On the day after the inauguration many thousands are expected to take part in the 'Women's March on Washington". Organizers who began planning the event last November shortly after the presidential election say the objective is to bring national attention to women and other groups who feel they have been marginalized. We'll hear different perspectives on who's going, who isn't and its possible political impact.
Americans have access to more information than at any time in history. Yet surveys show widespread misunderstanding among the public on critical issues of the day. One example among many: at a point in the health care reform debate, about half of Americans falsely believed the bill included “death panels” to prematurely end the lives of seniors. In a new book, a Harvard professor looks at why Americans are so misinformed. He puts a good deal of blame on the media. With Fox News saying one thing and MS-NBC saying the opposite, it’s little wonder Americans are confused. Diane talks with Thomas E. Patterson on how journalists can better serve the public.
- Thomas Patterson Bradlee professor of Government and the Press at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government; author of "The Vanishing Voter" and "Out of Order."
Excerpted from “Informing the News” by Thomas E. Patterson. Copyright © 2013 by Thomas E. Patterson. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A strong and independent press has long been considered necessary to a democracy. Nearly a century ago, journalist, Walter Lippmann said democracy will falter if the public does not have a steady supply of trustworthy and relevant news. In a new book, a Harvard media expert warns journalists today are not providing that service to the public. He calls for a major overhaul of the way journalism is taught and practiced.
MS. DIANE REHMThe book is titled "Informing the News." Author Thomas Patterson joins me here in the studio. He is Bradlee professor of government and press at Harvard University's Kennedy's School of Government. You're invited to be part of this discussion. Give us a call, 800-433-8850, send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. It's good to have you here, sir.
DR. THOMAS PATTERSONThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd you begin this book by writing about the information disseminated regarding the Iraq war. What did your research show as far as how the media did its job and the erroneous information it may have disseminated?
PATTERSONWell, what that example was designed to show was just how thoroughly misinformation has worked its way into the American public. You look at issue after issue and I think the clearest example is global warming where nearly half of Americans think that it's either not happening or its due entirely to natural causes. But the level of misinformation in the American public is on the rise and, uh, in the case of the Iraq situation, in the lead up to the war, the polls showed that more than half of Americans thought that Iraq and al Qaida were aligned or allies in the war on terrorism against the United States.
PATTERSONAnd the more that people thought that was the case, the more supportive they were of the invasion, and, again, this is a pattern that goes across a lot of issues, and I think it's a warning sign, and I think it's in many ways a product of the new information system that we have.
REHMAn awful lot of people have decided to listen only to information from sources that they believe in. You say that Fox News viewers were among those most misinformed on Iraq. How did you come to that conclusion?
PATTERSONWell, that came out of a study that was done by the University of Maryland. But the point about that study was that it was not only -- even though Fox was at the top, it was not only the Fox viewers. That was true of the viewers of the networks, it was true of readers of most newspapers. At the bottom, most informed by the way were NPR listeners, but...
REHMThat's good to hear.
PATTERSONThat is good to hear. But the point was that there's a lot of misinformation that's being pumped out of media system, and the point of the book is that we need an anchor in that system. That has to be journalists and they've got to improve their reporting so that we have a place where we can go and get what Lippmann called that relevant and trustworthy news.
REHMWhat are the journalists being taught, how are they being taught, what is it that you believe needs to change?
PATTERSONWell, the traditional model of journalism education, and it's very different from other professional training. I think one of the things we have to recognize is just how different journalism is as a profession and how it's defined as a profession. In most professions, it's a body of knowledge that guides the practitioners. So for doctors, medical science. If you're in law, it's the body of law. If you're an economist, you're guided by macroeconomics, various microeconomic theories and so on.
PATTERSONJournalists don't have that body of knowledge to guide them. And the training traditionally, has been around how to create stories and how to disseminate stories. And so they're taught how to do the interview. If something happens nearby, how to go out and observe and gather information from the scene and then pull those things together into a story. And for some subjects, you know, that can lead to quality reporting.
