Some of you know this, but I want to let the rest of you in on something: the word "media" is plural. Used properly, it takes plural verbs; for example: The media are a popular topic of debate.
But this is not a grammar lesson; it runs deeper.
People who disagree with something they see or hear from one media outlet or another sometimes respond by maligning "the liberal media," "the lamestream media," "the biased media" or any number of other generalizations.
But even President Donald Trump, who has a long history of attacking news media whose stories, opinions or choice of facts he takes issue with, is more discerning.
In a Feb. 17 tweet -- Twitter is Trump's medium of choice -- the president said this: "The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!"
On Friday, the White House barred several news agencies from an off-camera briefing. Among the banned were the New York Times, Politico, CNN, BuzzFeed and U.K. news outlets the Guardian, the BBC and the Daily Mail. Those allowed to attend included conservative outlets such as Breitbart News, FOX, the One America News Network and the Washington Times, as well as ABC, CBS and NBC.
Like many of Trump's pronouncements, decisions and actions, his complaints about media coverage contain ambiguities. I'm not sure what he means by fake news. I know a lot of people who use the term to describe any report that challenges his or her preconceived beliefs, and I suspect that may apply to Trump as well. But if that's the case, I wonder what ABC, CBS and NBC did to impress the president in the seven days between his complaint that they were fake news and enemies of the American people and Friday, when his minions included the TV networks among the chosen few for the White House briefing.
I do agree with Trump's broader message: There is no such thing as the media. He makes at least one distinction among the thousands of news outlets out there: some are with him, others against. I'm not sure what criteria he uses to determine which is which, but it's not unheard of for politicians to prefer news organizations they believe have made or will make them look good to those that don't or won't.
But if Trump has started a war with news institutions that seek to hold the president of the United States accountable to the people he represents -- all Americans -- I stand against him on the issue. It is not the media's job to flatter or patronize the president. If Trump says or does something stupid, irresponsible or illegal, credible news organizations will expose the truth for what it is. Trump's actions and statements tell me he's a fan of controversy, chaos and unpredictability and alternative facts, so he shouldn't be surprised when the news reflects the consequences.
Yes, legitimate media organizations have a duty to be fair and balanced -- but even those terms are debatable. Too often, partisans have co-opted and contorted them to mean something they don't: that anything they like is fair and balanced and anything they don't is unfair and unbalanced.
Let's save fairness and balance for another discussion. To get there, it's important to first understand this: There is no such thing as "the media."
Instead, there are thousands of newspapers, TV and radio stations, websites, social media networks and other agencies, institutions and bedroom bloggers churning out news every day with varying professional standards, missions, skills, resources and training.
"This vast array of news and information sources — from the New York Times to Rubber and Plastics News — helps define what's wrong with referring to 'the media,' " Paul Farhi, the Washington Post's media reporter, wrote in a Sept. 23 opinion column. "With so many sources, one-size-fits-all reporting is impossible. Those who work in the media don't gather in our huddle rooms each morning and light up the teleconference lines with plots to nettle and unsettle you. There is no media in the sense of a conspiracy to tilt perception. ... Lumping these disparate entities under the same single bland label is like describing the denizens of the ocean as 'the fish.' It's true, but effectively meaningless."
Email Keith Magill, email@example.com. Attention grammar cops: I realize my headline conflicts with the lesson in my first paragraph: The word "media" is plural. I used the singular intentionally in the headline to reflect its common misuse. Consider it poetic license.