The News… or Not? (Rant ;) )

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 :)

39 thoughts on “The News… or Not? (Rant ;) )

  1. purplepeninportland

    Thank you for putting out a relevant post, that hopefully will make people think. Cable news has their own agendas, and “real news” seems to have gone the way of infotainment. I have never seen the country so divided, or lies swallowed so wholly. It truly miss the old newscasters who were serious about reporting facts.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I do miss the old newscasters. Whatever happened to the likes of Walter Cronkite?… There is still real news of the written variety, but most people want infotainment. We are so super divided and people will believe anything as long as it supports their views.

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  2. Marilyn Armstrong

    Garry spends a lot of time pointing out how glad he is that he isn’t working these days. It is so complicated to be a reporter, much less gain distinction or prominence. They are forced to do as much work for online material as TV news and how they manage to juggle all the stuff they have to do is rather mind boggling. It was simple when Garry was doing it, but it is so much worse now — especially being under constant government attack. We choose our news sources carefully and mostly, they are reasonably accurate. Not exactly or precisely on target, but at least somewhere in the ballpark. The thing about Fox is that they don’t even try to present the facts and do not consider what they do on the air to be actually news. They call it entertainment and to a large degree, since the 1970s when television networks incorporated news into the entertainment and programming divisions and they stopped being public service, they have been less and less news, more and more features, touching stories to try and make you feel good when the reality is awful, blood and gore of any kind from multi-death auto crashes to any kind of assault and murder. Even when Murrow was still working, they were slicing away chunks of news and turning it into entertainment. Murrow fought them, but they made his final years of work extremely difficult.

    At least for now, you aren’t going to see the kind of “honest” news we had when all the anchors were the children Murrow and CBS’s newsroom. They don’t have the time or the support of their television (or other) stations. If they try to “get it right,” they are as likely as not to get fired. That was true 20 years ago and it is still true now. And with all the newspapers closing, it’s really hard to find well-written and researched news stories.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I’m glad TV journalists spend time putting things on line, it’s my main way of getting news ;) A lot has changed, though the roots were there for a long time. I think the pure entertainment “News” channel, Fox, has done the most harm. And then the attacks on the few legitimate sources left – have you noticed that the right wing doesn’t attack the super left biased MSNBC or HNL? These channels are so obvious in their bias and light in real news. No, they attack the NYT and W Post, those sources with some of the best journalism still remaining. As the network TV, at least they try to tell the news unlike most 24 x 7 channels. It’s fine for local news, though not as good for international and national as in the past.
      The scary thing, thinking of people like Murrow and a real independent press, is that good journalism has been our only defense against the big political parties and the large corporations. Now the entire right wing trusts politicians and large corporations, but not the independent press! It is backwards. And they think their “Truth” is reality. (Back in the early to mid 90s, after listening to some people at work laughing over the latest thing from Rush, I said, “but that isn’t true!”. Someone looked at me, shaking his head sadly, “Of course it isn’t, but the problem with you liberals is you don’t understand the difference between your stupid “facts” and The Truth.”)
      I’ve just started to explore the AP news website. Looks better than most, so I will see – it might become my primary source in the future. Getting the masses to read good sources? Impossible.

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  3. Suzanne@PictureRetirement

    Trent, this is a complicated topic and one that has no real solutions, other than to ban Cable News Networks! Oops, I think there is an Amendment that prevents that. Ratings and advertising dollars are all dependent on consumers who want to reinforce what they already believe. News outlets are happy to oblige. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop with just biased coverage, and has grown into intentionally misleading content and sound bites meant to enrage, influence and divide. As we all know, it is working.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      This might seem strange, but I can live with the biased coverage – we all know it will happen anyway, so why can’t we have channels that pander more towards their audience? But that “intentionally misleading content and sound bites meant to enrage, influence and divide” thing is what really tears me up. I know that some of the cable news channels have been purposefully doing that since they existed, but the effects just seem to be felt more strongly these days. Yep, it is working all too well…

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  4. writegardener

    The media — whether mainstream or social — is so over the top with bias, I wouldn’t mind if it all of it was shut down until they could grow up and act responsibly by reporting just the facts. You may be interested in reading a fellow bloggers suggestions in his post entitled “useless TV Debates.” His name is KK, Kaushal Kishore.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Most news, even “legitimate” news, is over the top biased. That is another reason I like to read – it is easier to filter out the biases. I’ll try to take a look at Kushal Kishore’s post. Just the title – I agree that the debates are completely worthless and give no clue to what a person would do (has done) in office.

