Opinion: media maintains its value


Megan Lin

Guest contributor Kanika Kappalayil weighs in on the changing dynamics of media in America.

Kanika Kappalayil, Guest Contributor

Credibility has become an issue in the explosion of digital media in this age. Surely, it’s always been a concern, especially for journalists who seek to honor their craft, but since President Trump has coined and popularized the term “fake news” and blatantly labelled certain sources of news as untrustworthy, the clash between American people, journalists, and the government has led to tensions that have never felt so high. It seems the news cycle can barely make it a week without someone calling attention to their trust issues with the media whether it be within reason or not.

Such seems the case with Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, who has recently begun to voice his opinions on Twitter, the very common platform for publicly announcing criticism these days. His comments began with him sharing his own interpretation of big media companies, claiming that “the holier-than-thou hypocrisy… [is that they] lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie [which] is why the public no longer respects them.”

Staying true to his background as a businessman, not only did he announce this problem to his millions of Twitter followers, but he also immediately followed his tweet up with another, marketing and capitalizing off a solution for it. Musk debuted his proposal on Twitter, stating that he is “going to create a site where the public can rate the core truth of any article [and] track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor, and publication” and he’s “thinking of calling it Pravda.”

Pravda is Russian for “truth.” It is even more important to note, however, that according to Gizmodo, Pravda is the name of the Russian state-controlled newspaper and that it has existed since October of 2017.

At first glance, Musk’s words seem to point to a certain idealism. Objectivism and truth in media. Isn’t that what most of us strive for our news to embody? Yet there’s more to it.

Elon Musk’s track record when it comes to responding to the media and respecting its role in society seems to indicate cause for alarm. Just this April, a report from the Center of Investigative Reporting was published in which it was declared that in regards to worker safety in Tesla’s Fremont factory, worker injuries have been underreported. Besides this, Musk’s company has faced further scrutiny due to crashes that have happened while Tesla cars have been on autopilot mode. In light of such events, the media has obviously reported on the issues surrounding Tesla’s self-driving cars and potential and proven fatalities.

Musk, however, did not take too kindly to the observations and criticisms, calling what the news was reporting as simply “inflammatory headlines that are fundamentally misleading to readers… [and] really outrageous.” In 2016, in fact, he responded on Twitter to a journalist, calling what the reporter wrote about Tesla’s autopilot crash as fodder for increasing advertising revenue.  

So what are Musk’s true intentions with shaping up the media? Is the media only relevant when he can spin out the convenient truth, which protects the integrity of his company? In his eyes, does journalism rest on the principles of honesty? Or is it just another way for him to expand and consolidate his power as a business mogul? As we all know very well, controlling a narrative gives you immense influence.

Musk pitched the idea of measuring credibility among different publishers and thus holding them accountable, but such sites with similar purposes already do exist. PolitiFact checks the truth among politicians and other sources of news and is a nonpartisan website. Additionally, AllSides exists as well and is another website determined in “[providing] balanced news and civil discourse,” which rates different media sites on their bias.

With so many nonprofit and nonpartisan sources already dedicated to such a goal, it makes you wonder, does Musk not know of any of these sites as an individual concerned about the current state of news in America? Or does he know and not care?

Truth seems to be shapeshifting in America. It seems to be malleable to fit people in power’s agenda. We do need more civil and productive dialogue in discussing the credibility of news and media. There is no doubt that our media does sometimes face lapses in judgment. What we don’t need is for already murky waters to be further dirtied. What we don’t need is to be swayed into thinking there is no hope or redeeming qualities in media right now because influential figures tell us so, though they themselves seem to have questionable motives and hidden agendas.

Kellyanne Conway will paint the picture of a nonexistent Bowling Green Massacre, Kanye will urge people that slavery was a choice, and Musk will imply that all media is untruthful. The American people, however, have access to resources that allow them to know better. Misinformation, lies, and “alternative facts” have been sewn into the fields of public discourse. This country has been founded upon the freedom of press, and we should honor it by becoming better and more responsible creators and users of journalism. Media has a long ways to go, but it has shown more than glimmers of greatness with the ideas it has upheld.