Letters: Standing Up for Truth

Readers discuss Chuck Todd’s argument that it’s time for the press to “start fighting back.”

Fred Prouser / Reuters

It’s Time for the Press to Stop Complaining—And to Start Fighting Back

Earlier this month, Chuck Todd, an Atlantic contributing editor and the moderator of Meet the Press, described how a nearly 50-year campaign of vilification has left many Americans distrustful of the media. His essay urged journalists—and readers—to reach for facts instead of talking points.

Alas, Chuck Todd’s lengthy view of the “problem” with journalism gives mere lip service to the real experiences of those of us who have watched the “unforced errors” of mainstream media for 30 years. Mr. Todd’s explanation of our feelings is that we’ve been manipulated by slick-talking hucksters who exploited our stupidity and naïveté. (By the way, Chuck, I am not an old white guy. I am a middle-aged, black Ivy League graduate.) He leaves little room for the possibility that we are thoughtful, rational people.

Let Mr. Todd continue to explain the world in a way that helps him sleep at night, and avoid any accountability for his contributions to his plight. In the meantime, Donald Trump will fool them again and get elected to another term. You still don’t understand us.

Sheldon L. Thorpe
Stevens, Pa.

I agree with Chuck Todd that journalists must become more aggressive in speaking and writing the facts. I kept hoping he would address the lure of money that TV networks are making off this sensationalism to the detriment of simple truths. These corporate giants need to acknowledge their responsibility in promoting the likes of Donald Trump, who received so much free airtime during the campaign, and to this day floods the airwaves with his tweets and rants.

Mary Lou Williams
Mission Viejo, Calif.

Chuck Todd closes with, “The truth is that most journalists, in newsrooms large and small across the country, are doing their best each day to be fair, honest, and direct.”

We live in an age of subjectivity and grade inflation. What this generation of journalists considers its best would have been considered unacceptable a generation ago. The standard of reporting facts and letting readers form conclusions is currently nonexistent in journalism.

Social activism has usurped humble objectivity as the highest human value. The exceptions are few and far between.

Scot Turner
Sonora, Calif.

Once again I find myself writing after once again reading an overwrought assertion of virtue from a member of the media elite. Look, I agree with much of what Chuck Todd says about toxic right-wing media sources and irresponsible actors. And I definitely agree that the media should defend its coverage. That would be a step in the right direction because then at least we would be acknowledging that the coverage could use some explicit justification.

[Dan Rather and Eliot Kirschner on why a free press matters]

However, at the same time I found this piece a bit frustrating, as it repeated the same basic frame of the un-powerful media versus the various suspect powerful forces arrayed against it. What this forgets is that there is a third group—the consumers of media—that is truly un-powerful and sees the media itself as very much a powerful, influential entity. The media should engage with the many viewers who perceive consistently biased and selective coverage and have thus lost a great deal of trust in the stories they read and the narratives that are presented to them.

[Readers respond to Dan Rather and Eliot Kirschner.]

As Mr. Todd admits, there are clear and consistent signals that people have lost faith in the media. It may be convenient to chalk this up to mind control by the Rush Limbaugh contingent, but that would be a drastic oversimplification. We can often get defensive when we receive feedback in life, and I would guess it is very difficult for the media to accept that folks have legitimate criticisms. I hope our leading media sources increase clarity, accountability, and honesty in a way that will allow them to return to the positions of trust and respect they deserve.

Sam H. Maslin
Seattle, Wash.

I have often wondered why the press has not stood up to the issue of “fake” news. Every informed person knows that reporters make mistakes. It happens. Good reporters correct them. In this climate of hatred, I find myself tired of listening as some reporters in the mainstream media try to be fair by having “the other side” appear so that they can just pontificate their bias and hate. Thank you, Chuck Todd. This message was long overdue.

Cheryl A. Principi
Lake Worth, Fla.

I’m 36 years old, and I grew up a die-hard Democrat from a Democratic family in deep-blue Connecticut. I voted for Donald Trump and Republicans down the line in 2016, and that was the first time I had cast a vote for anyone other than a Democrat in my entire life. The complete obliviousness to the built-in bias of the media is a huge part of the reason that I have switched my political affiliation. The fact that Chuck Todd could write this article in all seriousness and believe every word is a shocking display of the complete denial of reality.

Bradford C. Gauthier
Thompson, Conn.

Don’t be defensive. As journalists, you should investigate the media and whether there is bias, or an agenda. (I have never understood how a liberal “agenda” would work. If there is an “agenda,” it would be agreed upon after some discussion, and people would be in place to see to it that it is implemented. Clearly, people in the media do not get together to work on an “agenda.”)

Investigate whether a journalist’s own experiences and thinking put a certain bias into his or her reporting. There is no other institution that will do such an investigation, and it would make journalism stronger to understand this aspect of the profession.

Follow a reporter. Show how the information is gathered, edited, and reported. People in the public do not understand how this works. Perhaps if they see it, more people will conclude that there is far less bias than they thought and no political agenda at all. Don’t do this just once. Do it many times. If you only do it once, it will be too small of a sample and nothing will sink in with the public. As journalists, you can make the stories interesting, I’m sure. If you are just defensive, the defense won’t be credible.

Roger Zahn
Park Rapids, Minn.

What Chuck Todd is really upset about is that we finally have a president who calls him and his colleagues out for their crap. The press did this to themselves by taking sides and attempting to influence outcomes instead of simply reporting the news fairly and accurately.

Journalism is dead in America.

James Davis
Los Angeles, Calif.

It’s definitely time to fight back—to stand up for truth and transparency. How can we help defend your work? How can we do more than just sit here as the dark ash of angry media engulfs us?

Charles Hamilton
Delta, British Columbia