Home / Media / Article




November 15 2019

How fake is “Fake News”

featuring Beverly Hallberg and Carrie Sheffield

With public trust in the media at an all-time low, Carrie Sheffield joins the podcast to talk about media bias. We break down the causes and implications of “fake news”, the blurring of news reporting and opinion journalism, and name a few outlets that still present an unbiased view.

Carrie is a visiting fellow at IWF and serves as National Editor for Accuracy In Media, a citizens’ media watchdog whose mission is to promote accuracy, fairness and balance in news reporting. Carrie covered Congress for The Hill and served as a founding reporter at POLITICO. She won a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship and has published in The Wall Street Journal, TIME, USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, HuffPost, Bustle, American Spectator and Daily Caller.

Hallberg:
Welcome to She Thinks, a podcast where you are allowed to think for yourself. I'm your host Beverly Hallberg, and on this episode we focus on the issue of media bias. With the public trust in the media at an all time low, we're going to discuss the causes, what it means, and where people can turn to get an unbiased view. Joining us to break it down is Carrie Sheffield. Carrie is a visiting fellow at Independent Women's Forum, and she serves as national editor for Accuracy in Media, a citizen's media watchdog whose mission is to promote accuracy, fairness, and balance in news reporting. Carrie covered Congress for the Hill and served as a founding reporter at Politico. She won a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship, and has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Time, USA Today, the New York Times, and others. Carrie, thank you so much for joining us.

Sheffield:
Thank you so much for having me. Great to be here.

Hallberg:
So, this is a fun topic for me. I work in media so I was glad to have you on to talk about media bias. First question I just want to ask you relates to an op ed that you recently wrote. The title of that op ed is called Pew Study Reveals Why Media Has an Anti-Flyover State Bias. I think that really gets to the heart of what many Americans have struggled with over the years, and that's feeling that mainstream media doesn't speak for them. So, what did this Pew study find, and why do you think there is such a disconnect from mainstream media and people in flyover states?

Sheffield:
Yeah, absolutely. This Pew study, they were looking at US Census Bureau data. So if anyone is trying to call into question their sourcing, number one Pew is quite reputable. I'd say it's probably center left, but it is very respected by the mainstream media as well as the government source for the data, US Census Bureau, and what they found was that looking at geographics. So, the mainstream media and liberals often love to talk about diversity and inclusion, and that usually tends to mean race or gender, but very rarely would you hear them ever talking about ideological or geographic diversity. What this study found was a huge disconnect between where Americans actually live and work, the American population, versus where do journalists live and work? The South and the Midwest, there are far greater populations of Americans who work in the South and Midwest, compared to who works in the media. The Northeast and the West, i.e the coasts, California, and New York, and Washington, DC are way over represented in the labor force, and that's what the study found.

Hallberg:
So this begs this question, which is when we see that there is bias in media, do you find that often journalists don't even realize that they are being biased? Because they're in their own enclaves, like you said, on the coasts that because they don't interact with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, that they tend to not even know they have a biased view about something.

Sheffield:
Exactly. So if you're operating in your own bubble, your own cultural or ideological thought bubble, you're going to be myopic. You're not even going to know what you don't know, and so another study by Indiana University that was widely quoted throughout the, "Mainstream media," again found that only 7% of journalists say they are republican. The study came out in 2014 compared to, according to Gallup, 29% of Americans identify as republican. So, you've got this more than three to one ratio of a disconnect of who is republican versus journalists, and then contrast that with 28% of journalists say they're democrats, and 31% of the general public says they're democrats.

Sheffield:
So, there's this huge disconnect from a values perspective, and what this new Pew study showed was that this is an even bigger problem as it relates to online journalism, which is a big problem when we're talking about tech bias, when we're talking about big tech. So, just to get digging through the numbers a little bit more specifically, workers in the South are 37% of the overall American workforce, but only 21% of internet news publishers and journalists live in the South. Among the Midwestern workers, they're 22% of the workforce but only 10% of online journalists. There's a huge disconnect. Again, they're clustered and much more likely to be in these liberal enclaves of New York, LA, and DC.

