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Calling a man-eating tiger, a kitty, won't help you after the tiger eats you.
Journalists endanger us all by sugarcoating threats.
American media and election cycles have become ridiculous. Today, with US and foreign media abuzz over Trump’s indictment and projected surrender to law enforcement tomorrow, we must stop and look at the picture clearly, before moving forward. US media in particular, struggles to report on politics in a straightforward manner. After the past 7+ years, we can no longer afford to tiptoe around the topic of politics between a political party and an extremist movement. Or as I frame the issue (s), national security. That this headline pertains to the ever-intensifying 2024 election battles, we cannot afford to delay cleaning the lens, that we see the next election through.
What prompted today’s post is an article from one of my top-tier, media outlets,. Reuters is my first read every morning and followed immediately by the Associated Press and BBC News. The article in question today, framed the Trump vs. DeSantis political sparring with what I believe to be a “sugarcoated” headline, but entirely misleading. DeSantis and his followers are MAGA so it’s really about who MAGA lines up behind. They all call themselves “Republicans but people and organizations are best defined by their actions, not what they call themselves. For example, MAGA is Republican but sure as hell isn’t conservative, especially principled conservatives.
“Trump indictment pulls DeSantis-leaning Republicans back to MAGA fold”
April 3, 2023
By, Tim Reid
This is a rare criticism of a favorite news outlet, but one that must be made excruciatingly clear, before we take one step further down the path to the 2024 election. MAGA pertains to both Trump and DeSantis, along with the majority of the modern version of the Republican Party. In fact, MAGA now controls the agenda entirely for the GOP. This isn’t partisanship but a clear, analytical perspective.
In my previous Army world of CT, Counterterrorism, I couldn’t euphemistically call violent extremist organizations, “bad guys” or “freedom fighters” because it wasn’t true. Mischaracterizing the terrorists meant that I also would not clearly see how to stop, alter or change threats, to make life better for the innocent Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, Somalis, Kurds, Philippinos or others. My analysis had to be clear and stated in a manner that accurately depicted the threats to others. I am employing the same approach here at TAT, and today’s article will be a straightforward example of this approach.
I would highly recommend setting aside any and all political identity in order to understand this article clearly. This especially goes for all media and journalists, that may stumble across this.
The Kennedy School at Harvard has a short, sweet, easily understood page of Journalism standards. There are four listed categories listed and that matter to everyone. This is especially true in our modern environment where influence is everything, and much of media won’t even acknowledge these standards, let alone the categories. Each of these standards has played a role in the degradation of our national of national security, especially during the Cold War or the modern version of it that saw Russia sway an American election and convert one of only two major US political parties, to Putin accomplices.
Bottom line: if we don’t cure Americans and US based media of failing our personal and professional values, the Trump era will be the ruin of our hard-won republic. I have often written on the topic of Americans behaving as political party sheeple that put party over country, and how the US government’s national security community is a failure at protecting us from foreign and domestic adversaries in a war of influence, professionally called, Narrative Warfare. Today’s article is more aligned with press/ media failures, unintentional… or not.
There are two parts to the following article.
Part I, the preamble of the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists and Shorenstein School of media, politics and public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.
Part II, my comments on the article and related points of importance.
“Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice.”
The four categories in this document:
Seek truth and report it
Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Journalists should:
Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.
Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.
Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story.
Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.
Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect. Journalists should:
Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.
Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.
Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know. Journalists should:
Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.
Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other. Journalists should:
Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.
The REUTERS headline that prompted today’s post:
“Trump indictment pulls DeSantis-leaning Republicans back to MAGA fold”
First, why do I find this headline disturbing?
There are several reasons that I express concern when a premier news outlet posts a misleading headline and not the least among those reasons is that it is inaccurate, in a dangerous way. For one reason, both DeSantis and Trump are the MAGA wing of the party, not different. Florida’s culture wars, like here in Texas, under Greg Abbott in Texas are the cutting edge of MAGA’s, un-American, culture wars. Whether these unpatriotic culture war topics are said boringly by DeSantis or flamboyantly by our former traitor-in-chief, makes no difference. Both DeSantis and Trump are two sides of the very same coin, both counterfeits.