PATTERSONBut as things get more complicated, as the journalists needs to know more to do that story accurately, they don't have kind of the armament. They don't have the tool to bring to that situation.
REHMIt used to be at one time, and even for NPR, that reporters were hired on the basis of their knowledge of a particular area, and given the obligation to report on that particular area from their base of knowledge. Now it would seem that as you suggest, reporters are hired to report rather than to bring understanding to the subject on which they're reporting.
PATTERSONWell, they're trained to report. What we'd like from them is to bring understanding, not simply to get our attention, but to make our attention productive so that we actually, when we encounter the news, we end up being more informed and, you know, this has always been a problem with journalism. Journalists are unusually dependent on their sources. They rely heavily on their sources to tell them what actually happened or what's going on, what might happen, and that makes them vulnerable.
REHMHas that always been the case?
PATTERSONIt's always been the case to some degree, but I think it's become a more urgent problem. You know, look, as much as we might lament it, there's a lot more spin out there than there was in the past. PR has taken over so much manufactured images and messages, you know, there's an attempt really to manipulate the news and to manipulate the journalists. And if you journalist doesn't understand the subject on the table, they're not going to be able to question their sources in an effective way, and they're not going to be able to ask the questions that basically will get the source out of the comfort zone and begin to get into other areas of the issue that need to be eliminated.
REHMSo if a source says that the Affordable Care Act is going to create death panels, rather than pushing into what that source means, the source is simply quoted?
PATTERSONOften that's the case. Particularly when an issue first breaks. I mean, when that death panels allegation, and it was untrue from the beginning, first broke, it really ricocheted around the news system, and, you know, it was several days before you started to get the correctives about there's nothing like that in this legislation. But there was a point in that debate in 2009, 2010, the healthcare reform debate, where nearly half of the American public thought that death panels were part of the legislation, and of course when people think that way, it's much harder for them to think sensibly about the legislation, and it's very difficult to have a constructive debate if you can't get agreement on the facts.
PATTERSONBut that tendency -- that tendency essentially to quote the sources without correcting the sources, that's a longstanding tradition in American journalism, and one reason for it is that it protects the journalist in a way, that if you simply quote people, you keep your access. The minute you start basically questioning them and saying what you're saying isn't quite true or reporting that what they're saying isn't quite true, you begin to lose access to your sources. So it's a tough situation for the journalist.
REHMIt's interesting because going back to the Iraq situation and the movement toward war, Judith Miller in the New York Times reporting on the specific and important belief that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, where were the fact checkers?
PATTERSONWell, that was, you know, that was a particularly difficult issue, I think. You know, any time the real information is hidden in the intelligence community, it's very difficult for journalists to get it out.
REHMBut her source was apparently not in...
PATTERSONWell, her source...
REHM...that case the intelligence community.
PATTERSONNo. Absolutely right. But how do you get the corrective information? And it's clear that she was mislead many times, and many of those led to front page stories in the New York Times, and, you know, the Times felt compelled, after the fact, to apologize for its coverage of the lead up to the Iraq war. But I think the difficult saying for the journalist basically is how do you basically fact check your sources? That's critical. And for that, you really need to know something about the issue.
PATTERSONIf you don't understand the issue, you're immediately vulnerable to whatever rendition of the situation you get from your sources. You've got to have some strength -- you've got to be working from a position of strength, and that means you also have to have some understanding of that issue. Then you'll ask the right questions. Then you'll question something that doesn't quite sound right, and then you'll also have the basis for correcting it in the news.
REHMWhat about the politicians? Don't they bear a good deal of the responsibility for the misinformation that is spinned to the reporter?
PATTERSONWell, absolutely. And, you know, I don't let the politicians off the hook for a minute on that score. But one reason I do think there's newer urgency around this issue of how much journalists know about what they're reporting on is that, you know, that's become a fact of life that they have to deal with. That there is more spin out there, there is more disinformation. They've got to have the tools to counter it, and...