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      1. writegardener

        Yes, I agree. Yet sadly so many no longer take the time to read and contemplate…lazily relying on sound bites… You will find KK’s post more in-depth than the title indicates… I like his creative ideas for improvement. You may as well. :-)

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks, I’ll have to check it out. I doubt if the people who rely on their biased “news” will watch, but at least it gives another source to point to when bringing up the facts behind the news.

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  5. workinacresnothours

    Great read, I have never been able to understand the politics or news of America everything is so loud & unbelievably graphic. We don’t watch the news not even our local news or much tv at all really. Just a select few youtube vloggers & documentary series.(nerds). Growing up in a Church we had people all over the world in different countries & we would hear first hand what exactly was going on & often there were more joys to be had than what the news ever portrayed & the horrific side of things was never told in the news, if it was it was half truths & purely sickeningly portrayed as entertainment never news worthy. There is no humanity in news its pure entertainment.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks. yes, we do things differently here, and, in my opinion, not always in a good way… I usually start my news day with BBC website for that reason. I do like to know what is going on, but so much of it is infotainment and/or over spectacular-ized junk. It is pushing people’s buttons and high adrenaline to try to get the ratings and keep eyeballs on the screen. Bah. That’s another reason I read and not watch. And you are right, very little humanity…

      Have you ever heard the 80’s song, Dirty Laundry? For some reason I thought of that song.

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        1. trentpmcd Post author

          It is a great song, but one I haven’t heard in ages. If you saw the same video that I did, it wasn’t made by Don Henley, but was hilarious. It is funny that they were saying some of the same things about the news back then (1982!), but I believe it has grown much worse over the years!

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  6. Norm 2.0

    This is a big messy complicated subject, so first of all congrats on having the stomach to try to tackle it on the blog ;-)
    My belief is that the 24/7 news cycle and huge corporate profit-driven ownership has killed most traditional journalism. Thankfully there are a few exceptions left primarily in print journalism and publicly funded media (not for profit), such as PBS in the U.S.
    To me everything else is just info-tainment. It is so disheartening to see how people lap it up without understanding what it is they’re consuming and how easily they can be manipulated by keying in on the right emotional hot-button issues.
    The best description I’ve seen on the difference between The News and Journalism: The News will put people with opposing views on camera, one says it’s warm and sunny outside and the other swears it cold and pouring rain. The News person will ask them leading questions until it turns into an all out argumentative shouting match. The News then highlights the shouting match as ‘the story’. A real journalist would simply go over to the window to have a look outside and then come back and report to us which ones was telling the truth and which one was lying.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I agree that the 24×7 stations ruined journalism and news. You are right, so much of it is infotainment. Even when it is supposedly “real news”, they sensationalist it to get more eyeballs on the screen. There are a few good journalists on TV, but very few. One of the reasons I try to read the news and not watch it – I want to read what the guy who stuck his head out the window writes…

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  7. bettylouise31

    I learned the difference between fact and opinion in highschool. I grew up in an area the had only one news source. I personally saw how a newspaper could create a public response. I had an outstanding teacher in Government. HE brought it to my attention. At one time the only source of news was the neighborhood radio.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I think in many ways the vast number of choices for news is part of the problem, that and the 24 x 7 x 365 news cycle – there is a continuous and constant demand and several competing stations, so it turns into entertainment instead of information. Your one radio station had to satisfy everyone’s need for the news, so probably did better than a lot of choices. And I think we need a new Walter Conkrite that everyone can trust…

