Is ethical reporting a thing of the past?
That question was on my mind this past Monday reading articles from several mainstream media sources referencing our nation’s president joking that our vice-president wants to “hang all gays.”
After first seeing a few headlines hit my Facebook news feed, I started searching several different news sites on the internet. My guess was that an accusation this big was likely heard by many people or perhaps even recorded on audio or video tape.
Though most of the major cable and television broadcast networks reference this supposed joke, all of the sources attributed the claim to an article published in “The New Yorker.”
Contributor Jane Mayer wrote a piece entitled “The Danger of President Pence.” The same story also appeared in other versions of the publication with the headline “The President Pence Delusion.”
In one paragraph, Mayer reported that during a meeting with a legal scholar, who wasn’t named, President Donald Trump reportedly first “belittled” Vice-President Mike Pence’s determination to overturn Roe V. Wade.
The same scholar then said if the Supreme Court did this that many states would likely legalize abortion as their own decision.
It was reported that President Trump then said “You see?” to Vice-President Pence. “You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.”
It was noted that when the conversation turned to gay rights, that President Trump reportedly made a motion towards the vice-president and joked “don’t ask that guy-he wants to hang them all!” “Them all” referenced the homosexual community.
She cites no other people at this meeting. Mayer doesn’t tell the readers when and where the meeting was held.
Mayer also fails to provide any other references to this account as reported by other publications.
The information is just there in her article and the reader is believed that this account must be true. Throughout the story focused primarily on the vice-president, she references many sources but not by name. She might say “two sources,” “legal scholar,” “according to a longtime association,” and more.
I’ve been writing stories for 15 years and can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve used an anonymous source.
Yet somehow, Mayer does it multiple times in this one piece.
She also used quotes from people on the vice-president and weaves them in an article to paint the picture she wants painted of the former Indiana governor.
After the controversial hanging of the gays reference, the writer quickly leaves this headline-making paragraph and finishes with two more long paragraphs not on the same topic.
Is this really where we are in the state of journalism as major news sources cite one reporter’s article filled with claims from unnamed sources?
I couldn’t find any mainstream media articles that also noted that the same writer filled this article with many references to the Koch brothers. She wrote a book on the conservative billionaire siblings and their connections to conservatives. Even the New York Times review of that book said it “reads as if conceived in quiet anger.” Her beliefs, according to the New York Times, relate to these brothers and other allies essentially hijacking the American democracy and using their money to drown out political adversaries.
It’s hard for me to not see the bias perspective of this author in this article and makes me wonder if her unnamed sources actually exist?
With this president, I would be a fool to not recognize there is always a possibility that her report on this meeting is an accurate one.
Until I learn more, however, it’s easy for me to doubt what I’m reading.
I’m stunned the mainstream media is not challenging the accusations in her article. They are covering them as if they must be factual while not taking into consideration the background of the author and the context of the entire article.
This is dangerous territory for the media industry to be in.
If this becomes the normal for mainstream media coverage, then the long-term ethical standards for this industry will remain in question for many years to come.
Will we get to a point where we may never know what is true and what is false in a story involving government officials? Will some officials be thrown out of office for something they never said or did?
I think this unfortunately is the new “normal” for mainstream journalism and it won’t change anytime soon.