REHMHas this -- hasn't this always been the case though? Going back to the 1920s, going back to yellow journalism, going back to when journalism first began, hasn't there always been that effort to get out things that were not true? And before you answer that, we're going to take a short break, so think about that and when we come back we'll talk to some listeners as well. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Thomas Patterson is with me. He is Bradlee professor of Government and the Press at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. He's written a new book titled "Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism." What I want to better understand is, how does a professor create that knowledge base for the journalist?
PATTERSONWell, we worked with the Carnegie and Knight Foundations for six years, and included in that initiative were 11 of the top journalism schools in the country. And the challenge that we faced is whether in fact you can work knowledge into the journalism curriculum in a way that deepens and broadens reporting.
REHMWouldn't that mean specializing in particular fields for the journalist?
PATTERSONThat may specialize it for some journalists. But you're always going to have the general reporter, the reporter that kind of works across subjects. And there our goal is to teach them how to use knowledge. Now that may seem like a pretty simple thing to do, but it's actually quite difficult to kind of know how to make use of knowledge.
PATTERSONAnd I think the simplest example to illustrate that is statistics and statistical literacy. Journalists -- it's very difficult to do journalism today without doing numbers, you know, whether you're looking at polls, government reports, research results, but you've got to be able to -- you don't have to generate the numbers. That's not the job of the journalist.
PATTERSONBut to interpret those numbers accurately, that often is the job of the journalist. And you can find lots and lots of examples where they don't understand the numbers, and therefore they don't communicate accurately to their readers and listeners and viewers what the numbers mean.
REHMYou know, it's interesting. I have found that the best print reporters are those who come out of the schools about which they're writing. Instead of going to journalism school or school of communications, they've specialized in a particular field. I'm thinking of Atul Gawande who writes for The New Yorker Magazine, who, in my view, is one of the best interpretive voices on medical issues.
REHMI'm thinking of arts reporters. I'm thinking of political reporters who've gone not only to journalism school but had specialized in those fields and then brought that understanding to the kinds of questioning that may be necessary when you're dealing with a source.
PATTERSONWell, many of our top journalists are the type you describe. And I won't name the name of the major news organization, but it typically would not hire a journalism school graduate, thinking that we can train someone to do reporting in a couple of months on the job.
PATTERSONWhat we can't train them to do is to get on top of a particular subject area. And for that the university is the best place to acquire it, so we'd rather look for graduates who have that kind of substantive expertise. On the other hand, you know, there's a lot of news organizations that can't afford to keep someone around for three, four, five months to train them to be a journalist.
PATTERSONThey need to have them go into the business of reporting almost from the first day they're in the door and -- but, you know, I think for the average journalist, simply kind of having a knowledge of some subject area and then also knowing a reporter is not quite enough. What you need to learn is how to work those two pieces together.
PATTERSONAnd you're not going to learn that if you do a double major. You've got to work those two at the same time in the classroom. And that's what we did with the Carnegie-Knight Initiative, was that in many of those classrooms, for example, in a news writing course, the news writing course would be -- the assignments would be the traditional assignments of journalism, but they would be built around a subject area.
PATTERSONAnd there were two faculty members in the room at all times. One was the journalism professor, and the other was the subject matter expert.
REHMInteresting. Interesting. And do you feel that that created a greater awareness on the part of the student of both ideas working together?
PATTERSONWell, it gave them a deeper understanding of what they were reporting on. And that automatically improved the context of their stories. And the importance of context, for the most part, that's what we learn from the news. We learn from the way that the news is contextualized. So if we're watching what's happening in Washington and all we're getting is the fireworks, the fighting between the two sides, then we think that's what politics is all about.
PATTERSONIf the context is somewhat different, tells us about what's at stake, what's really at issue here, then we draw different conclusions from what's happening. And knowledge deepens the context. The other thing that knowledge does for the journalist, it broadens their horizon. Nina Easton of Fortune did a really interesting study following up on the reporting after Occupy Wall Street, which kind of brought the income divide into the news.
