In a speech given at the ceremony for the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting, President Obama criticized the media’s coverage of the 2016 election season, noting that in 20 to 30 years, no one will remember which posts got the most retweets or likes.
Obama remarked on the discourse of the current political landscape, condemning “the divisive and often vulgar rhetoric,” “the coarsening of the debate” and “the sense that facts don’t matter.” “I was going to call it [a] carnival atmosphere,” he said, “but that implies fun.”
“Even as the appetite for information and data flowing through the internet is veracious, we’ve seen newsrooms closed, the bottom line has shrunk, the news cycle has as well, and all too often there is enormous pressure on journalists to fill the void and feed the beast,” he said. In this climate, he urged journalists to “not dumb down the news and to have higher aspirations for what effective news can do. Because a well-informed electorate depends on you.”
“The choice between what cuts into your bottom lines and what harms us as a society is an important one,” he said. “We have to choose which price is harder to pay.”
The award, in honor of the late journalist Robin Toner whom Obama described as a “reporter’s reporter,” went to ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis.