Guest column: Political enterainment isn’t journalism

When I insist that FoxNews, CNN and MSNBC don’t practice legitimate journalism, I irritate a lot of people, writes Roger Plothow.

In the 2016 election, American voters of all stripes relied on highly questionable sources of information as they decided for whom to vote.

A new Pew Research Center survey indicates that 40 percent of Trump voters cited FoxNews as their main information sources, followed by 8 percent who cited CNN and 7 percent who named Facebook. So, 55 percent of those who voted for Trump relied on sources that have little do with journalism as they made this critical decision.

It’s a little better among Clinton voters, but still concerning. CNN was their most frequently named source, with 18 percent saying that was their main campaign news source. Another combined 17 percent cited MSNBC or Facebook. Fourth on their list was local TV, followed by NPR, ABC and the New York Times.

When I insist that FoxNews, CNN and MSNBC don’t practice legitimate journalism, I irritate a lot of people.

The evidence, however, is overwhelming. In each case, programming is dominated by hosts and panels, not journalists. Fox takes an obviously conservative slant. MSNBC takes an obviously liberal slant. CNN throws liberals and conservatives together in an apparent and ironic attempt to be “fair and balanced.”

None of this is journalism. It’s politics-based entertainment. The same is true of talk radio. Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rachel Maddow is an entertainer. Bill O’Reilly is an entertainer. Anderson Cooper is an entertainer.

From time to time some of these folks try to shed the talking head façade and do some reporting – Maddow goes to Flint, Michigan to talk about tainted water or Cooper goes to Haiti to report on earthquake recovery. But that’s not at the core of what they do.

It is deeply troubling that more than half of those who voted for Trump and a third of those who voted for Clinton relied on campaign information coming not through journalists but through a conglomeration of political spin experts, commentators who openly pursue a particular agenda, or Facebook posts that are as likely to be entirely made up as they are to be factual.

In a way, there’s nothing new here. Tainted information presented as journalism has been around a long time. People like Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst got rich as practitioners of yellow journalism. What’s changed is the immediate and easy access we have to information 24/7/365.

Marc Johnson, former Idaho journalist and aide to then-Gov. Cecil Andrus produces an excellent podcast on politics and related issues, including an edition on fake news some weeks ago. In less than an hour, he captures the complex issues that confront both journalists and information consumers in the Internet era. Do yourself a favor and listen to his Episode 5 here:

As Johnson notes, cable television and the internet have made it infinitely more difficult to find actual journalism, a truth I’ve written about many times before. Judging by the Pew survey, the result is that most people are relying on highly unreliable information sources to make important decisions.

Roger Plothow is Editor and Publisher of the Post Register. This is part of a yearlong weekly series on news and media literacy.