Letters from our readers: Texas Monthly, Trump, fake news, and Facebook

Here is a selection of emails and Facebook comments we’ve received since January 31. Please send correspondence to letters@cjr.org, along with your name, address, and any relevant affiliation.

“Avoiding questions about Trump’s mental health is a betrayal of public trust”

Addressing the mental health of a person in the role of president is as legitimate as addressing all other aspects of his health.

Harold A.
Ft Myers, FL

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Please stop spreading anti-American propaganda. Liberalism is a mental illness. If you continue to try to undermine our President, there will be serious consequences.

Tom Griffin

 

“New editor in chief takes Texas Monthly in a ‘lifestyle’ direction”

It’s true. Texans, don’t care about politics. Because the status quo serves them and their political persuasions, voter turnout in Texas is historically abysmal. This is really disappointing, though. As a liberal who lived in the void of dissent that is Texas, there is a need for the deep, long-read features for which Texas Monthly had become known. Not to mention that with all of the wooing of companies away from blue states to Texas, many of those transplants must be wondering where they can turn for less-than-one-sided or nonexistent political discourse.

Courtney Butler Anguizola

 

Well, that’s depressing and stupid. We have lived in Texas for almost a decade and had Texas politics in our face from day one. To suggest Texans are less concerned about politics than “lifestyle” is honestly one of the dumbest things I have heard in years. Just so dumb.

Sandy Graham

 

When Texas Monthly was founded in 1973, the Lone Star State was one of the most politically competitive states in the nation–backing the winning presidential candidate all but one time between 1928 and 1988. (Texas backed Humphrey in 1968, no doubt with LBJ pulling more than a few voting booth levers.) These days Texas is very red, other than a few liberal pockets in and around Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso.

Richard Rothschild

 

This sucks, I just renewed my subscription. I don’t need another damned lifestyle magazine. If Skip [Hollandsworth] leaves, I’m so out of there.

Julie Ann Vera

 

Kind of sad, but not terribly. Texas Monthly indeed has a great history of top-notch longform journalism, but it was usually buried under an avalanche of lifestyle crap: Lame-ass cover stories on Texas iconography like big hair and high school football and mind-numbing pages of special advertising sections. Getting through a copy got so painful, I quit reading it years ago.

Brian Cofer

 

“What does Trump have in common with Hugo Chavez? A media strategy.”

You people are lame. “His administration is under investigation for its ties to Russia.” What investigation? By who? The New York Times? CIA? FBI? QVC? You just make shit up. I think the media, needs a media strategy.

Tom Markowski

 

Why is Senator John McCain, a Republican, one of the few prominent figures to fiercely and bravely denounce President Trump’s startling statement that the press is now “the enemy of the American People?” Where is the brigade of Democratic senators and congressmen loudly opposing Trump’s latest rabble-rousing tactic? We need to hear from university presidents and journalism school deans across the country. As an alum of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, I urge Dean Steve Coll and his brethren to stand up and be counted. Now is the time.

Glyn Vincent ‘98
New York, NY

 

“A reporter’s arrest crystallizes her commitment to cover Standing Rock”

I am so not surprised that real coverage was absent. As a reader of news, all I can say is I am trying not to have my head explode from the constant updates of more truly bad news. Jenni Monet deserves respectful treatment, as do all protestors. Please stay hopeful, and on the job, so that good will prevail.

Jeanne Standish

 

“An open letter to Trump from the US press corps”

Thank you for your mild call to action. Based on the letters (which I read first), I was expecting something much more provocative.

Yes, reporters must stick together. Yes, Mr. Trump must be put on notice. A free press is an integral part of our democracy. We will report the facts. We are watching. We will not be bullied.

As one letter stated, we should not report normal actions that are abnormal. These include actions that are a shocking break with established tradition and decorum, if not dangerously destabilizing, provocative, and outright illegal.

Yes. Reporters must get tough. We must shake off passivity. We must become assertive in the service of truth and our very country. The framers saw a free press as an important check on power. We must not fail in this.

It’s clear Mr. Trump will get away with anything Americans allow him to.

One letter writer said, “You must go back to the original definition of unbiased–standing with the facts,” rather than “standing in the middle between what two different sides are saying,” granting them an unearned equivalence.

Yes! Even if a person says it with conviction and sincerity, the Earth is not flat. It is round. This is a fact! We must report it as such–in the lede, not buried in the last grafs.

The letters written in response to your piece–some of which are quite disturbing–are key, for here is a story no one is examining: Namely, what happens to people, over time, who listen to nothing but extremist right-wing shock jocks and conspiracy theorists, people who really are in a cultural and social “bubble?”