PATTERSONBut she was interested in looking back in terms of how much coverage that this issue got before Occupy Wall Street. You know, this is an issue that's been developing for three decades. I mean, this didn't suddenly happen in 2011. And she found almost no coverage on the issue before that.
PATTERSONIt was almost as if journalists didn't recognize what was happening. And that's what knowledge can do. It just broadens the way you look at the world, what you see, what you don't see.
REHMNow, there is a question of whether you find a majority of Americans who want to understand the truth, or do they simply want to be fortified in their particular understanding of what the truth is, going back to the death panels?
PATTERSONWell, we come in a lot of different varieties, and we come in both of those varieties. You know, some citizens want to hear that what they already think is correct thinking. And they tend to gravitate, as you would expect, toward the talk shows that support their beliefs, toward the news outlets that kind of spin the news in their direction.
PATTERSONBut it's still the case that for most Americans, the reason they pay attention to news, is they want to find out what's going on out there. They want to keep up with what's going on in the world. Now, they don't necessarily do a deep dive into the news to really understand it in all of its complexity in the light. But they're there to be informed.
PATTERSONAnd, you know, I think that's still the heart of journalism is to inform the public. And the problem with a lot of journalism is that it actually ends up confusing the public. There have been some nice studies, for example, around the 2009, 2010 healthcare reform debate and, before that, the '93, '94 healthcare reform debate.
PATTERSONIn the early going, there was some coverage about what was in the bills and the like, but pretty soon what took over was the food fight between the opposing sides. And that became nearly the full story. And as those debates unfolded, the American public got more and more confused about what that legislation was all about. That's not what we need from journalism. We don't need it to add to our confusion. We need it to add to our understanding.
REHMIsn't that kind of food fight continuing when you have some news coming from FOX and some news coming from MSNBC in totally opposing views?
PATTERSONWell, you know, they're on the opposite sides of the political spectrum. It's still the case that most FOX viewers or most MSNBC viewers have other sources of information as well. So they have essentially some sources to check what they're getting from those sources. But what we find, you know, among those who get almost entirely all of their information from, like, FOX or one of the talk shows that plays the partisan line is that they get more and more convinced that they're right.
PATTERSONTheir opinions on issues get more and more extreme. They're basically in an echo chamber that tells them they're right and the other side is completely wrong. And they also kind of think less about the other side. I mean, they have an increased, you know, disregard for what others think.
REHMSo how is knowledge-based reporting going to help if each of those networks comes from its own base of knowledge which may be totally opposing?
PATTERSONWell, you know, we can't fix this. This information system is so different today than it was 30 or 40 years ago where basically news was in a monopoly on television, one newspaper towns.
PATTERSONI mean, there was a news monopoly. That's not the case anymore. And the news audience is really sorting itself out into different places. And yet the news system needs an anchor. It needs a place where people can go, and they'll get that relevant and trustworthy news that democracy depends on. That was Lippmann's argument.
PATTERSONThat argument is still as valid today. And even though there are increasingly places that misinform rather than inform the public, you still need that anchor in the system. You know, if this becomes simply a system around bloggers and talk shows and the like, and if the public begins to think that they're just as trustworthy as journalists, then we're going to continue to see the degradation of the level of the public's understanding of public issues.
REHMSo how would you advise consumers of so-called reporting?
PATTERSONWell, I think the ability to -- I think consumers have a sense of what good journalism looks like. And we can see that in the evidence about some of the movement that's taking place in the news system. You know, in a project for excellence in journalism study, they found that about a third of Americans had abandoned their traditional source because they thought its news had lost its quality, and they were looking for something different.
PATTERSONA lot of the kind of gains in this kind of movement has been on the part of organizations like NPR. Or if you look at the Web and you look at sort of who's really getting traction on the Web in terms of attracting audience, it's usually the better news outlets, the ones that have deeper reporting, broader reporting. That tends to be where people are heading. Now, there's still a segment of the public that's heading in a different direction, right?
