As threats to democracy become increasingly mainstream, traditional norms and practices of covering politics must be rethought, Jay Rosen, journalism professor at New York University, said on “Reliable Sources” Sunday.
“American news media knows how to cover two parties that are basically equal fighting for power. But when one party propagates and perpetuates ignorance and calls into question, basic facts, evidence, well then what’s the press supposed to deal with that?” CNN’s chief media correspondent Brian Stelter said on “Reliable Sources.”
Rosen said many routines and assumptions in journalism — such as the credibility of verifiable facts and figures — have collapsed with the emergence of two radically different parties. And the Republican Party is going in an “anti-democratic direction,” Rosen said.
“That to me is probably the biggest conceptual as well as practical problem in political journalism today,” Rosen said.
There’s no chapter on how to cover democratic backsliding in the US journalism playbook.
Rosen said the first thing news organizations have to do is announce they are pro-democracy, pro-truth, pro-science, pro-evidence and pro-voting. That means calling out bad actors who are actively trying to undermine democracy, Rosen said.
“They have to figure out for each of those new pros, what practices are we going to retire because they don’t meet that standard?” Rosen said. “And what are we going to start to do routinely that we didn’t do before?”
Election coverage could also be reformed, Rosen said. Instead of horse race reporting on who the likely winner will be, outlets should be covering what the candidates are talking about as they compete for votes.
“You need some sort of agenda that can combat the disinformation or propaganda agenda and having a very good grasp on what voters want the campaign to be about,” Rosen said.
Rosen also advocated for an “urgency index” that measures democratic backsliding, using the knowledge of political scientists.
Rosen emphasized there’s a difference between protecting the democratic system and rooting for a candidate within that system.
“I don’t think that journalists are as helpless as they sometimes present themselves when these kinds of changes are suggested,” Rosen said.
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