Report Reveals Decline of Objective Journalism and Decay of Truth in US Media

What anchors the emergence of post-truth politics in the U.S. is the steady decline of U.S. journalism as news reporting becomes more ‘opinion-based.’

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The demise of truth in the U.S. does not only come from a crusade by populist demagogues and chauvinist politicians. The way how journalism, a revered professional conduct, is practiced also facilitates the decay of truth, a recent report by U.S.-based RAND Corporation has found, revealing that news articles are loaded with more and more commentary and editorialized approach than they were normally used to be.

According to the exhaustive and comprehensive report by RAND, the U.S. media outlets have increasingly embraced opinion-based content while ‘objective reporting’ began to lose its former significance and ascendancy. The shift has taken place over the course of 28 years.

The dominance of online journalism after the digital and internet revolution during the 1990s and 2000s also appears to have swung the pendulum against traditional forms of reporting.

“Over time, and as society moved from “old” to “new” media, news content has generally shifted from more-objective event- and context-based reporting to reporting that is more subjective, relies more heavily on argumentation and advocacy, and includes more emotional appeals.”

The report adds:

These changes were observed across platforms, appearing least significant in the evolution of print journalism and most stark in comparisons of broadcast news with prime-time cable programming and of print journalism with online journalism.

RAND uses the term Truth Decay to describe the demise of journalistic conduct in general, and “objective reporting” in particular. Truth Decay, as described by RAND, “refers to the diminishing role of facts and analysis in political discourse.”

RAND detects a shift from a context- and event-based reporting in the pre-2000 period to “toward unpacking social and policy issues through character-centered stories” in the post-2000s.

Television news, the report argues, “has made stronger shifts to subjectivity, conversation and argument.”

The debate over truth in journalism is inextricably linked with politics. Post-truth politics, to use a phrase from The Economist, heralded a new age of politics where truth is no longer revered and respected. No one other than Donald J. Trump shaped more the course of the debate and controversy over the decline of truth in politics. But, certainly, he is not alone in declaring war against facts. A new breed of politicians across the globe is locked in a perpetual fight with truth and media, portending a bleak future ahead.

To the astonishment of media in January 2017, Kellyanne Conway, a counsel to President Trump, used the term “alternative facts” to downplay Press Secretary’s false and inaccurate remarks about the controversy over the number of attendees to mark the president’s inauguration ceremony in National Mall.

The White House administration’s loose and opaque description of truth, its dismissive treatment of facts do not help the delicate situation regarding truth. Politically reviled and attacked it may have been, truth is still an indispensable part of our social and political conduct. And media outlets, in this critical context, should do more not to allow themselves to be driven by opinion-based reporting, but preserve the pillars of objectivity as possible as conditions allow it to be.

Written by

Virginia-based journalist and writer. Politics, culture, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, the MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

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