those kinds of people on the airwaves.
STELTERI think people like Donna Brazile make the -- well, I think people like Donna Brazile make our broadcast better. Same actually for Corey Lewandowski and Trump supporters who are on the airwaves because they reflect the debate that's going on within the country. But it is time for a re-evaluation of these roles. After the election, I think all television networks, including CNN, have to re-evaluate how these people are paid, what their conflicts of interest are, what the disclosures are.
STELTERI know Corey Lewandowski, for example, over the weekend was photographed with Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, the person, you know, who had the job that Corey used to have. They were photographed together, and Kellyanne Conway used the #teamwork in order to describe that relationship. Again, that's the kind of thing that might be uncomfortable to viewers, who say he should not be paid by CNN. So I do think after this election, CNN and other networks have to re-evaluate how these relationships work.
SULLIVANI say hire more reporters and more journalists and fewer pundits who are associated with campaigns. I mean, it really has been overused, if there's a role for them at all, and there may be, Brian. It's not to the extent that we've seen, where they're on the air all the time, and they're really not bringing a lot of insight, but they are bringing, you know, some conflicts of interest that are pretty deep and not necessarily obvious to the casual viewer.
SULLIVANSo I think needs to, as Brian says, it needs to be re-evaluated and I would even say reformed.
REHMI mean, in print journalism, you can identify who it is that you're quoting and the context in which that's being quoted. On the air it's just what that person says, and you take it for what it is.
SULLIVANEven if they are well-labeled, I think just their presence sort of they come off as if they are journalists or independent commentators, and we know that they're not, at least not all of them.
REHMAll right, and Bill in Bar Harbor, Maine, has a comment on this very point. Go ahead, Bill.
BILLHi, hi, thanks for taking my call.
BILLYeah, I -- there's so much to go through in this election cycle, but one thing that has troubled me, which is what you guys were just talking about, is that often, on CNN for instance in the evening, there'll be six or eight guests, and there'll be three or four journalists and three or four surrogates. And I think that they're discussing back and forth the issues, and the journalist will speak, and then the surrogate will speak, and I think it's very disingenuous of the cable networks particularly to have all these people up there at the same time.
BILLI think it works much better -- like I was watching CNN this morning, and there were two surrogates on with the host. Then, and I'm not even sure they labeled them, but at least you're -- you've got the same type of person. I think a lot of viewers think that all these surrogates are equal journalists to the CNN folks, and I think it's misleading, and I think it's confusing.
REHMI think that's a good word to use, confusing, and Margaret, you would agree, I gather.
SULLIVANI do agree, and I think that it -- particularly the caller is describing these panels well, where there are many people speaking on a long, you know, table, and it is difficult to know who is -- who's the terrific CNN, you know, political correspondent who has a lot to say and a great deal of experience and who is someone who's just one half-step removed from a campaign or not even that.
REHMAmy, what -- here's a tweet from Carlos. What does the panel think of the veracity of comedy news sources like "The Daily Show" or "Last Week Tonight"? What kind of a role do they play?
MITCHELLWell, we do find that folks include them in their sources of news that they would say that they turn to, that people do turn and get -- hear about politics and what's happening day to day from these shows. We've also seen in some of our studies of these shows in the past that one of the ways they approach their comedy is that there is an understanding that your audience is already coming with knowledge of what's happened that day.
MITCHELLSo if you haven't been following the news, you're not really going to get the joke. And when we ask people the difference, it's sort of why do you go to "Colbert Show" or "Daily Show" or whatever it is, for news, it is more to be entertained than it is to get a solid, factual account of what's happening.
REHMNow I would differ with you there as far as John Stewart was concerned because I think John Stewart used the news to mimic and to ridicule the foibles of politicians to demonstrate what they actually said and then what was actually true. So in that sense I think John Stewart was doing a great service to young people especially, Margaret.
SULLIVANWell some of the funnier commentators, and I think John Oliver has been particularly good in this cycle, have a way of cutting through all of the journalistic conventions...
SULLIVANThat we get so tied into, you know, the sort of we have to quote this person, and here's our traditional story about that. They're able to sort of take a fresh look at it, as John Oliver did hilariously with false equivalency, and he used raisins, you know, a few raisins over here and an avalanche of raisins over there, to depict the difference between the foibles of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And it was not only hilarious but very memorable.
