CNBC Editor: Media Must Remember Readers Are Not ‘As Ignorant, as Stupid as We Think They Are’

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CNBC editor Nikhil Deogun said members of the press needed to stick to facts and remind themselves that their readers "are not as ignorant, as stupid as we think they are" during a discussion Wednesday on media in the Donald Trump era.

In a panel moderated by Katie Couric at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Deogun and Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker, The Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, Time editor Nancy Gibbs, and USA Today editor Joanne Lipman delved into the challenges of covering Trump and declining trust in the news media.

In one portion, Couric brought up the problem of confirmation bias in the media.

"Consumers are increasingly gravitating toward outlets that basically tell them what they want to hear, reinforce their beliefs," she said. A friend of mine said they're seeking affirmation, not information. So given that, how do you restore trust in the media writ large if people are so divided about which media outlets are actually fair and accurate?"

Deogun said the media should not fall into the "trap" of applying one standard to one person and a different standard to everyone else. He pointed to his former Wall Street Journal colleague Paul Steiger's mantra that "in the end, stick to the facts."

"I think sometimes there's too much of a tendency to interpret a fact to a degree that it goes into opinion," he said. "And I think part of our job is to, again, remind ourselves that our … readers, viewers, users, are not as ignorant, as stupid as we think they are, and I think part of that is to be more transparent. Part of that is to be more forthcoming about what we know and what we don't know."

Full exchange:

KATIE COURIC: Let's move on and talk about sort of the bifurcated nature of the media these days. Consumers are increasingly gravitating toward outlets that basically tell them what they want to hear, reinforce their beliefs. A friend of mine said they're seeking affirmation, not information. So given that, how do you restore trust in the media writ large if people are so divided about which media outlets are actually fair and accurate? Anybody. Nik, you want to take that?

NIKHIL DEOGUN: Sure, and I would say that the—I think Gerry [Baker] made a very eloquent argument on the previous point, and it leads to what you're asking about, which is, I think there is a tendency–we should not fall under the trap of just holding one person to one standard and everyone else to a different standard. I do think—it's interesting. Three of us have all worked at the Wall Street Journal or work at the Wall Street Journal—

GERARD BAKER: I did before I left the office this morning.

DEOGUN: Yes. Exactly. And our former—Gerry's predecessor, a couple predecessors ago, Paul Steiger, used to always remind us, saying, "Look, I could argue something round or I could argue it flat. But in the end, stick to the facts." I think sometimes there's too much of a tendency to interpret a fact to a degree that it goes into opinion. And I think part of our job is to, again, remind ourselves that our readers are not as—readers, viewers, users, are not as ignorant, as stupid as we think they are, and I think part of that is to be more transparent. Part of that is to be more forthcoming about what we know and what we don't know. First rule we all learned is don't just tell your readers what you know, please tell them what you do not know.

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