Sunday, February 12, 2017

Journalists Collectively Sent President-Elect Trump A Warning Regarding Fake News?

I admit that I am a news junky.  I love reading the news.  I try to read as widely as possible across party lines in regards to various news organizations.  My family always argues that certain news sites are biased more than others which I strongly disagree with.  I hold the position that each organization has a mission (which forms their biases) and that is their own business.  If you do not like the reporting, do not read the paper!  Over the last three weeks, the following question has emerged:

How do news organizations deal with a President who disseminates fake news?

It is no surprise that in light of the news organizations combating a sitting President who is supposedly reporting the truth, a restructuring of various news agencies is bound to occur.

Without further ado, here is the open letter which was sent to President-elect Trump prior to his inauguration stating their side of the future:


In these final days before your inauguration, we thought it might be helpful to clarify how we see the relationship between your administration and the American press corps.

It will come as no surprise to you that we see the relationship as strained. Reports over the last few days that your press secretary is considering pulling news media offices out of the White House are the latest in a pattern of behavior that has persisted throughout the campaign: You’ve banned news organizations from covering you. You’ve taken to Twitter to taunt and threaten individual reporters and encouraged your supporters to do the same. You’ve advocated for looser libel laws and threatened numerous lawsuits of your own, none of which has materialized. You’ve avoided the press when you could and flouted the norms of pool reporting and regular press conferences. You’ve ridiculed a reporter who wrote something you didn’t like because he has a disability.

All of this, of course, is your choice and, in a way, your right. While the Constitution protects the freedom of the press, it doesn’t dictate how the president must honor that; regular press conferences aren’t enshrined in the document.

But while you have every right to decide your ground rules for engaging with the press, we have some, too. It is, after all, our airtime and column inches that you are seeking to influence. We, not you, decide how best to serve our readers, listeners, and viewers. So think of what follows as a backgrounder on what to expect from us over the next four years.

Related: Former Obama staffers launch Crooked Media

Access is preferable, but not critical. You may decide that giving reporters access to your administration has no upside. We think that would be a mistake on your part, but again, it’s your choice. We are very good at finding alternative ways to get information; indeed, some of the best reporting during the campaign came from news organizations that were banned from your rallies. Telling reporters that they won’t get access to something isn’t what we’d prefer, but it’s a challenge we relish.

Off the record and other ground rules are ours–not yours–to set. We may agree to speak to some of your officials off the record, or we may not. We may attend background briefings or off-the-record social events, or we may skip them. That’s our choice. If you think reporters who don’t agree to the rules, and are shut out, won’t get the story, see above.

We decide how much airtime to give your spokespeople and surrogates. We will strive to get your point of view across, even if you seek to shut us out. But that does not mean we are required to turn our airwaves or column inches over to people who repeatedly distort or bend the truth. We will call them out when they do, and we reserve the right, in the most egregious cases, to ban them from our outlets.

We believe there is an objective truth, and we will hold you to that. When you or your surrogates say or tweet something that is demonstrably wrong, we will say so, repeatedly. 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.

We’ll obsess over the details of government. You and your staff sit in the White House, but the American government is a sprawling thing. We will fan reporters out across the government, embed them in your agencies, source up those bureaucrats. The result will be that while you may seek to control what comes out of the West Wing, we’ll have the upper hand in covering how your policies are carried out.

We will set higher standards for ourselves than ever before. We credit you with highlighting serious and widespread distrust in the media across the political spectrum. Your campaign tapped into that, and it was a bracing wake-up call for us. We have to regain that trust. And we’ll do it through accurate, fearless reporting, by acknowledging our errors and abiding by the most stringent ethical standards we set for ourselves.

We’re going to work together. You have tried to divide us and use reporters’ deep competitive streaks to cause family fights. Those days are ending. We now recognize that the challenge of covering you requires that we cooperate and help one another whenever possible. So, when you shout down or ignore a reporter at a press conference who has said something you don’t like, you’re going to face a unified front. We’ll work together on stories when it makes sense, and make sure the world hears when our colleagues write stories of importance. We will, of course, still have disagreements, and even important debates, about ethics or taste or fair comment. But those debates will be ours to begin and end.

We’re playing the long game. Best-case scenario, you’re going to be in this job for eight years. We’ve been around since the founding of the republic, and our role in this great democracy has been ratified and reinforced again and again and again. You have forced us to rethink the most fundamental questions about who we are and what we are here for. For that we are most grateful.

Enjoy your inauguration.

–The Press Corps

The letter above illustrates many points of transition within the news.  The first, is that the news organizations are under a huge transition toward cleaning up their act.  With the growing use of digital devices of all sorts, the public is able to verify a story within minutes from a variety of sources.

