Whenever a journalism school claims it has found a new and improved way to train reports, it seems, the result is an even more partisan and ideological training camp than what is already in place. Columbia University leads the way in this sort of pedagogy.
“Independent journalism requires skepticism as a mandatory practice,” Giannina Segnini writes in the Columbia Journalism Review. “No matter how truthfully a presidential administration conducts itself, reporters should always question, contrast, and complement official information to find the closest version to the truth.”
So far so good, but where has she been for the past eight years? Ah, but she’s loaded for bear now.
“But this task is proving to be particularly difficult in the Trump era,” she asserts. “Journalists are facing the challenge of covering one of the most unusual and unreliable governments in modern history: President Trump disseminates lies, twisted facts, and changes in policy in real time through his Twitter account.”
“His advisors send contradictory messages on sensitive national topics and change policies at the last minute, surprising even Cabinet members. Federal data vanishes from the ‘thin cloud’ on matters such as climate change and the environment.”
Segnini directs the new Master of Science in Data Journalism program at Columbia. Concerning the bill of particulars she lays out:
~It would be interesting to compare the accuracy of the president’s tweets to media coverage of his administration. POTUS may actually be way out in front, not because he is a colossus of accuracy but because of the competition. For example, the latest disclosures on the wiretapping of Paul Manafort before and after the election seem to vindicate the president’s allegation that the Obama Administration wiretapped him during the presidential campaign last year. “US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe,” CNN reported on September 19. 2017.
~The contradictory messages and policy changes are usually a
media characterization. For example, the media reported that the president was not backing out of the Paris Climate Change accord and precipitated a parade of administration officials who went on the record to deny such a shift. For example, “ Gary D. Cohn, the top White House economic adviser, told ministers from several major allies on Monday that the Trump administration was “unambiguous” about its plans to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change unless new terms were met,” Lisa D. Friedman reported in The New York Times on September 18, 2017.
~Data about climate change and the environment are not hidden. What are usually reported are “predictions,” which by definition are not data. Climate scientists discover this to be the case whenever they go out on a limb with a scenario. “The world has warmed more slowly than had been forecast by computer models, which were ‘on the hot side’ and overstated the impact of emissions, a new study has found,” Ben Webster reported in The Times of London on September 19, 2017.
Segnini’s article ends with the box quote: “Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.”
We agree with the first half of that quote but would suggest that our sister organization, Accuracy in Media is a more reliable watchdog than the CJR.