Some of the letter writers fill this bill, I suspect, because they use language specific to these platforms. For instance, several letter writers referred to “legacy media,” and “old-time media” as the “enemy of the American people,” one dubbing the media “Public Enemy No. 1.”

One letter asserted, “You are responsible for the violence and rage in this country….If things get bad, it is due to your irresponsible reporting.” The “violence” here that writers allegedly are responsible for is unnamed, as are the “bad things” that might result from journalistic curiosity.

This hatred toward journalists is irrational. These phrases seem regurgitated, not thoughtful, stitched together from someone else’s canned bloviation. (I can never forget the chilling T-shirt captured by an AP photographer at a Trump rally: “Journalist, Rope, Tree. (Some assembly required.)”

One letter writer refers to the “media” (not comprised of real people, but a faceless threat) as “a bunch of leftist universal homogeneous state ideologues with no roots in an authentic culture.” (“Authentic culture,” a tidbit from the white supremacist lexicon.) Still another said the “media” was meaningless anyway because “I’ve found my accurate news sources on the internet and don’t need you.”

Interestingly, many of the critical writers made a point to mention there were things they didn’t like about Mr. Trump, but “would put him in again in four years, without a single good thing from the MSM.”

The question: How long, on a steady diet of hate-filled, fear-stoking, fact-averse, reality-denying, sexist, white-supremacist, immigrant-scapegoating, “alt-right” propaganda, does it take before a person loses all capacity to reason? And what effect does that inability to separate the true from the false have on our democracy?

This is the story.

Josh Gershick
Los Angeles

 

While I agree with your letter, I feel the following statement should be corrected:

“Facts are what we do, and we have no obligation to repeat false assertions; the fact that you or someone on your team said them is newsworthy, but so is the fact that they don’t stand up to scrutiny. Both aspects should receive equal weight.”

No. Facts and “alternative facts” should not receive equal weight. The truth is far more crucial, compelling, and productive than falsehood. We must state the falsehood and who said it, but we must demonstrate firmly, with facts and accredited sources, why it is a falsehood. We must strongly call out those who traffic in these falsehoods. Being fair does not always mean being balanced. Those balances may become even more skewed going forward.

Although not mentioned in the “open letter,” I also want to object to the terms “conservative media” and “liberal media.” If we refer to “media” as the press or journalism, we cannot put a qualifier in front of it. If we do, we just become commentary. That is not news. News is news. We must overcome our biases, discard commentary from news reports, and just tell it like it is–fearlessly. This is the reason why the press has lost credibility. Reporters and anchors are indulging too much in their own opinions. Common folks cannot distinguish between news and commentary. They deserve better.

Sincerely,
Anju Kaur
Sikh Free Press
Washington, DC

 

Consider this an open letter to the press.

  1. We the people don’t trust you. You have shown that you prefer using “shock” news to attempt to draw readers without verifying or even trying to be honest.
  1. You are obviously a part of the liberal ideology. You refuse to cover the left in the same way you do the right. You remain oblivious to wrongdoings by the left and are complicit in ignoring or even hiding their acts while solely focusing on the right.
  1. We think that many of you hate this country. You support those who seek to harm us by chastising us when you are angered by their actions. You call us bigots and haters and accuse us of being intolerant while the liberals actually openly show these traits without remorse or comment by you.
  1. We don’t care what you “think” about anything. We simply want you to report the events as they happen without your personal or political views. We can decide, on our own, what to believe or disbelieve.
  1. We don’t want President Trump to bow to you or your “demands.” We would rather he simply refuse to speak to you. He has shown his capability to bypass you through social media to insure you don’t taint or distort the truth. In fact, most of the time we wish he would cut you off and speak directly to the people.
  1. You will have to earn our trust because you have lost it. In this age of electronic communication, we can obtain the facts of a story to fact-check against yours almost immediately. We no longer take you at your word. We verify everything.
  1. We agree with “freedom of the press,” but not the right to make up or invent “news” to facilitate or further your personal views and political agendas or those of others.

In closing, we don’t like you. Most of you are self-serving and no longer concerned in real journalism. It is dead. You are responsible for its demise.

Sincerely,
Ricky Kirkland
Proud American

 

“Facebook and the press: The transfer of power”

Despite your characterization that “Facebook is turning its trending topics into a reflection of what is important rather than what is individually interesting,” I have to contend that much of what appears on Facebook’s Trending Topics is neither.