Hallberg:
I'm glad you brought up the big tech aspect of this. I think for many people, they have felt over the years that the platform of Facebook or Twitter has given them the ability to speak to people, and given them a voice to not just go with traditional media, but to hear from other sources out there. Even our own president has used Twitter to his advantage, being able to talk as he would say directly to the voters and directly to the people. So, it seems that there's a positive and a negative to this, that in many ways Facebook and other social media outlets have opened up an outlet for the voices that feel like they've been silenced, but there's also the other side where Facebook and other big tech companies tend to censor certain voices. When you look at social media, is it generally a positive or do you think the negatives outweigh it?

Sheffield:
Well so, when it comes to President Trump and other conservatives who are not afraid to use social media to go around gatekeepers, I agree with you. It's funny because I don't know if you noticed in that podcast, that Hillary Clinton recently gave with former Obama advisor, but she was complaining about the fact that there are so many voices in the media and so many media options. She basically said back in the Nixon impeachment trials when she was a junior staffer, a junior lawyer on the Nixon impeachment trials, "We only had CBS, NBC, and ABC." She said, "It was so much easier to control the messaging." It was so much easier basically, she said, "For people to know what to think." She said it was a, "Much more controllable media environment." So in that respect, you're absolutely right that she said there is ... What is the exact quote? She said, "I think it's a lot harder for Americans to know what they're supposed to believe. Back in the Nixon days there were just three commercial broadcast television networks, plus dominant newspapers."

Sheffield:
The fact that she admits that these large, huge media conglomerates were telling people what they're supposed to believe, is all you need to know about the fact that there are now competitors online, which is a good thing, absolutely. However, the problem is, and this gets to my point on the Pew study, that these online journalists who are clustered in these large urban areas, it can perpetuate the problem. Because, if you have journalists who are getting paid all day to make content that is then liberal, so even if you do have some upstart competitors like your Daily Wires, or your Breitbarts, or your Daily Callers, on a proportional basis they can't stand up in terms of this huge wave of content that's being churned out every day online. From the bigger media, much more commercially successful media players, because the advertisers are scared to back conservative content.

Hallberg:
I'm glad you read that quote by Hillary Clinton, because I think it is so telling of often how certain individuals think about the media, which is that the media are there to tell people how to think. Of course, you and I don't think about the media that way. Think about the media as having two different components. One would be straight news, which is just giving the facts and let people think for themselves, and the other side would be people who are opinion journalists, but I find that those two lines are often blurred these days. Even among the cable networks, that people have a hard time distinguishing because it's not clear what is supposed to be straight news and what is supposed to be opinion. Do you think that those lines are definitely more blurred today than before?

Sheffield:
Oh, absolutely because you're looking at how Americans view the news and there was a poll by [inaudible 00:08:53] University in 2018, and it found that 77% of the respondents, US adults, believe that traditional media outlets produce fake news, and this was up from 63%. So it went from 63% in 2017 to 77% of respondents who believe that the media creates fake news. What I've found most telling if you dig into the study, 65% of US adults said that fake news is not just things that are factually wrong. It is actually as well how news outlets make editorial decisions about what they choose to report. Only 25% of respondents, of US adults, said that the term fake news applies only where the stories are wrong. 65% say that fake news applies to editorial decisions.

Sheffield:
The majority of Americans, two thirds of Americans, know that there is this huge problem of opinions and value judgements masquerading as facts, and Americans are smarter than that. So, as much as the liberal media wants to beat people over the head and say, "This is what you need to believe. These are the facts. Take it or leave it, and you're wrong. People of faith, people who are conservative, people who have certain worldviews on culture and on politics, they're factually wrong. These are the facts." People know this is factually just not true, and they've tuned them out.

Hallberg:
One of the exercises I go through because I do try to keep an eye on everything that's being reported and how the narrative is being spun on different networks, one of the things I like to do is watch CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News each morning. What I can say is that today, more than any other year that I have done this, the stories that are covered and the narrative that is told about those stories is more different among those networks than I've ever seen it before.

Hallberg:
I think a large reason for that is because of the disdain that many in the media have for President Trump, but I think it leads to this. Which is depending on what your news outlet is, the way you view the world could be drastically different, because I feel like there isn't just factual reporting these days. It's all based on the editorial decisions of the president of that organization, or the journalist of that organization, and I find that that's bringing us to, in many ways, I think a dangerous place in our country because it seems that people are more divided than ever. Part of that is the way that we get our news. Do you agree with that?

