Steve Lunetta: Digital freedom of the press


After a previous “Right About Now” column about liberal overreaction to president-elect Trump, I began to think more about the dissemination of news and information with regards to politics. Without a doubt, it is having a significant impact on all of us.

First of all, let me declare that I am rabid about freedom of the press. This is a cherished and hallowed belief that every American school child learns at an early age.

It is the best way for truth to be discovered and communicated.

But there is also a very dark side to this freedom, since it leaves us open to abuses by unscrupulous people. Those who wish to manipulate us for financial or political gain can do so quite easily.

This has become more acute recently, since many in the press rush to print/publish before a source can be verified.

A good example of this is the recent Rolling Stone story that chronicled the gang rape of a University of Virginia coed at a fraternity house. The story triggered demonstrations, vandalism of the frat house, and a national outpouring of anger.

Except it simply was not true. The reporter involved did not verify the college student’s story and, supposedly, did not speak to many of the principle individuals involved.

In the end, Rolling Stone paid millions in legal costs and damages.

The rumored involvement of foreign intelligence operations in the release of election-related information cannot be ignored, either.

If a Russian spy agency did manipulate the release of information damaging to Hilary Clinton, this represents a huge flaw in our ability to obtain, understand, and interpret information that is presented to the public.

Just to be clear, I could care less that damaging information was released on Clinton. The truth is the truth. But what if the Russians had just been honest and said, “Yeah, it’s us behind this.”

Would that have made the information any less true? I don’t think so. But the source of information should always be known.

Many websites plaguing the internet pretending to be “news” but are really just conduits for propaganda. The anti-vaccine websites are a great example of this.

There are four or five anti-vaxer sites that are very predominant and often share the same information back-and-forth. Often, one publishes re-hashed old information and another website takes that info and publishes it as “new.”

The readers are duped and isolated from information that would help them make more informed choices.

Unfortunately, the core of this issue is nothing new. Anyone remember the term “yellow journalism” from history class? Around 1900, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer were battling for readership in New York City.

To capture readers, Pulitzer’s New York World and Hearst’s New York Journal would create outlandish headlines and equally outlandish stories, often with little basis in reality. Hearst famously said: “You furnish the pictures, I’ll provide the war!”

The same thing happens today. But, how do we guard ourselves to make sure we are not deceived?

New Yorkers in 1900 had to learn which news sources are reliable and which are not. They had to recognize the difference between real and manipulated news.

Today, I think we have much growing up to do. There are some who talk of “fines” and laws against certain types of communication that can be viewed as nefarious or incorrect. These are simply ways of controlling our free speech. The Constitution is clear.

However, we have a need to return to journalistic integrity. We must demand to know the sources of information and evidence supporting its veracity (eye witness or circumstantial). Until we demand good journalism, this manipulation will not end.

If we live in a republic, we have a duty to make sure that we ingest “truth” and not fiction. This is a requirement for all of us – left and right. Then we can have a reasoned discussion about how to move forward.

A couple weeks ago I asked a simple question: which news sources do you rely upon? All of the folks who responded were conservatives with not a single liberal voicing his or her choices.

Noonan obtains his info from Drudge, CNN, MSLSD (MSNBC), Daily Beast, Huff Post (when feeling frisky), NY Times, Washington Post (WaPo), and Real Clear Politics.

Bob R listens to the BBC. I get my info from The Signal, Yahoo News, Fox, CNN, and several different liberal podcasts.

Hopeful gets her info from Fox, CNN, cNBC, Local TV (2, 5, 9), The Signal, Arizona Daily Sun, WaPo, Politico, Real Clear Politics, Drudge, the Blaze and Breitbart.

Brian Baker gets his news from the Signal, WaPo, LA Daily News, LA Times, NY Times, Townhall, Fox, AM 870 (Prager/Levin/Elder) or KHTS.

How do you get your news? Do you trust your journalists to be fair and impartial? Or are you satisfied to receive the news that fits your own bias?

Our press should always be free. But we must also be on the alert to assure the integrity of our news at all times to prevent deception and subsequent harm to our republic.

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and thinks he is a good and honest communicator. Just ask his wife. Wait. Don’t. He can be reached at [email protected].



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