You could see that last week when, during NBC’s commander-in-chief forum, moderator Matt Lauer didn’t even raise a skeptical eyebrow as Donald Trump claimed — again, and falsely — to have opposed the war in Iraq from the start. Although, as a broadcast pro, Lauer should have been far better prepared to parry this and other politically expedient flights of fancy, his ailment — apparent ignorance — is a common one. (Consider Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson’s query in an MSNBC interview: “What is Aleppo?”)
“There’s a cacophony of untrue information out there,” and it’s drowning out what’s dependable and accurate, said Leonard Downie Jr., former Washington Post executive editor, whose new book, “The News Media: What Everyone Needs to Know,” provides some help in question-and-answer form. (For example: “How dependent is journalism on leaks?” and “How are private interests trying to manage news now?”)
“We’re surrounded by more news options than ever,” said Downie, whose co-authors are C.W. Anderson and Michael Schudson. That’s far more than the couple of local Cleveland newspapers and three TV networks that he grew up with. All those new options don’t add up to people being better informed, but more likely cosseted by information that confirms their biases.
One leading corrective is happening at Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy, founded by former Newsday editor Howard Schneider, where the first news literacy course was taught in 2007. More than 16,000 students have taken the course at the university and elsewhere, including in 11 countries. Soon, a six-week MOOC (massive online open course) will spread the word much further.