Sheffield:
Oh, absolutely. Over and over, we see this with conservatives and this is part of why I know there were some conservatives I was in the camp of, I wasn't warm on Trump. It took me some time to warm over to his language and his style, but a lot of what converted me was just seeing, really actually digging into what he actually said. What was the context of what was said? Then looking at, what had democrats been saying before he ever said it? Then seeing the utter hypocrisy, and mislabeling, and calling him every name under the book, even though democrats had said the exact same thing. You mentioned the Accuracy in Media where I'm national editor. We are [inaudible 00:12:14] this on a daily basis. Just one example, Baltimore.

Sheffield:
When the president was talking about the problems of Baltimore and how the phrases that he used about rat infestations, about crime, about just the overall decline of the city and the exact same wording had been used by people from Baltimore. African Americans, city officials, former Mayor Catherine Pugh who is an African American woman, Bernie Sanders who's a white American was using the almost exact same language as President Trump. May he rest in peace, Elijah Cummings even used similar language that the president was using, and yet somehow Donald Trump is all these horrible names under the sun.

Sheffield:
Then the same thing as it relates to immigration then and detainment policies, and the way that people were being detained at the border is the same or worse under Barack Obama and the media's distortion, and labeling, and calling the president every name under the book. I don't even need to repeat it because I feel like it's a waste of energy to give air time to the names that the president is called, but I just kept seeing this happen over and over with the media bias where because President Trump had said or done something, that automatically made it racist, sexist, et cetera.

Hallberg:
Well, even a recent example would just be a few weeks ago when we had the amazing victory of the ISIS leader al-Baghdadi was killed. The way that that was reported on in comparison to the way Obama was reported on during his capture and kill of Osama bin Laden was drastically different. So, we have some very clear examples but I think it does beg this question, which is Donald Trump has been out to get the media, specifically CNN. Of course, fake news is his favorite term reserved for that network, is part of this just reciprocal to the way he does attack news media? I mean, I think that works with so much of the base because they feel that the media have been biased for so long and have personally attacked many people, like you were saying, in flyover states. Has part of this increased the bias and how stories are being reported? You can even take a look at two years of Russian collusion being put out there as the narrative. Is part of this because President Trump did take on big media?

Sheffield:
Absolutely, and that's the thing is that places like CNN, and the thing is I have friends and journalists that I respect at CNN, I think we have to give credit where it's due to strong reporting and journalists who put their lives on the line. Especially in foreign reporting, but the big problem, and again this is twisted and misrepresented, President Trump doesn't have a problem with good journalism. He has a problem with, "Biased," journalism, and the fact that he's not afraid, he doesn't just sit there and take it, that's why he makes conservatives get so excited because they're just so excited that finally someone says, "You know what? You can call me every name under the book that you want." You can use the double standard. If Joe Biden for example, CNN called when Joe Biden said that he was comparing the intelligence of white kids versus poor kids, that was just a slip of the tongue.

Sheffield:
When Trump says something that maybe you or I haven't would have said it that way, CNN reporter Veronica Stracqualursi, she called it a verbal slip when Joe Biden said something like that. Yet whatever Trump says will be interpreted as racist by CNN anchors and pundits like Don Lemon, et cetera. Nobody mentions the fact that Joe Biden literally got endorsed by a racist, and he bragged about George Wallace who was a known white supremacist and racist. Joe Biden bragged about his endorsement and bragged about an award that he'd given him. You just don't hear that, and you hear everything that's made up about President Trump. Then you see anchors like Anderson Cooper at CNN just going after in a very personal way, right now currently, the White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham. It was the same with the way people in the media on CNN and elsewhere have been so aggressive and dehumanizing of members of the Trump administration.

Sheffield:
Nicolle Wallace, she's a host on MSNBC, she calls herself a republican but she literally said she endorsed her colleague going up and she said, "Didn't you want to just go up there and wring Sarah Huckabee Sanders' neck?" Endorsing violence against the White House press secretary at the time, and somehow she's the one who's calling out the morality of the president and is someone who's able to sit in judgment. I mean, I could go all day about examples.

