By Carl Carter, APR
I’m going to be totally up front here: The mainstream media don’t write fake news. They don’t make up stories. They don’t do stories based on a single phone interview – at least, not about anything that matters.
When I say mainstream, I mean the Washington Post and The New York Times, because they’re at the top of the media food chain. Here in Alabama, where I live, Washington Post has taken the lead in coverage of women who have accused a Republican Senate candidate of a disturbing pattern of behavior with regard to much younger women.
That’s all I’ll say about that. This article isn’t about politics. It’s about media – particularly our news media. (I’m not touching on electronic media or Cable TV here, because that’s a much fuzzier picture, and more entertainment than news. My usual advice is to get your advice by reading, not by watching.)
The readership of this blog is made up in large part by auctioneers, because the auction industry has been my primary market niche for the past 20 years. Many of you have hired me to issue press releases and interact with newspapers, TV stations and other media. You’ve trusted me with your marketing budgets and your reputation. I’ve gotten you good results. You have known me for years as somebody who understands media, who understands how the business works, and who tells the truth.
And here’s the truth: When somebody tells you that our national mainstream media are making up stories for any political purpose, they’re lying.
Not mistaken. Lying.
I was a journalist for a decade and have been talking to reporters ever since. I covered religion, politics, business and other topics, and spent a year as night city editor for the largest paper in the state, editing all the news that came from our bureaus in the state capitol of Montgomery and in Washington. In all my career, on both sides of the notebook, I’ve never known a reporter for any mainstream news medium (including all daily and national newspapers) who could be bribed into creating a fake story. I’ve also never known a reporter who would sit on a big story for political reasons, or because they were being bribed.
We’re talking four decades. Not one. Never.
They also don’t pay for news – for a very good reason. People could invent a story to “sell” to the newspapers, and such accounts can’t be trusted. I’ve seen a lot of them try to sell stories to me and other journalists. They get sent packing in a hurry.
When the Washington Post published its story on the Senate candidate’s first accuser, who was 14 at the time of the incident, I read it with the eye of a newspaper editor as well as a news source. Even I was impressed with the breadth and depth of the reporting. Long before that story saw the light of day, the Washington Post had reporters busy verifying the story every which way from Sunday.
They confirmed that the court hearing happened that day, and the room in which it happened, and that the 14-year-old girl’s mother was testifying. The current Republican Senate candidate was a district attorney and offered to babysit the girl so she wouldn’t be exposed to the unpleasantness that happens in a courtroom. They confirmed that he was working there, and verified where his office was located.
He called her later and got her alone in his home. He got her partially undressed, removed his trousers and tried to put her hand on his erect penis (mercifully covered by his underwear). Of course there were no other witnesses there. There never are when the abuse happens. But they interviewed the victim six times (I’m comfortable calling her the victim at this point) and kept trying to trip her up. Her story never wavered. She told her mother and other people at the time. The Post found those people and got their accounts. In all, they interviewed more than 30 people before putting a word in the paper.
So unless somebody sneaked around and bribed 30 people, and found a way to falsify the court records, everything checked out. To deny it is to indulge in conspiracy thinking, and here’s why I generally reject any kind of big conspiracy: It requires that a large number of people keep a secret about something that a lot of people are talking about. That just doesn’t happen in my experience.
People don’t keep secrets. Some spill the beans for reasons of ego or conscience, but the truth comes out. Responsible media like the Washington Post, The New York Times and what’s left of the daily papers all lover the country find out the truth and publish it. When they make a mistake, they correct it.
I’ve worked with the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street journal, USA Today and other national media many times. They don’t just take my word for anything. If the story is of any importance at all, it can take weeks of repeated interviews. Many times, I’ve had fact checkers call behind the reporters to make sure the reporters actually did the interviews and reported what I said correctly.
Now then. You can believe me or not. It’s no secret that I’m a Democrat, so you should take that into account. I am a friend of the Democratic Senate candidate and know him to be a person of highest moral character. I know where his family worships. I did some writing for his campaign in the fall, for which I was paid. That’s just business.
I’ve taken money from many of you too, but I’ve never lied for any of you. (A couple have tried to get me to. I’ve resigned lucrative clients who put me in compromising positions.) So you should take that into account as well.
Auctioneers tend to be heavily conservative and Republican, and I respect that. You also tend to be sticklers for getting things right. You have to be, or auctions fall apart. Cut corners and deception turn into lawsuits and lost commissions. Most of you bend over backwards to disclose properties as they really are, pimples and all, obeying both the letter and the spirit of the law.
What I’m counting on is that you also are willing to apply the same standards of truth and credibility when it comes to our nation’s newspapers.
Trust the Post. Trust the Times. Trust the Associated Press. Trust Reuters.
For further reading, you may read the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. And yes, journalists do take it very seriously.