Second, the President of the United States has waged war on the news press for covering his campaign and the last three weeks of his time in office as truthfully as possible.  As mentioned above in the letter, the President received this letter prior to his inauguration.  He has had plenty of time to clean up his act.

Instead of acting like a President, he has chosen avenues such as Twitter and Facebook to disseminate news -- which is problematic in a couple ways.  The first being that the language that is used in a 140 characters (a Tweet on Twitter) is not always translated correctly by other nations around the world.  This was highlighted in a recent article in the Los Angeles Times titled "How do you say 'lowlife' in another language? Trump's tweets lose much in translation" where translators of different languages were interviewed regarding the President's use of social media in communicating with the world.  Here is an excerpt describing the problem:

If native English speakers are having trouble processing Trump-speak, think of the challenges facing foreign translators and interpreters, who must grapple with the president’s verbal idiosyncrasies and make them understandable in another language.
“There are several things that make an interpreter’s life easy,” said Christiane Abel, who teaches French translation and interpretation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and is on the U.S. State Department’s roster of contract interpreters. “When people finish their sentences … when the syntax is well-structured … when the speaker starts speaking and you kind of understand where the person is going, you can kind of decode the underlying thought.”
Not so with Trump. The new leader of the free world is driving translators crazy.
“He has the ‘Apprentice’ personality thing going on,” said Alessandro Duranti, former dean of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College of Letters and Science, whose expertise includes language as a cultural practice, and political discourse. “He has a certain use of hyperbole. He actually insults people. He calls people ‘dummy,’ ‘lowlife,’ ‘fraud.’ He talks in a way that is not the typical political speech. When there’s a choice, he goes for whatever is the most colloquial.”
All of those attributes create minefields for those translating his words.
Chinese interpreters struggle with Trump’s inclination toward hyperbole, according to Mandarin speakers. For example, “huge,” “enormous” and “tremendous” all translate into the same word in Chinese: da, or “big.”
“Sometimes the translation is much more restrained than the original because the words he chooses are very ostentatious,” said Yin Hao, a graduate student at the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou, who has made a hobby of translating comments by U.S. politicians and posting them online.

Here are a couple of examples of issues with translating the President's words into different languages. The first example is from the Mandarin language:

Trump’s sarcasm can also pose a challenge for Mandarin speakers, Yin said. A Taiwanese news agency misunderstood a tweet about the controversial phone call between Trump and Taiwan’s leader after Trump’s election victory, Yin said.
“Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call,” Trump wrote.
The tone was one of sarcasm and indignation, but the news agency thought he was expressing regret, Yin said.

This could pose a national security issue with other nations if the words are translated incorrectly.  The second example is from the American Sign Language community:

David Quinto-Pozos, who directs the American Sign Language program at the University of Texas and is president of Mano a Mano, a national organization for Spanish-English-ASL interpreters, said Trump’s use of terms such as “bad dudes” ("We have some protesters who are bad dudes, they have done bad things”) can cause challenges for signers.
“ASL doesn’t have a sign for ‘dude,’ and Spanish doesn’t have a good word either,” Quinto-Pozos said.
“What is particularly challenging … is sometimes you get these words that you would not expect from someone who was running for president, was president-elect and is now president.”
An example is Trump’s comments that surfaced in the outtakes of the television show “Access Hollywood,” in which he crudely spoke about making advances on a woman without her consent and about women allowing him to grab them by the genitals (and that, of course, is a translation from more vulgar English) because of his celebrity status.
“It’s a little jarring for interpreters and translators, not knowing how to find the equivalent in another language that matches the same register,” Quinto-Pozos said.

The last problem we (as a nation) need to have is an issue with communication with other nations.  What if a war is started over language that is misinterpreted?  What if we continue to offend other nations?  There might be real-world consequences.

There is a reason why that the White House usually uses "official lines of communications" like the "White House Press Secretary" or other key positions to disseminate news to the world.  The message is supposed to be well thought out and regarded as official for the world -- not just social media followers.

In the weeks to come, hopefully President Trump realizes this emerging problem.  Otherwise, as noted in the letter above, the President will find himself having an issue not just with the citizens of this nation.  Further, President Trump should aspire to be presidential.  The news has covered issues like Ivanka's loss of a contract with Nordstrom (the clothing store chain) in an honest manner.

The bottom line is this: President Trump does not like news that makes him look bad.  None of us do.  Although, the truth is hard to realize when you are the leader of the "free world".  The news agencies have an obligation to report the news as they see the news and facts are verified by sources.  If this conflicts with the President's view of the report, that is not the news agencies issue -- that is President Trump's issue.

Until next time, have a great day!

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