PATTERSONAnd -- but that's just a difference in terms of what we're looking for from the news. For most of it, it's still a question of, I want to know what's going on out in the world. That's why I take the time each day to pick up the paper, turn on the television set, listen to the radio. But then there's another set who really want to be confirmed in their beliefs.
PATTERSONAnd I don't think that knowledge-based journalism speaks to their interests. I don't think it has anything to do with what they're looking for. But I think it does speak to what most people are looking for, and that's news that's informative, news that's relevant, news they can trust.
REHMTom Patterson, he is Bradlee professor of Government and the Press at Harvard University. His new book is titled "Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And we're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. Let's go to Richard in Haverhill, Mass. Hi there, Richard. You're on the air.
RICHARDYes. Thank you, Diane. There's a false equivalency between MSNBC and FOX News. Rutgers did a study, I think, a year or so ago. People that watch a steady diet of FOX are the most misinformed people. FOX will go on an echo chamber a whole week, 24/7 on something, and repeat it over and over and over again.
RICHARDMSNBC, they're not like that, but they do not hold Barack Obama accountable under a certain lot of issues. The journalists I like is what you have on your Friday Roundup, Diane. You have wonderful journalists talking about the domestic issues and the foreign policy -- what transpired during the week.
RICHARDAnother great show, and it's "Democracy Now!" with Amy Goodman. Amy Goodman was in Warsaw, Poland for the whole week talking about the climate change conference they had there. And you always hear different voices on Amy's show. And I just think she's wonderful. And that's my opinion.
REHMAll right. Richard, thanks for your call. And, Tom.
PATTERSONWell, you know, I think Richard's point kind of connects with what I think is a broader issue about journalism. And that's kind of how wide they're looking for stories. Increasingly, we get stories centered on what's happening inside the Beltway or, if it's business reporting, what's happening in New York. Many of the most important stories, the places that journalists don't look very often, are outside those centers.
PATTERSONFor example, if you look at the economy and you ask, where do most of the jobs come from, most of the jobs come from small business. Two-thirds of the jobs that are generated in the American economy come from small business. But we don't get very much coverage of the small business sector. We get a lot of coverage of Wall Street, the financial sector, the new IPO. I mean, everybody gets a Twitter about Twitter and a new IPO.
PATTERSONBut the real action in our economy, or much of it, is happening in small business. But journalists aren't trained to kind of look out there for those stories. So we've got to -- in some ways, we've got to broaden the horizons of our reporting, that there are lots of aspects of our life that are being underreported because journalists don't understand them very well. And I think the small government sector's one of those.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Nancy in Reston, Va. You're on the air.
NANCYThank you. What I found particularly outrageous was, as I recall, just before the actual invasion of Iraq, I seem to recall that Vice President Cheney was on "Meet the Press," and, with a straight face, he said that there was a story in that day's New York Times about, you know, credible evidence of chemical weapons in Iraq.
NANCYAnd it was his staff, as I understand it, that actually planted that story, so -- and then I don't remember if there was anything really that came after that as far as any, you know, investigation or -- it was so difficult for the press, for the people that are trying to report the news, when you have such scurrilous information actually being planted.
REHMNancy, I think that's an interesting point. Tom.
PATTERSONWell, I think it speaks to the level of, you know, misinformation that's out there or the level of misinformation that's being peddled. And, again, I think there are areas of public policy where it's very difficult for journalists to correct the record because the information isn't available or it's behind a wall. And, you know, I think much of the information that was put out in the lead up to the Iraq invasion was in that category. I think journalists were very much handicapped, as were citizens, to try to really understand what the other side of the story was.
PATTERSONOn the other hand, there are lots of areas where the information is available and it is public. And journalists don't dig at it hard enough to get it.
REHMThomas Patterson, his new book is titled "Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism." We'll take a short break. We'll have more of your calls, your emails when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Thomas Patterson is with me. He is Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. His new book is titled "Informing the News." And in it he pushes for what he calls knowledge-based journalism. When you describe knowledge-based journalism to students, exactly how do you define that?
