September 21, 2021

Trump Is Gone, but the Media’s Misinformation Challenge Is Still Here

Mr. Quinn came to this decision after realizing that Mr. Trump, though not the first politician to spin or mislead, had altered an incentive structure for politicians interacting with the news media that had previously discouraged dishonesty.

“What Donald Trump did, it created a whole bunch of pretenders, where the truth is not important and they don’t care,” he said in an interview today.

“We all have best practices,” he added of news outlets, “and he used it to spread falsehoods left and right.”

Now, Mr. Quinn urges his reporters to seek context. He offered an example from this month, in which a reporter covered a forum in which the Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance repeatedly referred to illegal immigration as “dirty.” The reporter produced an analysis of how Mr. Vance had transformed in a few years from being someone who would have condemned such language.

“Four years ago,” Mr. Quinn said, describing his newspaper’s own evolution, “we would have had a story: ‘J.D. Vance came to Cleveland, called immigrants “dirty.”’”

This approach has its own drawbacks, including opening up the newspaper to allegations of partisan bias. But to many industry leaders, the days of “he said, she said” without the weight of the journalist’s judgment are long gone.

Joan Donovan, the research director of the Shorenstein Center at Harvard, has advocated a strategy called “strategic silence,” urging news organizations not to give platforms to certain ideas. But while that might be sensible with a fringe white supremacist group, she said in an interview, a different stance is necessary with prominent politicians. She suggested unearthing the motives behind politicians’ false narratives.

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