Matthew Continetti writes on journalists, political speculation, and the devaluation of “the news” in the public mind:
Events are turning me into a radical skeptic. I no longer believe what I read, unless what I am reading is an empirically verifiable account of the past. I no longer have confidence in polls, because it has become impossible to separate the signal from the noise. …
The fact is that almost the entirety of what one reads in the paper or on the web is speculation. The writer isn’t telling you what happened, he is offering an interpretation of what happened, or offering a projection of the future. The best scenario is that these theories are novel, compelling, informed, and based on reporting and research. But that is rarely the case. More often the interpretations of current events, and prophesies of future ones, are merely the products of groupthink or dogma or emotions or wish-casting, memos to friends written by 27-year-olds who, in the words of Ben Rhodes, “literally know nothing.” There was a time when newspapers printed astrology columns. They no longer need to. The pseudoscience is on the front page.
Nor are the empty conjectures and worthless hypotheses limited to Donald Trump. Yes, pretty much the entire world, myself included, assumed he would lose to Hillary Clinton. Indeed, a not-insignificant segment of the political class, both Democrat and Republican, thought the Republicans would not only lose the presidency but also the House and Senate. Oops! I remember when, as the clock reached midnight on November 8 and it became clear Trump would be the forty-fifth president, a friend called. “Are we just wrong about everything?” he asked. …
“Like a bearded nut in robes on the sidewalk proclaiming the end of the world is near, the media is just doing what makes it feel good, not reporting hard facts,” Michael Crichton once said. “We need to start seeing the media as a bearded nut on the sidewalk, shouting out false fears. It’s not sensible to listen to it.”
When we talk (seriously or ironically) about fake news, we’re talking basically about what Continetti is writing about: agenda-driven speculation rather than reporting on the facts of an historical event.
When Donald Trump called “fake news” the “enemy of the American people,” it was reported by the New York Times as a general attack on the free press. But Continetti underscores how vitally important a real free press is, and how agenda-driven speculation in the media really does function as an enemy of public life, in the sense that so many of us no longer believe anything we read or hear.