PATTERSONWell, it's defined in use in part. I mean, let me give you an example of where knowledge-based journalism would've been helpful. After 9/11, Matt Storin who had been editor at the Boston Globe came to our center for a semester. And he had watched the coverage on 9/11 and had been surprised by just how journalists seemed to be kind of at a loss to help the American public understand what was going on.
PATTERSONAnd so he went back and looked at the major terrorist acts before 9/11, the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the 1998 bombings of the two U.S. embassies in Africa, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole and Yemen Harbor in 2000 and what that coverage was like. And what he found was that the coverage was very good on what had happened, how many were killed, what the delivery vehicle was for the explosive and that kind of thing.
PATTERSONBut there was very little attempt on the part of the journalist to kind of connect the dots as to whether there was any relationship between those developments and the several dozen other significant terrorist acts that had occurred between them. Whether there was any attempt to explore the religious political cultural underpinnings of that. Where was that coming from? What accounted for this rise in transnational terrorism? And the coverage in that area was almost completely absent.
PATTERSONAnd that's what really the American public needed to know. They needed to know about those events, but they also needed to know what's happening and why is this phenomena, this danger to America on the rise? And in the year before 9/11, Osama bin Laden has mentioned once on the evening newscast of the major networks, we were not getting any information even though policymakers knew that this danger was out there. There had been Senate hearings on it. The Hart Redmond (sp?) report had indicated that this was the greatest danger of the United States. You were not getting any reporting on that.
PATTERSONSo you got a lot of good event reporting but you weren't getting the kind of information you needed to understand the development.
REHMNow, was that because the politicians, those in charge, were not releasing that information or do you believe that newspapers, television, radio had the wherewithal to dig into that and find it out on their own?
PATTERSONWell, I think it's some of both. But I think government clearly had some interest in letting us know about this problem. You know, Clinton tried to inform us of it late in his presidency. And what he did, he sent the cruise missiles after Osama bin Laden, I think it was in 1998, the press treated that like a wag-the-dog story. It was trying to divert attention away from the Lewinski incident. You know, I think there were efforts. The Hard Redmond commission was trying to inform the public and the journalists about this growing problem.
PATTERSONAnd to some degree I think journalists were just not curious enough to go digging and to get a sense that this is important. I've got to go understand what's happening. There was plenty of information out there but curiosity was lacking.
REHMTom, what about budgets? What about cutbacks? What -- I mean, there -- just yesterday I think the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun all under the aegis of one corporation are going to be cutting some 700 jobs, the focus to allow a reporter to concentrate in one area to really dig in that area. Isn't that a thing of the past when we think about Woodward and Bernstein under the aegis of someone like Ben Bradley telling them to keep on it?
PATTERSONOh, I think good investigative journalism is becoming rare for the reason...
PATTERSONIt takes money. I mean, first of all, news organizations were not all that enthusiastic about investigative reporting in the past even. It's very expensive. You've got to put several reports on it. You've got to do it for a long period of time. At the end of the day there may not be a story. When the story breaks you make people mad. So, you know, it was never all that high on the agenda. But increasingly I think, you know, a lot of newsrooms don't have the resources to do it even when they know they should be doing it.
REHMAnd here's an email from George who says, I worked in local government for 30 years. It was an unwritten rule that if reporters dug too deep they would be left out of the loop.
PATTERSONWell, that's a risk that reporters run. And they understand that. And once in a while you'll get a reporter who's willing essentially to buck that reality. Dana Milbank from the Washington Post did it with a front page story that basically said that the Bush Administration was lying on a lot of issues. And he was a White House correspondent for the Post. And, of course, when he raised his hand at White House press conferences after that, they didn't call on him.
REHMHe was ignored.
PATTERSONHe was ignored, right. So it is a risk but the question for me always is, who do journalists owe their first obligation to? And if you ask them the question, they always say the public.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Otis in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.
