A few months ago, I started to do a series that was a little more political. At the time, I put out a proposed agenda of other topics I would take on. Well, it obviously didn’t happen.
My first big topic was supposed to be “media”, ie, “The News”. Wow, the more I dug, the deeper down the rabbit hole I got! And I did not dig far enough for my liking. Sigh. Oh well, I will do just a quick overview, but no footnotes or anything that I had originally planned. And no stories showing how far out a lot of “news” really is! This will be a very small, light, scratching of the surface.
As I talk to people, read things and watch “The News”, I have some interesting observations. OK, none of this is original and many have talked about it before, but seeing it first hand and hearing someone tell me, well, it is two different things.
Right now, in the US, people live in completely, diametrically opposite worlds. These worlds are created by the news people pay attention to, or the news that the people they talk to watch/listen to/read.
First, I have several news sources that I rely on. I will not take the word of just one. These sources do fact check and actually fire people for not following the proper fact-checking procedures. Contrary to what some may say, this does not “prove they are misleading us”, quite the contrary, it proves that they take getting it right serious.
A few quick things: my sources do have their biases, and it shows. However, these sources do try to show the other point of view and regularly have opposing viewpoints and people from both political parties. Some commentators may belittle opposing viewpoints, but most do not, they try to have a legitimate conversation even if their biases sometimes show. (A real journalist should never, ever show their biases!! But in today’s world, they do, but then, when they do, it isn’t really “The News”.)
The other big thing is that I read the news. Yes, a 24×7 news channel plays in the background in my house way too often, and I watch it, but that is not my “facts only” primary news fix. The 24 x 7 “News” stations and streaming versions of these sources are, well, they are not “The News”. I’ll say what they are later.
Over the last year, I have watched the major “other channel” quite a bit, just to see what the other half of America is seeing. Of course, remember, that I do not like watching “The News” because it is rarely “The News” even when it is from my trusted sources, so right there we are off on the wrong foot.
Still, all I can say is, just WOW….
Most of the time, on a day to day basis, they do not even pretend to show the other side, the other point of view. When they bring up “the other party”, they either cherry-pick from the ultra-extremists or they just use low meaning/high emotion words. OK, phrases and words out of context are used when it fits their narrative, but what comes across has almost zero resemblance to what the “normal” person of “the other party” actually believes, not one iota. When I talk to friends that watch this station, their opinions of “people in the other party” (me?) are exactly like what they are told to believe. No wonder they hate us!
The other thing that shocks me is how that channel handles “facts”. They don’t necessarily tell falsehoods, though there are occasionally those “alternative facts”, aka “lies”, that some politicians tell them, which are retold. Most of the time, though, they either create a false narrative by choosing only convenient facts, or, more often, don’t even put facts, true, false or cherry-picked, into their stories. They are 100% opinion.
As I have watched, I wonder how people can take it seriously and not see they are being manipulated.
But then I laugh – the people I know who watch this channel say the exact same thing about people who watch or read my news sources.
How can I show them that what I read is fact based when they call it all “Fake News”?
OK, I am going to back up for a moment.
One thing, it seems most people don’t understand is that what they call “The News” usually isn’t “The News”. News should be a “Just the facts, Ma’am” reporting of what is happening in the world. It should be as complete as possible (not cherry picked or lightened), with the four “W’s”: who, what, where and when (why is a little more problematic, which I’ll discuss). This is The News. Anything that isn’t a “just the facts” story is not The News, i.e., The News has absolutely no analysis, discussion, commentary, explanation (back history, if fact, is fine), it is 100% fact. That is the reason I typically read my news – a very large chunk of “News” that you watch is not news.
If not The News, what is it?
A lot of what I see is News Analysis. A big part of this is that fifth “W”, why. If it is good, we do get many of the facts. The problem is, often the one doing the analysis either assumes the viewer knows the facts or doesn’t care if the viewer doesn’t know it. Occasionally they make stuff up (actually repeating lies told by others). And too often, “analysis” turns into opinion. We often see this on 24×7 news channels, but the best type of rigorous analysis isn’t as common as it should be, though far more common than true “The News”.
Similar is News Commentary. Pretty much this is just talking about The News. This is often much more opinion and much less fact than a straight, good, Analysis. If you see a group discussion, you are watching analysis. Often even just two people talking, this is it. Commentary is very, very common on all 24×7 news channels, in fact, I would say the vast majority of 24×7 news programming is commentary and discussion (discussion is commentary with more than one person involved).
