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- Statement by the Co-Chairs

There is an urgency today in the United States. Political polarization has reached crisis proportions. Americans cannot assume that their fellow citizens are operating under the same set of facts. Many of us live inside echo chambers where only our own political sentiments can be heard, and distrust those who do not agree with our particular viewpoint. Provocateurs and hatemongers, foreign and domestic, are fueling disagreements, and media are amplifying the divides. Some of this is recent, but some is the continuation of long trends of media disruption, voter apathy and political polarization.

However one describes the problem, there is a disturbing discord in the American polity that needs everyone’s attention and resolution to fix. This Commission report focuses on the intersection of the distrust in American democratic institutions and in the journalistic media. These are difficult times, calling for strong responses to the dilemmas set forth below.

The Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy consists of 27 individuals from various sectors of society—current and former members of media, business, nonprofits, academia, government and the arts. A partnership of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Commission began working in the summer of 2017 with the aim of reporting in early 2019. During that time, the Commission benefited from a wide diversity of input on crucially important issues. It held meetings around the country, hearing from a wide array of witnesses, scholars, activists, government officials and, through a Medium channel, the general public.

We as co-chairs are awed by the concern, competence and commitment of our fellow Commissioners as well as the many others who have participated in the process. It is a daunting task that the Commission has undertaken, and none, in our minds, could be more important. What should Americans do to restore trust in our democratic republic and the media that serve it and us? More specifically, what can our leaders, our media and our citizens do to better understand the “other,” to distinguish between truth and disinformation and to govern ourselves fairly and effectively?

The Commission considered many creative ideas for solutions and refined the ones it considered the best and most practical. Some are bold, some are obvious, all are aspirational. They embrace a set of values that provides a compass for where this country should go: responsibility, transparency, diversity, innovation and commitment to the greater good.

For example, we look to the journalism sector to be more transparent in how they develop, write and correct stories, and in telling us who they are. We look to the digital distributors of news to act more responsibly in determining what goes out over their media, while also giving consumers more control over what they receive. We also support measures that give consumers the opportunity to change providers. And we ask all Americans, including their political, media and business leaders, to commit to this country’s basic democratic ideals by becoming more civically- and digitally-literate citizens.

Each Commissioner comes at the issues from a different perspective, life experience and value set. Yet we were all able to agree on these principles and proposals. We are particularly proud that this Commission modeled what we hope America can do more of: come together, listen to the other, find common values and common ground, and move forward with goodwill and ambitious aims. Some of the Commission’s recommendations are specifically intended to encourage this kind of civic deliberation to take place more often, across political, geographical and class divides. That is our message, one that we hope all Americans commit to pursuing in the years ahead regardless of their political viewpoints and the particular issues facing their communities and nation.

This report has two parts. The first defines the issues and establishes the context. The second sets forth a series of unanimous recommendations addressed to government, media executives, business leaders, journalists, political leaders and every citizen.

That said, we each have different opinions on particular details that we hope to expand on in the days and years ahead. We also note that while each of the Commissioners supports these measures, the organizations for which they work do not necessarily endorse every point.

We have many to thank for bringing us to the culmination of this report. We do so in the Contributors to the Knight Commission section at the end of the report.

The foundations of the American form of government are built on the assumption that truth will prevail from a fair deliberation among people of goodwill, coming together for a common purpose. Each of these elements is in crisis. The American identity is at stake. The urgency is clear. We urge you to act.

Tony Marx
Co-Chair

Jamie Woodson
Co-Chair
 
 
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