OTISI'm a first-time caller on this great program. Your comments about money in the media are right on point with my question. Looking back on the -- all industries' confusion of the issues around global warming and today looking at ownership of the media, particularly Rupert Murdoch's ownership of so much of the media and so many reporters going free-lance, what's the emphasis to bring about a reporter's, you know, desire to report something that may not be purchased and may not be printed?
PATTERSONWell, I think the evidence on -- in terms of what the audience is looking for is mixed. I don't think the media have the formula right today. If you look at kind of what people are interested in -- and there's some really good studies on this point -- when it comes to economics for example, they're not interested in -- so much interested in Wall Street as they are Main Street. So questions about kind of stock maneuvers tend not to interest the public very much. Questions about the price of gasoline do. But we don't get as many of the second type of stories as we do the first type.
PATTERSONSo I think there are ways for journalists to appeal more strongly to their audience. But, you know, there's a problem in journalism today and it doesn't revolve around a loss of audience. That affects the news budgets. That affects capacity. So, you know, to try to expect good journalism in this environment, it's a harder expectation than it was 30 or 40 years ago.
REHMAll right. To Fred in Concord, N.H. You're on the air.
FREDGood morning. How are you?
FREDThanks for taking my call.
FREDMy question's one more of an observation and it's the actual institutions that are putting out the journalism students either undergrad or mainly graduate. And the professors that are teaching those students, my experience direct knowledge, and your guest is, you know, a guest and he's teaching at one of the most liberal institutions in America, if not the world.
FREDAnd there are other ones out there that my understanding -- and again, direct knowledge is that the professors are on the liberal side of things. And that if you want to do well and you want to get a good grade in this class that you need to err on the side of the liberal point of view to move forward. That I have found to be factual. And most of the students in the journalism -- journalists that are coming out -- and they really should be called reporters as Bob Schieffer let's report it by themselves -- he said, I'm a reporter not a journalist -- is that journalism almost in itself says, well, I'm going to journalize.
FREDI'm going to write about my thought about this subject, this topic, this observation versus I'm going to report. Report takes the facts into it versus not putting in one's opinion. What does your guest think about that?
PATTERSONWell, I think that's at the heart of the argument. You know, they -- you know, if journalism becomes more knowledge-based that is going to put the facts at the heart of the story, or more squarely at the heart of the story. My argument is that journalism needs that factual foundations. And it needs it not only in terms of the way that journalists report their stories, what they put into their stories, but it's also as a starting point. And thinking about kind of what's out there, what needs to be talked about, what do people need to understand. And to do that and to do that well I think you have to understand the areas that you're reporting in.
REHMWhat do you say to his comments about journalism professors, institutions of journalism are liberal?
PATTERSONWell, I think, you know, if you look at journalism faculties, you know, they are relatively liberal. If you look at business school faculties they're relatively conservative. Same holds for their students. I think there's some self selection that goes on in terms of who's attracted to various professions. And what you want to do though in journalism training is to equip the students to kind of look at the world in a more neutral way, to report it fairly, to report is accurately.
PATTERSONAnd the more that they understand what's happening in that, the more knowledge they have about what's out there, they're going to be able to do that better than if essentially they're kind of flying blind. When you fly blind, that's when your biases and your prejudices start to enter into your judgments.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Jeffrey in Miami, Fla. Hi there, you're on the air.
JEFFERYHey, how you doing, Diane?
JEFFERYThank you for taking my call. I didn't even actually think I would get on but I guess my question to Tom is -- I'm a 23-year-old journalism student -- and I guess I'm a journalism student who believes in, you know, information-based journalism. I see that there's a good in, you know, the MSNBC's and there's a good in the Fox, but we need to come to a middle ground. But I guess my question to you is what advice do you have to journalism students like myself who believe in information-based journalism, trying to get their peers away from, you know, trendy entertainment-based news?
PATTERSONWell, you know, that's going to happen in the marketplace. And I think there are some signs in the marketplace that this kind of journalism can get some traction. As audiences sort themselves out -- and they've been doing that for the last two decades or so and the media system fragments more and more -- what people are doing is going to places where they can get on a consistent basis the type of news that they're looking for. And if that happens to be news with a partisan twist, that's where they go.