There is also Editorial. This is pure opinion and does not have anything to do with the facts (though it can be fact based). In newspapers, these are almost always marked as such. On TV, occasionally. There is some gray area between commentary and editorial. For my purposes, an editorial is more prepared and singular (one person talking), while commentary is either discussion between people (that group of “experts” you see), or off the cuff remarks. This post is editorial.
There is also Propaganda. This can be any and all of the above (and below, i.e., Fake News and Conspiracy Theory), including The News, but it is heavily slanted to try to persuade people to one point of view. With propaganda, all other points of view are ridiculed. There is no give and take, or perhaps there is false give and take, false debate, but with “the other side” always coming out to appear the lesser, stupid or even evil. There are many highly emotional words, but fewer facts. If you see someone interviewing a Senator and they are not putting the Senator’s feet over the coals, and perhaps even joining in bashing the other party, that is 100% Propaganda.
Of course, there is Fake News. It often seems that 95% of news on social media fits this, but I will mention social media as its own thing…. Fake News is not the mainstream media, which actually fires people for letting things out that are not properly fact checked. Besides blurbs and posts on social media, there are websites that are Fake News. Some are satirical in nature, which are usually easy to spot, like The Onion. Some, however, masquerade as real news. When pressed, the owners often say they are like The Onion and are for entertainment value, and a way to make money, of course. However, many fake news sites are there to mislead people, to cause chaos or to help with propaganda. Sometimes Fake News does spill into real News, but good fact checking should quickly weed it out. Other times, Fake News is quoted by Analysis/Commentary/Editorial to help prove their points… Rumors, innuendo and off-kilter tweets often create fake news, but there is actually a big industry that creates it for money and to push political points. And, of course, other countries will create fake news to cause chaos or push their agenda.
Conspiracy Theories are a type of Fake News. One of the things they often do is tell their followers that the official story is false, that those in power are misleading them. OK, fake news often goes that direction, as, of course does reality… Although Conspiracy Theories have always existed, they now spread quicker and are believed by more people because of the Internet and Social Media.
A huge number of people actually get their information about the world from Social Media!! I’m sorry, but if you believe anything that Twitter, Facebook or any of the others tell you, there is something major league wrong here! If you click a link from social media, same thing – it might look like a big-name site, but very often will send you to a Fake News site. The less I say about getting information from social media, the better!
OK, this blog is social media. But what I am writing is editorial, pure opinion, not The News. You read it, you say, “This is Trent’s opinion”, and you agree with me, or you disagree. Actually, you most likely agree with some points and disagree with others. Fine. But I am not pretending to be The News, fact set in stone.
And The News is never a soundbite! Most likely, if you see a soundbite type quote on FaceBook or someplace else, I bet there is a much deeper story behind that makes that soundbite meaningless.
As I said at the beginning, our country is very divided and our news sources are, in many ways, the cause.
But what can we do?
We can make laws to limit fake news and define what is real news. We can, but…
In my opinion, a free and independent press is one of the greatest things that a society can have and is a key to our democracy. It guarantees freedom much more than any army or weapon can. As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword.
Not only does freedom of speech mean taking the bad along with the good, but what would happen if such laws existed? Think of some hypothetical where one party controls most of congress, say the Senate, and the presidency. Say they try to create a false narrative that makes them look good and their political opponents look bad. If such existed today, they would just call legitimate news sources “Fake News” and hope their followers don’t see the facts, but if laws to limit fake news were in place, they could actually shut down any opposition voices, including those legitimate sources that were only reporting facts without delving into politics. A news source that supports them 100%, a Faux News channel, as it were, would then become the official mouthpiece of the governments and the only news source people would have.
Freedom of the press and all of its benefits would be dead, and so, real freedom would die with it.
So, no, we cannot have the government police the news.
Once there were laws that media had to give equal access to both parties. All points of view had to be given. OK, that actually still exists, but exemptions are so broad that it might as well not exist. See Equal Time Rule. Since, as I explained, what you see on TV is not really The News, most of the programs do not have to follow these rules. Should this be better enforced and exemptions made a little less broad? Perhaps. It already exists and would be a starting point.
Perhaps educating people as to the difference between the News and analysis, commentary, discussion, editorial, etc.? Possibly, though would they get it? Also, seeing real, fact-based news is not easy for most people. The old 6 O’clock News? Right. Flipping on a 24×7 news channel, which is far more entertaining than the boring old news, is super easy.
What do you think? I have a few ideas for a solution, but will save them for another time.
OK, I know, that was way too long! But if it was how I originally envisioned, it would have been 10 times as long! And a lot of links. And foot notes. And… well, it would have been better researched to give more weight to my opinion. Still, I hope you got something from this :)