How Should TV News Cover Outright Lies?

In media — TV and social media in particular — words and intentions have meaning, and sometimes influence. But actions carry a heightened value.  

The media news business follows words -- especially from our more senior political leaders — because they have news value. But actions? A person sending bombs to high-profile politicians and public figures, a murderous attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue — these a serious news story about the lethal consequences of weaponized words and deeds.

The question is how to cover it.  For example, a source to journalists proves to be continually unreliable — say, a politician who lies a lot. What is the integrity move?

Yes, politicians lie — even former President Obama noted this. But for many, it is a matter of degree — a couple of lies or thousands.



To remain on solid ground, journalists look for proof. Sometimes with videotape, you can plainly see the differences between lies and reality. TV news networks have a job — to weed out fact from fiction, using all resources including videotape, government data, whatever. The more reliable evidence, the better.

Here is one recent weed-pull from Fox News Channel’s Shepard Smith on-air Monday, refuting President Trump’s talk of an “invasion” of immigrants: “There is no invasion. No one’s coming to get you. There’s nothing at all to worry about.”

The bottom line: Do TV consumers always see the difference, and for that matter, TV advertisers — those spending millions on TV and digital media platforms?

We all know Facebook has had fact/fictional issues with its content. For a long time, Facebook didn’t believe it was a "news organization," just a pipe for consumer connection. Now it has had a change of heart — although it hasn’t exactly been calling itself a distributor of journalism.

Yet Facebook, Google and Twitter all have monitor-like staffers who weed out appropriate and inappropriate content. Fact from fiction? News organizations might call these people editors.

Either way, advertiser dollars head to all media platforms. They have little choice with media fractionalization. Revenues higher not only among TV news networks, but also on Facebook. Despite a second-quarter slowdown in user growth rate at the social media platform, its ad revenue continued a sharp climb, up 42.3%.

Journalists talk to lots of people. They hear information, rumors and also outright lies.

If sources routinely fail to be reliable — let’s say they make over 5,000 misleading or false claims over a two-year period — it's reasonable for journalists to shun them and look elsewhere for credibility. They would probably also want to avoid that source's tweets, Facebook posts, press releases. Why give them the ink, time, or pixels?

But if such people also hold top posts in government, they get increased news attention, regardless of spurious claims.

Politicians always want our attention. But news organizations can pick and chose. So can marketers. They can take action — or not.

4 comments about "How Should TV News Cover Outright Lies?".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, October 31, 2018 at 12:42 p.m.

    Journalism mattered more back when reporters served as filters and gatekeepers, except when they played favorites. That function was lost when politicians attained an unfiltered pipeline to their supporters. Journalists can still attempt to reframe the issue, from whether refugees will arrive or exactly how long it will take, or whether the word 'invasion' may only be defined as "getting you," which was never said, but the reframing itself also plays favorites.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 31, 2018 at 9:50 p.m.

    fbeast, twits and google et all have a relatively few checkers, human or otherwise, and their checking stinks. Scoops and sensationalism attracks audience and advertisers $ as well you know. Separating the wheat from the chafe costs.

  3. Michael Pursel from Pursel Advertising, November 2, 2018 at 2:36 p.m.

    Wayne, could you refresh my memory how the MSM covered the statement "If you like your doctor you can keep your current doctor?"  Shall I give a few more examples?  Seems MSM conveniently overlooked that and other statements the past 2008 - 2015 but when it comes to our current president, If he says the sky is light blue and it's dark blue the mainstream media will point that out and show how he's blatantly lying. Of course you would use Shepard Smith as a Shining example of Journalistic integrity.  Now, I'm going to be accused as a hater, yes?  Our last president was perfect.  The media told us so, becuase anytime you disagreed, you were labled as a RACIST.  SO in other words, shut your mouth and go along with it....RACIST.

  4. Rocky Kurland from The Magazine Guys, November 6, 2018 at 2:15 p.m.

    All that can be done is vote! The mainstream news media will have to eat tehir words if the republicans get out to vote. If the democrats vote and vote often, then Fox and other networks like them will have a long two years. Obviously advertising agencies do not care about the ratings or they would no longer be supporting CNN, MSN or networks with the same slant. Even with the bashing the ratings continue to dwindle as Don Lemon calls all white men racists and bigots while the networks say and do nothing.

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