Once upon a time, a doctrine was set in place to keep journalistic standards on the up and up. Called the Fairness Doctrine, this policy was established to ensure reporting was balanced. Broadcasters were obligated to present views from all sides of a story.

The Federal Communications Commission established this policy in 1949, and it mandated that broadcasters presented contrasting viewpoints on public issues that were frequently contentious, The Poynter Institute reports.

The policy was designed to keep the media in check, to make sure both sides of a story were presented fairly.

Then along came the Reagan administration in 1987. His FCC decided the Fairness Doctrine was no longer needed because of the burgeoning diversity of newer and newer media outlets. So this policy, which sought fairness and balance ended in 1987. As noted by Poynter’s Global Editor-in-Chief Nancy Cooper “this pivotal shift laid the groundwork for significant transformations in the media landscape.”

Indeed. It paved the way for Fox News, OANN, and Breitbart, and helped create deep polarization within what we now call the mainstream media. Freed from the constraints of offering up a variety of perspectives on a story, media outlets leaped on the chance to present singular narratives through an increasingly narrow ideological lens.

And this has been helped along by news that’s driven by social media and algorithms that propel the one-sided delivery of news. When you add to that corporate incentives that prioritize engagement in lieu of balance, a chasm has opened that isn’t going to close. As Cooper writes, “The outrage economy is a self-perpetuating system.” This isn’t all due to the end of the Fairness Doctrine didn’t cause all of this but it certainly didn’t help, either.

In the past, when facts were presented (and accepted) from all sides, it shaped public discourse. Now this has splintered “into micro-environments, subsets, and cohorts, each espousing its unique version reality,” Cooper tells us.

And civil dialogue? Forget about it, while it is deeply important for our democracy, those who propel one-sided ideologies have taken an ax to it. Journalists are supposed to be part of the Fourth Estate, a once-venerated institution but that trust has fallen by the wayside.

Now we have trusted news outlets and nutball blogs competing alongside each other on social media platforms.

“The shift towards subscription-based business models is a double-edged sword. While it has provided a lifeline to many media organizations in the face of shrinking advertising revenues, it has also inadvertently deepened the echo chambers. by prioritizing content that affirms their subscribers’ worldviews, media outlet perpetuate these bubbles,” Cooper writes. “And with quality journalism often locked behind paywalls, the information divide grows wider, further threatening the democratic ideal of an informed citizenry.”

So what’s an ethical journalist to do?

Writing in the age of Trump makes it nearly impossible to follow the principles of the Fairness Doctrine. To be sure, I’m not sure it’s possible to do this. Trump has never been ethical in his life and he is a truly evil man. Perhaps the best way to keep the standards of this doctrine is to turn it upside down. Use every chance to show how unethical Breitbart News, Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN are. Out their sources whenever possible so that anyone who follows these sites has a clear view of how unethical they are.

You can keep tabs on this by referring to sites like Media Matters for America, Media Bias/Fact Check, and Right-Wing Watch.

If you’re wondering which sites are considered the most fairly balanced, BigThink posted some interesting information on this. Apparently, Reuters and The Associated Press are considered the most balanced. The Palmer Report and Wonkette are considered the farthest left, while Infowars is (unsurprisingly) considered the farthest right.

I’ve been a professional journalist for more than 40 years. I’ve worked at small weekly newspapers, medium-sized newspapers, and larger newspapers. I’ve written on a huge variety of topics, but have focused on politics since 2011. So much has changed over the span of two decades (at least) that I hardly recognize the business anymore. Newspapers that were once venerated have shuttered their doors.

The mainstream media has become a homogeneous mess. We’re obsessed with Donald Trump’s hair while he sneaks things under the wire that aren’t noticed until it’s too late. People have become too used to “infotainment” as opposed to the things they really need to know.

“we need to raise our journalistic standards. both-sides-ism isn’t fairness — it’s a failure of critical thinking or intellectual honesty,” Cooper writes. “let’s not be naive: there are people and interests who deliberately skew our public discourse through misdirection, false equivalence and outright lies. we must counter those pernicious efforts by demanding a commitment to good-faither debate, which will pay dividends in rebuilding the trust that Across the spectrum of ideas.”

We are living in an age of outright lies — so many of which are spread by Trump and his cronies, and then promulgated by the unquestioning social media. Can we even ascribe to the Fairness Doctrine in the age of Trump?

I don’t know. But we can try.

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  1. Fox usually has a weak in-game house liberal who occasionally gets a word in, but everyone ignores him and talks over him. The others don’t even try.
    CNN pays lip service to fairness but the guests they come up.with are hit or miss. If it deals with the Vatican, they pull one of the conserve Catholics like Bill Donahue or one of the crazier bishops to comment, when there are more liberal.Catholics than those conservatives of my generation. Talking about you,,Cardinal.Burke.

    Some of the anchors have a hard time dealing with the conservative talking heads. I loved Brooke Baldwin because she was unfailingly polite, but her facial expression was Kermit the Frog’s when Miss Piggy said something especially inappropriate.


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