By Daniel Bobinski
FOX NEWS SUNDAY
ATTN: CHRIS WALLACE
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036
Americans expect truth from journalists, and during your career, you, Chris, have been better at it than most. However, you’ve taken a distinct turn in recent years, and frankly, it’s startling. More specifically, when you omit key facts while making a point, I start questioning your intellectual honesty. Americans deserve the whole truth, not just facts that support a pre-determined narrative.
Your recent speech in Washington, DC
The catalyst for me writing this letter is your ongoing mischaracterization of President Trump, which you underscored during a recent speech at the Newseum in Washington DC. In that December 11 speech, you said:
“[Trump] has done everything he can to undercut the media – to try to delegitimize us. And I think his purpose is clear: To raise doubts when we report critically about him and his administration – that we can be trusted.”
You then quoted a tweet Trump made in 2017:
“The fake news media is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people.”
Chris, you’ve been repeating this particular tweet for several years, so it must really bother you. And it would bother me, too, if it didn’t contain the word, “fake.” That word is key, so it raises an honest person’s eyebrows when you – Chris Wallace – are having difficulty differentiating between fake news and real news.
When journalists report real news in an honest way, I don’t think Trump has a problem with it, and neither do I. Most people believe journalists should be asking critical questions of a President, reporting his answers, and reporting what those with opposing opinions say. Americans expect that. But most Americans – along with the President – are tired of journalists omitting key details and spinning their own opinions into stories as if they were facts.
In December of 2017, Steve Coll, writing for The New Yorker, said, “[E]xcellent journalism typically follows a form of the scientific method, prioritizing evidence, transparency, and the replicability of findings; journalism grounded in an ideology can be discredited by the practitioner’s preemptive assumptions. [emphasis added]
Tim Groseclose, the Marvin Hoffenberg Chair of American Politics at UCLA and author of Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind, shines a light on discredited journalistic practices by highlighting several key points, including:
- More than 90 percent of Washington DC journalists vote Democrat
- An even higher percentage donates money to left-wing candidates and causes
- Bias doesn’t always come from false statements, it comes from true facts and topics that journalists aren’t reporting
That third point happens a lot. Discredited (aka fake) news doesn’t have to be outright lies. By leaving facts out of a story, implications can be made that create incorrect impressions. This is part of what Trump – and many Americans – call “fake news.”
The subtle ways of fake news
Sadly, we hear the legacy media reporting fake news a lot. As just one example, consider a video from MSNBC showing Rep. Jerrold Nadler announcing his committee’s vote for impeachment. Following Nadler’s remarks, MSNBC host Nicole Wallace asked for comments by David Jolly, a former lobbyist, former House member, and former Republican.
With “solemn” smugness, Jolly said:
No tweet can undo what just happened to Donald Trump’s Presidency this morning. He was caught doing wrong by the nation, doing wrong by the office that he holds – he’s been loaned for four years, and today he’s been held accountable for that. The full house will have a voice next week, and presuming they agree with the judiciary committee, we will see the President of the United States on trial in the United States Senate in the new year. [Emphasis added]
Look at it again. Jolly confidently declared Trump “was caught doing wrong by the nation,” and “today he’s being held accountable for that.” Chris, you’re a smart guy. With all intellectual honesty, you know Trump was not caught doing wrong by the nation, but that the Judiciary Committee formally accused Trump of doing wrong. If Jolly were being honest, a better statement would have been, “The committee believes that what Trump did was wrong,” and “they want to hold him accountable for that.”
I would have been fine with Jolly saying that, and I’m guessing Trump would have been, too. He might not have liked hearing it, but it would have been honest.
You may shake your head and say this is a small, petty difference, but it’s not. When people hear declarative statements, they tend to give them credence. Surely you know that some people heard Jolly’s statement and believed Trump had already been proven guilty, even without a trial. Yet “journalist” Nicole Wallace let Jolly get away with his false statement.
If you don’t think that was fake news, let’s put you in the picture. If you were indicted by a grand jury for obstruction and abuse of your position but it hadn’t gone to trial, would you want reporters on other networks smugly declaring as fact that you had been “caught doing wrong” and you were now being “held accountable?”
Clearly, Jolly misrepresented the truth. Or, using a less-politically correct phrase, Jolly lied and got away with it.
We, the American people, are tired of hearing this fake news, and we are grateful that someone named Donald Trump is finally in a position to call out the media on their subterfuge.
Citing only what you want
As UCLA’s Groseclose points out, fake news isn’t just about lying. It’s also about leaving facts out of a story that would counter whatever point a journalist is trying to make.
You yourself are guilty of this, Chris. Let’s return to your presentation on December 11. In that speech, you said, “Let’s be honest, the President’s attacks have done some damage.” Then you immediately quoted results from a Freedom Forum Institute poll, saying,
“Twenty nine percent of Americans, almost a third of all of us, think the First Amendment goes too far. And 77 percent, three quarters, say that fake news is a serious threat to our democracy.”
