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The Misinformation Age: Is the Fourth Estate Finally Being Held Accountable?

Townhall Media

In an era called the “information age,” we might be tempted to change this moniker to “the misinformation age,” given the current media environment in which we live. Sometimes, finding the truth can feel like sifting for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

With all the narratives, alternative facts, and opinion masquerading as reporting, discovering what is really happening in the world can seem like a daunting task. With elite media outlets using their platforms to push a political agenda, the situation seems even more dire.

My colleague Thomas LaDuke pointed this out in a recent op-ed in which he wonders if there is a way to keep establishment media outlets accountable when they deliberately spread false narratives.

Yet part of that liberty that we have been blessed with in this country is called "the Fourth Estate," also known as the media. Probably anyone who is reading this site knows that, at times, the media have flat-out misrepresented and lied about stories that they are promoting in trying to serve up a certain narrative for you, the public, to buy.

As an example, LaDuke points to the recent controversy over the alleged bombing of a hospital in Gaza City amid the Israel/Hamas war. The press was quick to jump on the story to spin a narrative laying the blame on the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), using terrorist group Hamas as their source. The narrative quickly unraveled, however, and it was revealed that the explosion, which destroyed a parking lot, not the hospital, was most likely due to a misfired rocket fired by a Palestinian terrorist group. Nevertheless, many people are still running with the first narrative, believing it to be true.

But, as far as accountability in media goes, I would posit that this is already happening to a certain extent, thanks to alternative digital media. Indeed, the fact that journalism has become more democratized has been a boon to those seeking the truth rather than relying on the establishment media apparatus for their information.

When the false reports about the hospital bombing surfaced, many on social media called it out, posting pictures and video footage showing that the pictures painted by the elite media were lies. Numerous news sites, including RedState, published reports exposing the falsehoods being spread by the once-vaunted Fourth Estate.

In this way, others were able to ensure that fewer people were fooled by the lies. Of course, it is not a perfect solution because alternative media can’t reach everyone. But the fact that it exists means that more people are able to find the truth outside of the stranglehold the left has on our media institutions.

Take social media, for example. X, formerly known as Twitter, has rolled out the community notes feature, which allows users to fact-check claims made on the platform while providing high-quality sources to debunk false narratives. It is a brilliant addition to the platform. Rather than relying on “fact-checkers” who are nothing more than propaganda outlets, we, the people, can set the record straight.

Another indication that the elite media is beginning to be held accountable can be seen in the reality that trust in the press is plummeting at a rapid clip, according to recent polling.

The 32 percent of Americans who say they trust the mass media “a great deal” or “a fair amount” to report the news in a full, fair, and accurate way ties Gallup’s lowest historical reading, previously recorded in 2016. Although trust in media currently matches the historical low, it was statistically similar in 2021 (36 percent) and 2022 (34 percent).

Another 29 percent of U.S. adults have “not very much” trust, while a record-high 39 percent register “none at all.” This nearly four in 10 Americans who completely lack confidence in the media is the highest on record by one percentage point. It is 12 points higher than the 2016 reading, which came amid sharp criticism of the media from then-presidential candidate Donald Trump — making the current assessment of the media the grimmest in Gallup’s history. In 2016, U.S. adults were most likely to say they had “not very much” trust (41 percent).

This is a sign that people are questioning what they read and watch more than before. Perhaps the citizenry’s critical eye is the most robust form of accountability the press can have other than government intervention, which would lead to a nightmare none of us wish to experience.

In the end, the sad reality is that the establishment press will still be able to fool people into believing false narratives. Their ultimate objective is to report in a way that is designed to keep certain people in power, and they are still a formidable force in this regard. Still, alternative media has given us a chance to fight back by exposing their lies and presenting the country with truth. This could lead to a far better environment than was the case before digital media became a thing.

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