At a recent event to promote his upcoming movie, Fences, Denzel Washington was asked by a reporter to comment on the experience of being a subject of “fake news.”
The question appeared to be in reference to a false story that floated around this summer suggesting that the iconic actor – and longtime Democrat – was “switching his vote” to Donald Trump. The quote, according to Snopes, was not true and actually originated from a completely different person.
But rather than dwell on his own frustrating run ins with tabloids and rumor mills, Washington took the opportunity to hold up a mirror to all of the media.
“If you don’t read the newspaper you’re uninformed. If you do read it you’re misinformed.”
The surprised reporter follows up by asking what he thought people should do.
“That’s the great question. What is the long term effect of too much information? One of the effects is the need to be first, not even to be true any more. So what a responsibility you all have to tell the truth. Not just to be first, but to tell the truth. We live in a society now that 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. Just say it. Sell it!’
Anything you practice you get good at – including BS.”
Denzel Washington absolutely nails it.
I pray to be this composed and articulate someday. Bodied her with the utmost respect 🐐🐐🐐 pic.twitter.com/K3OrKNGawL
— ̶T̶н̶e̶ ̶N̶e̶r̶d (@Word2Nerd) December 13, 2016
Unfortunately, a lot of the media fell under the “Just say it. Sell it!” spell, including much of the mainstream media which seemed unable – or unwilling – to get a grip on what to do about Donald Trump and the flippant way in which he pathologically lied. It led to election coverage that was so awful, that when Politifact’s readers were asked to name the “Biggest Lie of 2016” they named the entire election.
Washington’s comments also come with a hint of optimism. First, that journalism needs to learn to take it’s responsibility seriously again. This includes not, as CNN just did today, using a rare opportunity to hold Trump’s feet to the fire about his conflict of interests to instead ask him about hanging out with Kanye West.
Seven media organizations were given the opportunity to ask questions on a routine call Tuesday morning, and none asked about Trump’s announcement. Instead, a CNN reporter requested more details on Trump’s meeting with rapper and clothing designer Kanye West.
But it also means that journalists can practice real, responsible journalism – and get better. Learn by doing. And maybe someday readers can be confident that when they crack open a newspaper it will be to get informed, not misinformed.
Featured image via Christopher Polk/Getty Images for The Critics’ Choice Awards