Right now the top-trending topic is a smokeless tobacco product recall that is being talked about by four thousand people. Second is a celebrity pregnancy that only one thousand people are discussing. Earlier today I closed out something about the romantic life of a tangential member of the Kardashian family and an announcement about a 2017 automobile model.

For the record, I am a lifelong nonsmoker who never reads celebrity gossip and who prefers to let other people absorb the expense of first-year automobile depreciation. After years of blocking Facebook’s updates about the Kardashians and informing the site about my lack of interest in that family, my experience has shown that the social media giant was never responsive to user feedback.

Despite the site’s claims to the contrary, Facebook promotes stories of little intrinsic importance that few people are actively discussing.

What worries me more is that Google News promotes dubious sites. Two of the current top picks when I checked before writing this email are from The Federalist, which is an upstart site with Koch Bros. ties, and WebMD, which The New York Times has derided as unduly influenced by pharmaceutical industry public relations.

Google News does offer real customization, yet its default offerings are indiscriminate.

Lise Broer
Hemet, CA

 

Not sure I want journalism to influence, as much as I want responsible, fact-based reporting that puts the information out there and allows viewers/readers to draw their own conclusions. That, to me, is responsible journalism.

Sue Irwin

 

“‘Fake news’ is dead”

You are wrong, mainstream dwellers. Just wait until the next US aggression in the third world; the corporate press will be dancing to the same tunes as always.

Daniel Espinosa

 

“Donald and Melania Trump’s relationship through a lens”

I recall watching this and cringing because he has a very difficult time staying in the moment and being vulnerable in an intimate way with his wife. He made it more about the people he was surrounded by, and less about the dance with his wife. It speaks volumes about him as a man and a husband.

Ariel Motz

 

This is not news. We’ve had ample time to assess his character. This is celebrity gossip. We want journalism.

Kevin Brennan

 

How did a collection of guesses about decontextualized and cherry-picked photographs wind up on CJR? How is this meaningful political journalism?

Stephen Cass

 

You are pretending not to know how news photography works, but just for this story. Fox News is another biased source, but they wouldn’t get away with cherry-picking photos to establish that the Obamas were in a bad marriage.

Michael Burke

 

“Is ‘fake news’ a fake problem?”

Fake news is a real problem and has had a role in shaping the minds of many in the US and the world. As a result, it also had a hand in shaping actual policy.

Regarding the last paragraph of the article, fake news consumers might go to the NYT or The Washington Post after reading Breitbart or Drudge to troll people in the comments section. I’m sure that’s a big part of the reason the data shows them going to these sites.

Gavin Varitech

 

The fake news hysteria has always been about the media scapegoating responsibility for Trump’s rise, while conveniently suggesting that Trump voters are idiots who can’t tell what’s real. It’s also been a wonderful tool to advance censorship. Of course it’s a fake problem, with no evidence backing it, but the media will continue the narrative as long as it suits them and the people who own them.

Leigh Ann Habbard

 

Can we start by parsing out obvious “fake news” sources like The Onion and Clickhole? These are obviously satire and if needed perhaps they could lead with: “This is satire, satire is comedy, comedy is not news.” Since there’s about 8 percent fake news in “real news” traffic, does the percentage of such obvious sources skew that number?

Secondly, why are the other 92 percent of news sources not doing everything they can to call out the obvious obfuscators? It seems like now more than ever, these facts need to see the light of day–from the entire industry–because it stains the entire industry and ultimately threatens our democracy, and by extension most every nation on the planet.

Since Facebook itself is responsible for such a significant percentage of fake news sources, why isn’t the industry in a literal uproar?

News flash: Americans depend on the media to communicate to us. You know, report news? How else are we supposed to learn and monitor? Sure, the internet threw a wrench in your model–25 years ago. There’s been plenty of time to strategize. So where did we go wrong, aside from the obvious influence of consolidation?

Jerry Hall

 

One thing this study doesn’t take into account is word-of-mouth fake news. One person reads a rumor and passes it on to others who make memes and YouTube videos. Soon, thousands have been exposed to an untruth, even though only a handful visited the original source.

Barbara Donovan Ridgeway

 

I think the “real news” has realized that there’s a market for “real news” portals on social media. People here don’t want to be misinformed for the sake of being advertised to (or worse). The entire business model for news media has been slow in every way when it’s come to getting onto the internet and developing some reach on social media.

That said, I also think this election cycle has lit a fire under the top floor to start asking why fake news can pull a 30 percent share from Facebook referrals and they can only get 8. it’s not because the market for news isn’t here.

Mary Smith

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.