Pop Quiz: Identify the following quotation:

“Rarely have so many people been so wrong about so much. Never have the consequences of their misunderstanding been so tragic.”    

A) Friedrich Nietzsche on the Bible
B) Richard Nixon on the Vietnam War
C) Jon Stewart on the 2016 Election
D) You on the Moulton vs. Thorne Debate

Read on for the answer.

It’s a strange, strange time to be a young journalist. Frankly, it’s probably strange to engage in any number of professions at this point in our country’s history, but boy, is it a strange time to be a young journalist.

At 11 p.m. on Election Night, staring numbly at the talking heads pontificating with all their might on the screen before me, I remembered a bit of text from David Brooks’ recent book, “A Road to Character.” In it, Brooks writes, “I’m paid to be a narcissistic blow-hard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am, to appear smarter than I really am, to appear better and more authoritative than I really am.”    

In a letter from 1956, C.S. Lewis wrote to a friend: “That journalists can be saved is a doctrine, if not contrary, yet certainly above, reason.”

Even before then, the always pithy Oscar Wilde wrote: “There is much to be said in favour of modern journalism. By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”

I could go on. My point is that journalism has never been immune from public scorn or even from the scorn of fellow journalists. Media-bashing isn’t new.

But if you’re still wondering, the answer to the above pop quiz is B, Richard Nixon on the Vietnam War. Gotcha. Hopefully the answer was fairly obvious, but it says something about the current state of American journalism if you even had to think twice about it, which, if you’re under the age of 35, you probably did.

So disdain for the media isn’t new, but it certainly has changed. Even before these dreaded 18 months of torturous babble disguised as an election got underway, journalism of all types was in a precarious cultural position. Just look at it now.

Perhaps Lewis is right and journalists’ souls are beyond salvation, but what about their profession? If every doctor you consulted told you that that little spot on your back was positively, surely, absolutely nothing to worry about and then you developed skin cancer three months later, you’d probably never go back to those doctors. Even if, after your skin cancer diagnosis, your doctors sent you a deeply apologetic letter telling you that your case alone had spurned them from their ignorant ways and that they were back on the path to medical integrity, you would still look elsewhere the next time you discovered a little brown spot on your back.

So why not do the same to the existing media? In the wake of this massive abnegation of responsibility, is there any hope for the future of news media?

I sincerely hope so. Perhaps the current generation of professional pundits have no hope of recovery, their cultural and intellectual authority having been thrown out along with your Hillary 2016 yard sign. But I am cautiously optimistic about the prospects of the next generation.

If the next generation of political reporters and pundits hopes to regain the trust of even a sliver of the public, we would do well to learn from this current catastrophe.

First, we should follow Brooks in being more upfront about our fallibility. Certainty—even the appearance of certainty—should be avoided at all costs. Pundits should reaffirm their commitment to complicating, not simplifying, political problems.

Next, we should learn our lesson about the limits of data and polling in reporting. Yes, data is important, and polls do offer some insight into the mind of the electorate. But we must learn that even numbers can lie and mislead. We ought to temper our zeal for polling with a sense of the variousness and unpredictability of the human mind. Talking to 20 living, breathing, human beings is sometimes more illuminating than viewing a graph of 30,000 data points.    

Lastly, the next generation of journalists and pundits—against the grain of so much reporting today—must inject some empathy back into public discourse. Journalists must recommit to understanding and fairly representing the positions of those all across the political spectrum, and pundits on both sides must redraw the playing field so as not to pit the enlightened and the “woke” against the willfully ignorant and the superstitious.

As Oscar Wilde wrote elsewhere: “In America the President reigns for four years, and journalism governs forever and ever.” Perhaps there will come a day when we should let our understanding of journalism die, but today is not that day. With any luck, these four years will pass. We cannot let responsible journalism pass with them.