STELTERI think these comedians who perform accidental acts of journalism, they actually give us a way forward as real journalists, and especially on television they provide ideas and ways to, as Margaret said, cut through the he-said-she-said that actually ends up being imbalanced in some of these situations.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And to Roger in San Antonio, Texas, you're on the air.
ROGERWell good morning, I've talked to you a couple of times. I just wanted to not really take issue but provide a flip side to the coin. The gentleman who called earlier who was a working professional in media, said that, you know, younger people are more sophisticated, they know the difference. That may very well be true, but I would say that in an area I live in, which is very conservative, they don't care about the difference.
ROGERI mean, they may know that it's a lie, but they're not going to research it to find something else because it fits their world view, and they will literally fight for the right to remain ignorant.
SULLIVANWell, you know, that's an interesting point of view. I was just think that it's very difficult to make these kind of generalizations about older people and younger people. I mean, I know -- I know lots of young people who care deeply about the truth. I know lots of old people who are conversant with social media in a very sophisticated way. So I'm not sure it's a very helpful way to divide people up.
STELTERI do -- again I think this is why tonight is so important. You can only deny reality for so long. You might be convinced on your Facebook feed that Trump or Clinton is going to win, you might be convinced the other side is crazy, but then you have to accept the results of the election, and hopefully Donald Trump will agree with that and support that, either tonight or tomorrow, whenever the counting is finished.
STELTERHopefully elections are a cleansing moment where if you were lied to, and if you were misled by conservative media or liberal media or your friend's Facebook page, hopefully you've got to do a reality check after an election and say was the information I was getting reliable? And if it wasn't, maybe I shouldn’t rely on that anymore.
STELTERBut I agree with the caller's point that some people do not want to be informed. They want to be convinced they're right. They want reassurance, and they want reason to believe that what they already feel is true. And unfortunately there's always going to be market for that kind of media. What we need to ensure is that there's also a market and a business model for real, accurate information.
REHMAnd finally an email from Risa, who says unfortunately I also believe the overall state of our country's educational system has played a direct role in this current state of affairs with increasing over-emphasis on testing, and the basic fundamentals related to critical thinking and a systematic comparison of viewpoints have been left far behind, Amy.
MITCHELLWell, it's a point that Margaret was talking about earlier. It's absolutely essential to be able to have the skills to assess, to judge, to understand how to have conversation with people you disagree with. One of things we've seen when we asked people about how seeing politics from your friends and your social networks makes you feel, for most it's actually a very uncomfortable feeling because that's not what -- how they knew them. It's not what their connection was, and it makes them feel uncomfortable.
MITCHELLSo how do we have these discussions both with our friends or with others that are passing information on to us?
REHMBrian, give us an example of the worse falsehood you've heard generated by the Internet?
STELTERI'll give you the worst one of the past week, which is the claim that you can text message in your vote today, that you don't have to show up at a ballot box.
STELTERThere's been a lot of misinformation about voting, about how you can actually vote. And some of this, of course, is typical bad behavior, electoral bad behavior, but it's worse now because of the memes that can be spread on Facebook and Twitter, and that's why, you know, I go back to the point about going and seeking out legitimate news sources, to find out if the Facebook trend you see is actually true or not.
MITCHELLAnd I was just going to say Brian raises an important point about seeking. One of the things that happens in the digital realm because we're on our phones so much is that people don't feel like they have to look for it, news it going to come to them. Well sometimes you've got to figure out it.
REHMAll right, and we'll leave it at that, Amy Mitchell of the Pew Research Center, Brian Stelter of CNN’s Reliable Sources and Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for The Washington Post. And what you can do today to express your own thinking is to go and vote. I hope you will. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
What Nancy Pelosi’s fight to stay in power says about the midterm elections. Then, the Emmys are next week. Diane talks to twenty-five time nominee Lily Tomlin about aging in Hollywood and her current role in the show “Grace and Frankie.”
Protests, sparring over documents and questions about the limits of executive privilege. Diane talks with a Constitutional law scholar about the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. And what are we to make of the anonymous op-ed in The New York Times?
A special podcast of a 2007 interview with Diane and Senator John McCain, who died Saturday.