Journalistic integrity in the era of “fake news”

BuzzFeed News reported on Jan. 17 that U.S. President Donald Trump instructed his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about plans for the construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow. The report cited two unnamed and unconfirmed law enforcement sources. In an unusual move, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has publicly disputed the claims, and Trump called the piece “a disgrace to our country” and “distasteful journalism.” However, BuzzFeed has stood by its reporting.


A journalist’s primary job is to provide information that enables people to make independent and informed decisions in everything ranging from one’s local community to presidential elections. Therefore, a properly functioning media should act as a formidable institutional check on government power. While it has not yet been confirmed if the story released by BuzzFeed is false, the mere accusation of spreading “fake news” presents a threat to the perceived trustworthiness of journalism as a whole. Such accusations, increasingly common in the Trump era, cause consumers to question the integrity of the media that they see every day, including those stories that are sincere. Journalists have an indisputable moral obligation to seek the unbiased truth in order to maintain a high level of trust with their readers. When this trust is broken, it can be difficult to repair.


As BuzzFeed continues to develop and expand their presence in political commentary and investigative journalism, they must always recognize this true duty of journalists. With the publication of this article, these writers have become merely tabloid writers, finding a way to make a quick buck off of clicks and the collective fear of the nation. Ultimately, BuzzFeed will not be able to reach the ranks of esteemed news publications by citing two unreliable and unconfirmed sources.


Nevertheless, BuzzFeed’s incentive for writing such a divisive article is clear: it furthers their left-wing platform with minimal repercussions, as they are not hailed as an established news source. Therefore, BuzzFeed is willing to take greater risks in hopes of prompting further debate about the integrity of our President. Less-respected sources’ abilities and inclination to publish controversial claims and raise new questions is an important asset to the media’s ability to inform the public. However, in this case, outlets such as MSNBC and CNN, who boast the manpower and resources necessary to further investigate these claims, failed to do so–instead, promoting the story and allowing it to spiral out of control.


However, we would be remiss not to recognize our responsibility as media consumers to read our sources critically. As the news cycles at unprecedented rates, it is the reader’s duty to consume information with skepticism. Especially in today’s political climate, it is essential for citizens not to take everything at face value; all news is inherently biased. Readers must be cautious not to regard BuzzFeed, or any single media outlet, as their sole source of information. In order to form a holistic view of any situation, one must pursue a variety of angles. It is only through this commitment to active and diverse news consumption that the true value of the media can be obtained.    

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