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  8. Melanie B Cee

    Interesting read. What do I think? I don’t ‘do’ news any more. With few exceptions. I try to keep up with the bits I can stomach (and they are very VERY few in number). The rest usually just irritates me so badly that it’s detrimental to my health to ‘be informed.’ I think it is wise of you to have a couple of sources that you find factual and which you can verify the veracity of. I’m glad you can stomach the endless (often mindless ((to me)) pap that passes for news these days, in my opinion. Maybe I just don’t care any more because I’m fairly certain it’s only going to get a lot worse and why dwell on that before it arrives? My own ‘sources’ for ‘news’ are a couple of bloggers I read here, and the local newspaper (which I admit to cherry picking WHAT I read) it’s not a big publication, so I avoid the nasty national and world-wide ‘news’. My thoughts on the whole thing are that people OUGHT to choose what they find are the best sources for them, verify whatever it is as accurate (unless it’s a natural disaster or something), and most of all keep their opinions to themselves. Part of the larger problem, as I see it, is that there is far too much entitlement and far too little common sense any longer. Thanks Trent for sharing some news today..

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      One thing is that there is a huge amount going on in the world besides politics and celebrity culture, but if you turn on the TV, that is about all that there is. And it is all depressing. But there are good stories, fun stories, etc. But more than that, getting to national, international, etc., if you don’t know what is actually happening, and not what the politicians tell you is happening, how do you make an informed choice when voting? I agree that people need choice – I do not want one big news source! Or even Three big News sources, like in the past. And I don’t mind right wing and left wing leaning news sources, but we need to have the facts presented. 99% of people will never research to verify anything, so they need to get as accurate as possible. This whole thing today where there are “alternate facts” for anything and everything is just, plain and simple, scary. Anyway, thanks for reading and for your response.

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  9. Paula Light

    Agree that most of the “news” we consume is biased, especially when people post out of context crap on social media. A lot of “real news” is simply spin and opinion. That said, I don’t think it influences people all that much because most already have their own biases and simply look for articles and quotes that support those biases. As Freud said, first comes the desire, and then the reasons are manufactured. People THINK their opinions are due to solid reasoning, but it’s really the other way around. They began with the opinions before they read a word…

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I think it is a feedback loop – people search out things because they think a certain way, but those source continue to shift, so people shift with them. People are very easy to manipulate. I know people who were very moderate 7 or 8 years ago who are now extremists. They don’t realize that they have shifted so far, but it is scary to see the things that they say/write.

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      1. Paula Light

        Omgosh same! This one friend who used to be somewhat balanced in his criticism of all politicians has now flipped completely over to being a slavish Trump supporter. I can’t even talk to him because, to him, anyone who doesn’t support Trump is “an idiot” 😢

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I do like BBC web site and NYT. I also read Reuters and AP websites. I hate their political reporting, but I use CNN website (their TV is one of the reasons i say I hate 24×7 TV). I often watch news on a local NH channel (WMUR) and read their website and will occasionally watch one of the (old) big three networks (ABC, CBS and NBC), typically using a Boston station. With newspapers, besides NYT, I occasionally read the Manchester (NH) Union Leader (despite the name, it is a very conservative leaning paper) and the Boston Globe. I also really like The Economist, but don’t currently subscribe.

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  10. dprastka

    Well written and worth reading. (Not too long, you had a lot to say!) It’s sad and disheartening like D. Wallace states the “news” no longer is dedicated to the truth. I always try and see both sides and rather hate politics especially when it’s this polarized! Yikes! It’s CRAZY times we are living in and I thank you for your voice! Better than I for sure, and wish there was a solution to bring or stitch our country together. ❤️🇺🇸

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks. It is discouraging. I know that talk radio and certain news stations have been giving different narratives for a very long time, but it seems worse today, and it all seems to be the heart of the division. It is crazy times! I hope someone a bit smarter than me is working on this and comes up with something that will help!

      Liked by 1 person

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      It is very disheartening. I think the only way to stitch the country back together is to solve this problem, but I don’t see it happening any time soon – the gulf has grown ever bigger over the last two decades…

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