Jim Toedtman has had a 46 year career in journalism, as a newspaper man, a Washington correspondent and editor. For much of his career he has covered the White House and the Federal Government. He has traveled to 36 countries, traveled with 6 presidents and one of the Popes. He has a university degree, served in the US Army, did postgraduate work in Australia, and has a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia. He is a Landings resident. In no uncertain terms, he warned us of the current state of the news media and painted for us the new media landscape.
Do you remember, Jim asked us, when there were three major networks? These three together with radio, newspapers, and magazines, took raw data, publicity information, advertisements, propaganda items, and entertainment, and subjected them all to fact finding, fact checking and historical investigation. Then, and only then, were items considered suitable for circulation or broadcast. Since those days, newspaper circulation has fallen 19%; newsroom budgets have fallen and staffs such as reporters and editors are far fewer than they used to be.

And now? President Donald Trump has 24 million twitter account followers – vs – NBC News has 8 million viewers, CBS has 8 million viewers, and ABC has 5 million viewers. There are 1 billion websites, 3 million daily blogs – vs – 1385 daily newspapers, 15,000 radio stations, 189 TV channels.

The consequences of this huge revolution are that each person is besieged by information which may be of dubious accuracy, and which the recipient is, for the most part, incapable of checking and mostly unaware of any reason to try. Entities which used to check facts are hard to find, all the free media is easy and cheap, and the audience follows the line of least resistance. This reduced resistance is aided by the tendency of all, or most, of us, to accept as correct those items with which we agree and reject those which we know nothing about or don’t agree with. In other words, we resist “cognitive dissonance” and take the easy route. And what do we get? Fake News!!

In his presentation to us, Jim gave instances of news which has had huge circulation and which is false – on Hillary Clinton, on the Pope (influencing our election), on fraudulent votes and inaccurate counts, and more. We do have defenses, however, and Jim gave us a “toolkit,” of which the first may prove the most difficult: “turn off the news for three days.” He told us to beware of all-caps headlines, ask questions like, “sez who?” check the facts, seek a contrary view, think, “how do I know it’s true?” He provided us with a list of ten trustworthy services which can be relied on for true facts on finance, Federal monies, National Security and foreign affairs, for health matters and public opinion poll conclusions. Make no mistake, Jim told us, Fake News is not accidental, it’s not just satire or just a mistake. It is purposeful with a (sometimes hidden) agenda, and it’s dangerous. Jim was an engaging and informative speaker, what he said resonated with most of us, and we thanked him for his timely warning.
Below is pictured member Dave Sweeterman and Jim Toedtman