PATTERSONBut if they want good solid news, then they tend to gravitate toward those outlets. And the ones that are struggling are those that are trying to be something to everybody, who are trying to mix news with entertainment and the like. So I think what I would advise you is simply to stick to the subject areas you want to report in, understand them as well as you can. That will lead to quality reporting. That will create a demand for your journalism.
REHMI hope that helps. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show. Let's go to York, Pa. Hi there, Gus.
GUSHi. How are you doing? Hey, this is a great program. I hope that people will look at things that take place in objective manner but I think we all have a certain bias either to the left or to the right politically. But even if you have no bias, if you have a car wreck and you have ten people see the car wreck, you know, you're not going to have ten people agree on every aspect of that detail. So I think you need to take a look at multiple different sources for news and make up your own mind.
REHMAnd I think that's exactly what an awful lot of people are doing at this point.
PATTERSONWell, most people still do it that way. Most people do go to multiple sources of information. They have more than one news outlet that they depend on. But increasingly we have a small segment of the public that is kind of getting into these niches. And so that's the general tendency. I think that's where we should have to put our emphasis in terms of informing the public, is on those traditional news outlets. And then people who are willing to keep an open mind look across sources, look at different aspects of a situation and make a reasonable judgment about them.
REHMHere's an email from Andrew in Ft. Wayne, Ind. He says, there's been politically slanted news sources since journalism began. What's different now is that slanted news is sold as neutral. And extreme views are pushed as moderate or mainstream. And certain portions of the audience buy into this. We do need to have better education about mass media and journalism for our children and college students as a requirement like English and math.
PATTERSONWell, there is a news literacy movement in the United States. And a good example of that is at SUNY Stony Brook where basically all the students are required to take a course in news literacy to really be able to kind of look at the news, deconstruct it and come to an understanding of what's trustworthy and what's not trustworthy in what they're hearing. So I do think...
REHMThat's too bad it waits until college. That ought to start in high school.
PATTERSONWell, it could start earlier but, you know, it is a start. And I think it's in some ways a response to all of the misinformation that's out there now. And almost the citizen beware when you step into a source and begin to look at what it's providing. So I think we need kind of more intelligent consumers at the level of the citizen but we also need better journalism from the top.
REHMHow do you think CNN does at reporting the news and helping viewers understand the news?
PATTERSONWell, I'm a little bit reluctant and I don't do it in the book. I try to stay away from making judgments about different news outlets and who's good or who's bad because the point isn't about kind of good outlets and bad outlets. it's more about trying to drive home this point about good journalism and why we need it.
REHMHow many students around the country do you think are taking -- how many schools of journalism are taking your views into account?
PATTERSONWell, in the Carnegie United Initiative we started with 11 schools. And we have a website where a lot of this kind of the pedagogical supplements that kind of make the point about knowledge-based journalism. We have over 100 journalism schools that are accessing that information. Now how deeply it's filtered into their curricula, I don't know. That's a different question. But, you know, when I look at the situation out there, you know, I don't know whether knowledge-based journalism can really get traction. I don't know how it intersects so much with the marketplace.
PATTERSONBut I do know that one of the biggest costs to the media has been poor quality journalism. And that does not sell. And we've seen -- and there's some good studies about the consequences of poor journalism. People move away from sources. They move away from news if they don't find it relevant, if they don't find it trustworthy.
REHMThomas Patterson. He's Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. His new book is titled "Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism." Thank you for being here.
PATTERSONThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thank for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
David Ignatius of the Washington Post on Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, then, questions for Attorney General nominee Republican Senator Jeff Sessions.
Mary Chapin Carpenter joins Diane to talk about her new album, the "artistic insight of middle age" and rewriting her life story in new ways.
A rebroadcast of Diane's 1999 interview with J.K. Rowling, author of the acclaimed Harry Potter series.