by George Lakoff Dec 19, 2018
Attacks on the free press, and constant lying by political leaders, aren’t just happening here in the United States. These tactics are also being used by authoritarian leaders in other countries who are taking power using the same tactics as Trump.
These leaders understand how the press works, and they use its own tendencies against it in their efforts to erode democracy and freedom. They lie, knowing the press will repeat the lies. They create distractions because they know the press will chase the distractions. They release bad news when they think no one is paying attention. Too often, these tactics succeed.
It’s time for the press to evolve. The press needs new rules, practices and guidelines to respond to the threat posed by lying authoritarians with no respect for truth, freedom, or democracy. These types of leaders attack the press because they see the truth as a threat. And it’s the job of the press to report the truth.
Here are some suggestions members of the press can follow to ProtectTheTruth:
-Ban the lie from the headline/tweet/chyron. Repeating lies only spreads them, and spreading lies is a disservice to the truth. It’s possible to write engaging headlines without serving the lie. Always start with the truth, and always repeat the truth more than the lie.
-Use Truth Sandwiches. When writing about lies, always start with the truth first. Then explain the lie. Then return to the truth. Sequence and repetition matter! Truth first! Always.
-Separate News from Distractions. George Orwell said it best: “Journalism is printing what someone else doesn’t want printed. Everything else is public relations.” Trump’s tweets have become a constant obsession for reporters. But his Twitter dramas generally just distract from the important news stories crucial to democracy. He issues crazy tweets, calls people names, and includes silly typos because he WANTS people to talk about his tweet. And those who give him what he wants need to remember Orwell’s quote. What was the big story in the news before the Twitter drama started? Keep a steely focus on things that matter.
-Limit Trump photos. Images are crucial. Today, it seems like nearly every news story features a large photo of Trump. It’s all Trump, all the time. It’s a Trump overload. Editors need to be aware of the overall effect and make an effort to use a range of images to tell the story of our times. Politics is not just about the actors. It’s about the millions of people who are affected by those actions.
-Outsmart the “Friday Dump.” Politicians and corporations tend to release bad or unflattering news late Fridays, and especially on three-day weekends. This is because people pay less attention to the news at this time. So, the use of the “Friday Dump” is a tactic for hiding the truth from people. Imagine if anyone who tried this was instead greeted with a big Sunday or Monday story that also told people they were trying to hide the truth by dumping it on Friday.
These are just a few draft ideas. We’d be interested in hearing any ideas YOU may have. The real goal is to encourage members of the press around the world to engage in a serious discussion about the changes needed to protect the truth in dangerous times like these. Click below to hear more in Episode 15 of FrameLab, the podcast about politics, language and your brain!