It’s Time Americans Put Their Faith Back in News Media
This will probably come as absolutely no surprise to anyone, but recent polling and research done by Gallup and the Knight Foundation show that Americans these days don’t trust the news media. While most Americans polled agreed that they “still value the media’s traditional roles in society, such as providing accurate news and holding powerful interests accountable for their actions”, most also agreed the news is doing a poor job at doing so. It seems many people believe there is deep rooted biases in today’s news media, and while there has been a statistical decline in the American peoples’ trust in the media since the 70s, it has never become such a hostile sentiment that has fueled justification for some people to become violent, hateful and insulting towards reporters and journalists.
So how exactly did we get here? And how can we begin to finally put our trust back into the single most important institution in American Democracy?
Defining the News Media
First off, I believe it’s imperative that we define what exactly we are talking about when we say ‘media’ or ‘news media’ because both terms seem to carry such a negative connotation when used in certain circles. Google defines media as, “the main means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing, and the internet) regarded collectively”, and they define news as “newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events”. So news media is just really any organization that broadcasts or distributes news to the masses.
So why is it important for us to have this 3rd grade English lesson right now? Because I think the term media has been perverted by, well, the media. Think about it – have you ever been watching the news and heard a news anchor say something along the lines of “the media isn’t talking about this because they don’t want you to know the truth!” Did you ever stop to think in response, “wait a minute… aren’t YOU the media?”
Now in some contexts this is completely ok if someone in media sort of separates themselves from the fray for a moment to give some sort of critique of mass media as a whole. Such is the case in the documentary ‘Orwell Rolls In His Grave‘ (which I highly recommend watching if you are interested in this subject) where a few prominent figures in media share their ideas on the eroding public trust in media and journalism.
But then, there is the context where some will use the term as a weapon to not just distance themselves from being defined as a media person, but insist that everything to the contrary is shit while their medium should be seen as dogmatic. And no other major network conducts this media warfare quite like Fox News.
Facts vs. Opinions and ‘the Spin’
There is obvious bias that exists in pretty much all forms of news media, and I would argue that it’s somewhat unavoidable in today’s day and age. To be completely unbiased a news article would have to report on an event by simply stating who was there, what happened and why the reader should care. Whoever wrote said article would have to pay close attention to detail to the language they use to describe everything in the story as to not push some sort of alternative narrative or subtle idea.
Let’s study and analyze the above image for a bit. While this is definitely an extreme example, it will give us a bit more insight into what we are talking about. This headline, like most headlines, serve to grab the attention of the reader… but what kind of reader exactly? This “story” (which has since been taken down) was from 2011 when President Obama held a big, private event at the White House that included a celebrity guest list, musical guests (none of which were hip hop), and an impressive menu of food (that just so happen to include some BBQ). The biggest kicker is that this wasn’t a seminar on job creation in DC, it was Obama’s birthday. So Fox Nation made a clear and decisive choice to go with a tasteless and race bating headline… but to what avail? What exactly is their intention? It isn’t the first time Fox has shamelessly pushed ridiculous narratives or spun a story when reporting the news, and it definitely wont be the last (if you are a true glutton for punishment, check out this HuffPost article listing some of Fox News’ most ridiculous moments).
The term spin, when used in reference to media or journalism, means to “give (a news story or other information) a particular interpretation” instead of simply reporting the facts. While Fox News and their affiliates aren’t the only major network that does this, they just happen to be the most shameless about it. There are extensive Wikipedia pages for controversies for both CNN and MSNBC, and while their bullshit is more subtle, some could argue that is the reason it could be much more dangerous.
But what about this new breed of ‘social commentators’ that now clogs the airwaves? Most television news anchors don’t deliver the news without injecting some sort spin or insight on their opinion which, in my opinion, crosses them over into the territory of being more of a commentator than a journalist in the traditional sense. Personally, I love and regularly watch shows like the Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Real Time with Bill Maher, but I also recognize that the only thing that really separates them from, say, Bill O’Reilly of The O’Reilly Factor or other right wing pundits like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh is comedy.
The lines between news and entertainment have become extremely blurred. The general public these days seem to prefer a more entertaining delivery of their news, but this comes at a heavy price – when entertaining viewers becomes more important than delivering facts then a certain level of bias becomes completely unavoidable. The worst part is that I believe we have gotten to a point where most people can’t even tell the difference, which is why spinning stories and subtly injecting opinions to influence viewers is incredibly effective.
How Did We Get Here?
It would probably be a near impossible task to try and trace back to the first time someone used a form of media to spread falsehoods, but I think it could be argued that ever since the printed word, our first form of distributable media, became readily available to the masses, someone, somewhere recognized and sought its power and influence.