The disinformation system that Trump unleashed will outlast him. Here’s what reality-based journalists must do about it.

Highlights from a column by Margaret Sullivan (The Washington Post):

President Trump didn’t create the media cesspool that he’ll bequeath to a troubled nation. He just made it exponentially worse — not only with his own constant lies but with his ability to spread the ugliness.

Just days ago, he tweeted out a debunked conspiracy theory that a company that makes voting machines had deleted millions of Trump votes. And though he — barring true disaster — will leave office in January, the widespread disinformation system that he fostered will live on.

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Social media platforms, streaming “news” channels and innumerable websites will spew lies and conspiracy theories, and will keep weakening the foundation of reality that America’s democracy needs to function.

So what, if anything, can the reality-based press do to counter it?

I see three necessities.

  • First, be bolder and more direct than ever in telling it like it is. No more pussyfooting or punch-pulling. No more of what’s been called “false equivalence” — giving equal weight to truth and lies in the name of fairness. […]
  • This battle can’t be fought with facts alone, argues journalism scholar Nikki Usher of the University of Illinois. The only hope, she wrote, is for mainstream journalism to appeal to passion as well as reason — “providing moral clarity along with truthful content.” Or, as NYU’s Jay Rosen recently wrote, journalism must reposition itself in the media ecosystem, to seize this moment in history to take a clear stance, in everything it does, as “pro-truth, pro-voting, anti-racist, and aggressively pro-democracy.” In other words, the reality-based press has to unapologetically stand for something. Otherwise, it’s just a pallid alternative to the excitement of burgeoning lies.
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  • And third, journalists and news organizations have to get much more involved in media literacy — working with educators and advocates to teach people of all ages, but especially students, to distinguish lies from truth, propaganda from factual reporting.

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Can journalists, mired in our “how we’ve always done it” mind-set, really change their stripes to fight the war on disinformation? Can we be more clear and direct, embrace a moral purpose, help to educate news consumers? And even if we do, will it make a significant difference?