Those hot-button, influential triggers, of red-meat to the MAGA base are influence tactics, designed by the same immoral influencers who built the MAGA movement. To this day, those influencers include Russian operatives in influence and their messaging supports the MAGA wing of the US GOP. Then, there are the US campaign officials that have long collaborated with the adversarial influence streaming from Putin.
It’s not just the traitorous FOX News who wittingly and openly disseminates Kremlin talking points via extremist commentary, like Tucker Carlson. By ignoring context and being too tolerant in print, a great deal of media condones the US and global far-right.
To be clear, there are many reasons that MAGA talking points look much like the far-right talking points in other Populist/ Nationalist nations, because they have been designed as a strategy to put global power in the hands of immoral, authoritarians like Putin, Khamenei, Modi, Netanyahu, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Meloni, Orban’ etc. If you wonder about the sanctity of democracy in their nations, don’t. It’s dying from following the same playbook Putin has used and exported for decades.
Some of the global themes employed by the Trump and DeSantis types:
Aggressive religious nationalism/ Theocracy, based on deviant forms of long-standing and respectable religions. Examples would be Christo-nationalism, Hindutva, Extremist interpretations of Judaism, Radical forms of Islam etc. Lethal violence can be found in all of these extremist movements.
Scapegoating all ethnicities, races or religions not condoned by the state.
Aggressive, violent elements within the dominant extremist elements that intimidate and commit violence in order to secure more power for the ruling elite.
Profiteering elites over the most basic needs of the general populace
These are just some of the identity markers of these types of nations and movements. All of the above can be found in the MAGA movement. Organizations are what they do… not what they say they are. The current GOP, dominated entirely by the MAGA crowd and their elected officials too cowardly to stand up to them. Until the principled conservatives, Eisenhower or HW Bush-like, stand up and commit to tossing out the cowards, traitors and sycophants, I will continue to define the GOP as extremist.
If journalists are to draw a distinction between Trump and DeSantis, it’s only between two different types of MAGA members, not between MAGA and conservatives. The only people with a chance to restore conservatism to the GOP are principled conservatives, cowed into silence. I’m not hopeful after watching them toss aside US national security and our nation’s democracy for the past 7 or 8 years. If there was ever a case study of putting party over country, it’s the Trump era Republican.
I brief scan of the points made in the above Code of Ethics, will show deviations from a variety of the lofty values in the REUTERS article. I want to be very clear that I’m not accusing the author of being unethical. What I am saying is that sugar-coating people, organizations, states etc. will continue to put the nation at increased risk. Euphemism when under attack allows threats grow without resistance or minimal resistance. Calling a tiger, a kitty may be nice, but by obfuscating the threat will put others at risk if they are proximate to the man-eating tiger.
This leads me to the second item in the Code of Ethics about, “minimizing harm.” It talks mostly about protecting sources, individuals and others that are focuses of journalists. What about the harm done by painting a rosy picture of threats by changing their description more palatable?
In the Trump era, the GOP pandered away much of our national security in order to support a traitor, Putin and his corrupt, un-American colleagues. This produced an armed insurrection on January 6th, 2021, a catastrophic and murderous response to a global pandemic, the empowering of other authoritarians around the world and the undermining of collective security organizations like NATO. What about very real and nearly fatal harm caused by the behavior of the GOP, that most journalists, falsely called “conservative?”
The bottom line to this article is that, as we now enter a life-changing election period, journalists who provide honest context and objectively, are the first line of defense for our democracy. Trying to play “nice” actually creates a narrative that is false and dangerous. We’ve seen this for the duration of the Trump era. DeSantis is just another “flavor” of MAGA, not a conservative. Jack the Ripper didn’t deserve to be called a misunderstood criminal. He was a brutal mass murderer. Sugar coating it benefited Jack, not his victims.
The final word is actually a request. It’s a request for responsible media to put an exclamation mark on threats by calling them out clearly, without the sugar coating. It’s also that all Americans, learn a thing or two about CIVICs and how to have the backbone to look for truth rather than blindly trust your political party. Truth and being well-informed are American values, if you have the courage to pursue them and stand up for them.
p.s. I have written often on many of the topics in this article. You can either find these pieces on the TAT website or, at the embedded links in this article. I scrupulously validate information and sources which are also embedded in all TAT articles. I do this, so that readers can see exactly where the information comes from in, what I point out with my “pen.”