Your clear implication in the context of your speech was that because of Trump’s “attacks” on the media, two things have happened:
- One third of Americans now think the First Amendment is in danger
- Three fourths of Americans think the media is a threat to our nation
The problem? You took facts from the Freedom Forum Institute’s report out of context to fit your narrative. I looked up the Freedom Forum Institute’s poll you quoted, and I found the paragraphs you cited.
Regarding the 29 percent of Americans who think the First Amendment goes too far, you failed to note that the report does not indicate which side of the political spectrum takes that view. Truth is, books like Anti-Social: Online extremists, techno-utopians, and the hijacking of the American conversation inform us that calls to limit the First Amendment come from the entire political spectrum. What’s more, I see many news reports about the political Left limiting the First Amendment rights of the political Right, and it’s not because Donald Trump is calling out fake news.
Consider the Southern Poverty Law Center – not a friend to the political Right – informing PayPal on who they should blacklist based on platforms that are “sympathetic to divisive politics.” Florida congressional candidate Laura Loomer has been banned from the platform, as has political activist Tommy Robinson. And the ultra-bombastic Alex Jones has been banned from just about everything.
As a side note, I am personally repulsed by Alex Jones’ incessant yelling and unprofessional rants, but I do think the First Amendment is in danger when people like him, Loomer, and Robinson get de-platformed and nobody in the legacy media utters a peep in their defense. But that’s a topic for a later discussion.
My point here, Chris, is that for you to imply that Americans think our First Amendment is in danger due to Trump calling out fake news is … well … fake news.
Your second point from the Freedom Forum Institute poll results is also fake news. You said that because of Trump’s attacks on the media, “77 percent, three quarters, say that fake news is a serious threat to our democracy.”
It’s troublesome that you cannot differentiate between real news and fake news. Here, for all to read, is what the report actually says:
“On a positive note, most respondents (77 percent) agreed that misinformation on the internet and the spread of fake news is a serious threat to democracy, and most agreed it is important for our democracy that the news media act as a watchdog on government (72 percent). This improved trust in journalism encourages champions of the press across the country.”
Read it again, Chris. You implied a particular statistic was a bad thing, but the report said it was a good thing. You also implied Trump’s attacks on “fake news” are hurting journalism, but the report tells us, “This improved trust in journalism encourages champions of the press across the country.” [Emphasis added]
Let me be clear, Chris. You took statistics out of context and reported them in a way to convey a message you wanted to convey. There’s no way around it. Your speech was an example of fake news.
The New Yorker piece I referenced earlier included the statement, “Judging from the President’s tweets, his definition of ‘fake news’ is credible reporting that he doesn’t like.”
You echoed that when you said, “I think [Trump’s] purpose is clear: To raise doubts when we report critically about him and his administration.”
I think both you and The New Yorker are wrong. Intellectually honest Americans see “fake news” occurring when journalists use either subtle or outright lies, and/or they twist or omit facts that disprove the story they want (or are told) to tell.
You’re paid to tell the truth
In closing, I want to reference a few things you said toward the end of your December 11 speech.
First, you seemed proud that you had the backbone to ask Russian President Putin, “Why do so many of the people who oppose you wind up dead?” And you got laughs when you said, “And l lived to tell the tale.”
Question: Do you have the journalistic integrity to ask the same question of Bill and Hillary Clinton?
Second, you said it’s great that you get to work in a profession in which you get paid to tell the truth.
That’s all well and good, but people in your profession omit and twist the truth on a regular basis. As I said up front, Americans expect truth from journalists, Chris. Please return to providing us the whole truth, even when it clashes with your personal values or doesn’t support the story you want to tell.
All the best,
PS. In your December 11 speech, you mentioned how odd it is to be described as “fair” today when 50 years ago journalistic fairness was expected. To parallel that, when I told people I was writing this letter, to a person, each said when they see unbiased articles today they are shocked. Each also said they no longer trust news from the legacy media because it is so biased – and that they felt this way long before Trump came on the scene. One mentioned Sharyl Attkisson’s story as a reason why. Bottom line, I don’t think Trump calling out fake news is the problem.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a certified behavioral analyst, best-selling author, columnist, corporate trainer, and a popular keynote speaker. In addition to working with teams and individuals to help them achieve workplace excellence through improving their emotional intelligence and improving the way they do training, he’s also a veteran and a Christian Libertarian who believes in the principles of free market capitalism while standing firmly against crony capitalism. Daniel writes on both workplace issues and political issues for multiple publications. In his ideal world, he'd be a speechwriter for President Trump. Reach Daniel for help with your workplace through his website, MyWorkplaceExcellence.com. For things political, use @newbookofdaniel on Twitter.