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Slate's Jacob Weisberg debates the dangers of the media's 'bad faith actors'

"Bad faith" actors who bend the truth have been around as long as the printing press. But these days, they are front ...

Posted: Feb. 10, 2018 6:08 AM
Updated: Feb. 10, 2018 6:08 AM

"Bad faith" actors who bend the truth have been around as long as the printing press. But these days, they are front and center in our choose-your-own-news environment. The phrase "fake news" has come to mean many things, but Slate's Jacob Weisberg has a simple way of summing up "bad faith" actors in today's media landscape.

"In a way, 'bad faith' is a euphemism for propaganda," said Jacob Weisberg, chairman and editor-in-chief of the Slate Group and co-host of the "Trumpcast" podcast. "And that is a prevalent phenomenon in media now watched by a lot of people."

A "bad faith" actor can essentially be anyone -- a pundit on TV, a radio host, or a politician in Washington -- but every "bad faith" actor stirs up confusion for their audience in some way. In turn, this can make it more difficult for journalists to get to the facts and to tell the true story.

Weisberg discussed the effect of "bad faith" actors, as well as the middle ground between news and opinion and this week's stock market volatility, with Brian Stelter for this week's Reliable Sources podcast.

Listen to the whole podcast here:

The concept of a "bad faith" actor isn't new, but it's been getting more attention recently in light of conservative media and legislators' hype of what was ultimately an anticlimactic memo by Representative Devin Nunes. The four-page memo, widely considered one-sided, alleges that the FBI abused surveillance methods. The House Intelligence Committee has since voted to release a memo from Democrats that counters Nunes's.

In Stelter's mind, "bad faith" actors "manipulate the system."

"I think it's an apt description," Weisberg responded. "And certainly again of the president who's trying to muddy the waters."

"I thought it was very interesting that Trump went on this unprompted rant about treason the other day," he said. "You know, there's a longstanding pattern with Trump where he, whatever he is guilty of or accused of, I guess you could say, to be a little more fair, he accuses his opponents of."

It's a method that Weisberg associates with historian Richard Hofstadter's essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics."

"What the paranoid style is, it's not just being paranoid," Weisberg told Stelter. "It's taking on the characteristics of your opponents... And I see paranoid behavior in that sense by Trump and his supporters. They are constantly accusing their enemies of doing the very thing that they're doing."

Trump's claim of treason this past Monday was "quite telling," Stelter said. While speaking at a manufacturing plant in Cincinnati, Ohio, Trump accused Democrats of being "un-American" and "treasonous" for not standing and applauding during his State of the Union address. Trump laughed while making his remarks, but "it's something that's profoundly inappropriate to say from the presidential podium," Stelter said.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Tuesday that Trump was "clearly joking" in his comments.

While "bad faith" can be applied to both politics and media, the context is a bit different, Weisberg said.

"I think that 'bad faith' is a trickier proposition in politics because it presumes that the baseline is good faith, and I'm not sure the baseline in politics is good faith," he told Stelter. "I mean, I think there is a lot of genuine belief and a lot of politicians have real integrity. But you know, you don't want to get into a mindset where because you imbue bad faith to your opponents, which may well be justified, you impute good faith to your side."

"So, I think you have to be careful of sort of imputing virtue to yourself when you're criticizing others,"

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