Looking back on his days as a city hall reporter for the Chicago Tribune, David Axelrod recalled a message one of his former editors taught him: “Reporting is a trust and you better make damn well sure you get it right.”
Axelrod used the story as a reminder that no matter the culture of news or politics, some traditions always apply. In today’s context, that means finding good reporting among a sea of content that includes what many call “fake news.” “There really is such a thing as fake news, and that fake news is being promoted in a way that is frightening,” Axelrod told an audience at the Global Financial Leadership Conference this week.
A related problem Axelrod sees is the declining trust consumers place in media. In 1976, 72 percent of consumers said they trusted media. Today, that number is at 48 percent, he said. Along with fake news, the proliferation of news sources tied to one political point of view has led to this, he says. “We draw on news sources that affirm our points of view, that confirm our biases rather than challenge our biases.”
The result is a polarized political environment that Axelrod says can be dangerous. However, government and the press will continue to play their traditional roles of making policy and reporting facts if people continue to support their core purpose, even if they disagree with the message, he says.
“What we can’t lose is fundamental faith in our democratic institutions themselves.”