The Gray, Grey Lady mucks up

by William A. Babcock

Media — it’s a plural. Medium is the singular. Grammar 101. Clear. Simple. No question.

Unless you’re the New York Times, which inexplicably and regularly refers to “media” as a singular, as in “the media is.”

That newspaper argues that usage has made it so, much in the same way the Associated Press now accepts “under way” as one word in all instances, allows “hopefully” to be an adjective and persists in saying someone “died suddenly,” where, since death always is sudden, the correct usage is “died unexpectedly.” Ah, the death of the English language as we know it – or at least as we knew it. Sigh….

So yes, the New York Times’ caving into to common/incorrect usage is annoying. But that’s where annoyance with the Gray (or is it Grey?) Lady ends –or should end.

The Times, along with other traditional mass media such as the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and CNN, have proven to be great annoyances to Donald Trump. The newly elected president has been berating and calling these traditional mass media names and accusing them of distributing false information and news.

His omnipresent diatribes against legacy media not only provide ample fodder for Gateway Journalism Reviews’ weekly eNewsletter, but readers will note the issue they now have in front of them is the second quarterly magazine to focus on Trump and the media. That’s only the second time in this publication’s nine-year existence that it has published two issues focusing on the same topic (let alone on the same individual), with the first being the Ferguson issues.

Journalism reviews are media ethics tools. As such they focus on ethics shoulds, as opposed to First Amendment musts. And even when legal issues are featured, as was the case in GJR’s last magazine, the shoulds must take precedence. Or to quote First Amendment scholar Donald Gillmor, the law must have a clear moral element to it, or it ceases to be just.

To put it bluntly, Trump has been grossly unfair, irresponsible and unethical in his criticism of journalism and the mass media. His skin, if he indeed has any, is microscopically thin. Have the media made mistakes in covering the United States’ president? Absolutely.   Have the mistakes been the exception and exceedingly rare. Absolutely.

And let’s differentiate between “professional media” and “social media.” Professional or traditional media operate under established ethics codes. One such code, and the one most accepted as the gold standard, is that of the Society of Professional Journalists. This code instructs journalists to seek truth and report it, to minimize harm, to act independently and to be accountable. Social media seldom have – and rarely conform to – such ethics guidelines.

Is she a journalist?

Today a 14-year-old girl wearing PJs and blogging on her laptop while reclining in bed may be considered to be a journalist. But to say she’s a journalist in the same manner of the Times’ Dean Baquet, Joseph Kahn or Rebecca Blumenstein, is simply ludicrous. The pig-tailed teenager – a social media journalist – may be engaging in rumor mongering, may be spreading fake news and/or may be reporting the truth.

The U.S. is the only nation guaranteeing freedom of the press. With that guarantee should come the responsibility that journalists be credible – that they behave ethically. It’s a shame that many social media “journalists” are unaware of their ethical responsibility.

But for Trump or his staff to not see the difference and lump all “journalists” in the same boat is demeaning not only to his office, but it also can lead members of the public to distrust journalists – and to distrust them at a time when the world needs to trust trustworthy media. And for him to berate professional media for trafficking in “fake” news is preposterous.

So until Trump understand this, the media will continue to rightfully call him out when he lies, exaggerates and behaves like a boorish bully in his treatment of the media.

Now if only the Times might finally stop mucking up the English language and consider that media are indeed plural.