I know. What was the likelihood that Denzel Washington and Pope Francis would appear in the same headline… ever? But both have something in common this week: they have come out against the way mainstream and traditional media now treat the 24-hour news cycle.
“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed,” Denzel Washington told reporters outside the Wednesday premiere of Fences at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Washington is the director and star of the film, which tells the story of a black family living in 1950s Pittsburg.
Washington has some experience with “fake news,” as unsubstantiated reports surfaced earlier this year that he was switching his support from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to Republican candidate and now President-elect Donald Trump.
“In our society, now it’s just first — who cares, get it out there. We don’t care who it hurts. We don’t care who we destroy. We don’t care if it’s true,” Washington added. “Just say it, sell it. Anything you practice you’ll get good at — including BS.”
Pope Francis told “Tertio,” a Belgian Catholic weekly, that reporting and spreading disinformation and stories that are purely sensational is “probably the greatest damage that the media can do.” He said this type of reporting amounted to a sin.
“I think the media have to be very clear, very transparent, and not fall into … the sickness of coprophilia, that is, always wanting to cover scandals, covering nasty things, even if they are true,” the Pope said.
He added, “And since people have a tendency towards the sickness of coprophagia, a lot of damage can be done.”
The comments from Washington and Pope Francis come at a time when the U.S. is still debating the spread of disinformation and “fake news” in both online and traditional media outlets. A lot of finger pointing in the media, but no one willing to take responsibility.
It has gotten so bad that the Washington Post published an article about the spread of Russian propaganda in U.S. election coverage from “fake news sites.” WaPo uses PropOrNot.com as a source, which claims websites like the Ron Paul Institute of Peace and Prosperity, conservative-leaning news aggregate Drudge Report, the left-leaning Mint Press News, and random additions like NutritionFacts.org (a site that was later removed.) are arms (intentionally or unintentionally) of the Russian propaganda machine.
Yet, according to a report on IVN, no clear evidence is presented by PropOrNot.com — a team of anonymous citizens claiming to have broad experience in fields such as “computer science, statistics, public policy, and national security affairs” — that these groups actually did spread Russian propaganda nor does it cite examples for each website.
Pope Francis believes the role of the media should be to educate the public, and he is not wrong. To his point, however, it has become more about being first — leading to the rise of what I like to call knee-jerk journalism — than being right, accurate, or informative.