Hallberg:
Well, I want to jump in there. I'm going to play devil's advocate just a little bit on that. So, I agree with what you're saying. I think some of the comments that Sarah Huckabee Sanders received when she was press secretary is just horrific, even comments on her looks were brought up, and it was just despicable how she was often portrayed. There is a side to this that I want to bring up, which is Donald Trump isn't always kind in how he talks about people. So even a few weeks ago he referred to some individuals as being human scum. Is there a part where the president has brought some of this on because of his rhetoric?

Sheffield:
Well, I think what the president is, his approach, he's an equal opportunity combatant. As I said, the way he phrases things aren't necessarily the way I would phrase them all the time or other people, but on balance, I think the level of frustration and the level of indignancy about the way this has been building, I would argue for decades. Since the mainstream media was taken over in the 1960s by people who are from the socialist or left leaning worldview, that was really when this all started. So if you're talking about a tea pot that's been brewing, and it's going to be brewing for 50 years, at some point that lid is going to pop. When you had republicans who were more, shall we say diplomatic in their language like a Mitt Romney or even a John McCain, who admittedly was also pugnacious and may he rest in peace also, but Mitt Romney, I'm from Utah.

Sheffield:
Mitt Romney, he's a Boy Scout. I had people who were friends who were in his congregation, and just the decent, kind human being that he is, he was shredded. He was treated as the next Stalin. So, it doesn't matter if a republican is diplomatic and uses language that is more measured. He or she will be shredded and dehumanized in the most regular of terms. I give Bill Maher credit for at least admitting this in 2016. He said, "We owe John McCain and Mitt Romney an apology because they are good and decent men, and we treated them like scum," if you want to use that same phrase. So, I think that finally republicans and conservatives have said, "Enough is enough." It doesn't matter if we are kind. It doesn't matter. If we're bringing a knife to a bazooka fight, we're going to keep losing.

Hallberg:
This will be a final question for you. A question that I've received a lot, I'm curious if you have received this and I know that this is part of your work with Accuracy in Media. Accuracy in Media calls out the bias that is seen in so much of the media outlets, but a question I get a lot from friends is they say, "I just want the facts, and I feel like everywhere I turn has an opinion. Where do I go without any opinion at all to just hear the news of the day?" Have you been asked that, and where do you tell people to go?

Sheffield:
Well, yes. I would say you should go to AIM.org, to our Accuracy in Media website. We try to be as objective in our language as we can in terms of analyzing what the media is doing, and explaining when journalists are not being accurate. So that would be my first resource. I personally am also a big fan of the Wall Street Journal, and if you look at trust and surveys about trust, the Wall Street Journal tends to rate very high with news brands. I think RealClearPolitics has a great aggregator in bringing different voices and different publications together. I think also that there can be a time and a place for opinion, and if you're wanting to get a balanced diet, then you should read all different sources.

Sheffield:
That is one place with social media that if you are following both left and right, you can get a more balanced diet. Again, there is that question that you mentioned of. Will the conservative voices be suppressed in their algorithms, disfavored? That is a big problem, so we need to keep fighting. That's something actually with Accuracy in Media, we're celebrating 50 years. We have our big gala this year, and we're going to update our mission where we are going to focus on big tech bias, because this is the new frontier. This is where the new investigations need to be happening in exposing the bias that is happening at these big tech firms.

Hallberg:
Well, I know I personally have been thankful for the work that Accuracy in Media has done in the years that I've been following them. We thank you for your work as well, and thank you so much for joining us and giving us some data points to the media bias that we know exists. So Carrie Sheffield, thank you for being here.

Sheffield:
Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

Hallberg:
Thank you all for listening. Before you go, I wanted to let you know of another great podcast you should subscribe to in addition to She Thinks. It's called Problematic Women, and it's hosted by Kelsey Bolar and Lauren Evans, where they both sort through the news to bring stories and interviews that are of particular interest to conservative leaning, or as we like to call them, problematic women. That is women whose views and opinions are often excluded or mocked by those on the so called feminist left. Every Thursday hear them talk about everything from pop culture, to policy and politics, by searching for Problematic Women wherever you get your podcasts. Last, if you enjoyed this episode of She Thinks, do leave us a rating or a review on iTunes. It does help. Also, we'd love it if you shared this episode and let your friends know where they can listen to more She Thinks episodes. From all of us here at Independent Women's Forum, thanks for listening.


Go Back



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
Follow us