It’s been said that the media can be a mirror for society. It allows for the culture to be captured and recorded not only on camera but also on the written page and over the radio. The average person will always be able to look back at a certain time-period and see themselves and the world that shaped them for what they truly were. Whenever this concept is discussed the metaphorical mirror is typically mentioned as entertainment, but what many people happen to overlook is the press itself.
People need to be informed. By being informed, individuals can make lasting, impactful decisions and be aware of the world around them. This is why people watch and read the news. While it seems that there are those who would like to stay blissfully ignorant of the problems and complexities that inhabit everyday life, it’s fair to say that a majority of people just want to know the truth, either to be prepared for a potential danger or to make a difference thereby informing a resolution.
With that in mind, it becomes increasingly frightening to think that any news source that provides inherent information could mislead an audience of millions into believing a skewed version of the truth. Not an outright lie but something that could be just as detrimental. In recent months the topic of “Fake News” has taken the world by storm with many highly-regarded news outlets such as CNN, NBC and various others, publishing articles and broadcasting videos explaining how to spot and avoid false claims presented as legitimate news.
The mainstream media was apt in its deconstruction of fake news. Not only did they discredit many of the claims that were made, but more importantly pointed many tell-tale signs of fake news, such as suspicious website addresses, biased authors and blog hosting websites which lacked the editorial integrity.
While fake news might seem to be something that applies only to the Internet, this hysteria surrounding the subject makes a person begin to wonder if in fact “fake news” could be represented in professional media outlets. Interestingly enough, the same news organizations that put so much effort into covering and deconstructing fake news that was so prevalent on the Internet and social media, can also be found guilty of slightly biased, totally slanted, and incomplete news.
Again, it’s frightening to think that any mainstream news outlet could be at fault for purporting false information, but examples of this occurring are more likely than one would think. Although fake news is spotted as completely false, claims presented as fact, the “fake news” presented in the mainstream media falls more in line with the description at the beginning of this article, “A skewed version of the truth.”
In August of 2016, in the midst of civil unrest in Milwaukee, CNN aired a clip of Shrelle Smith, sister of the deceased Sylville Smith, calling for peace in her community after the death of her brother during an altercation with police officer, Dominique Heaggan-Brown. “Don’t bring the violence here and the ignorance here…” said Smith. What CNN failed to show was Smith’s entire statement. Smith continued to say, “burning down s*** isn’t going to help nothing. Y’all burning down s*** we need in our community. Take that s*** to the suburbs…burn that s*** down! We need our s***. We need our weaves. I don’t wear it but we need it.”
The reasons for why CNN would edit something like this remains unknown leading many to theorize. Some only seeing it as a mistake and others viewing it as clear and present media bias towards a specific agenda. Within moments CNN was reported on by other news organizations, such as the Washington Times and Fox News, exposing their deception. Considering this, it becomes a little harder to view CNN as being an entirely credible news source. And although CNN has released a statement apologizing for the edit, their ambiguity will always call their verity into question. CNN not reporting the whole story may have caused many protesters to be more enraged due to not seeing the full picture of the situation. If viewers would have been given the complete story by CNN, they would have seen that an African-American police officer shot an African-American citizen, not that a white police officer shot an African-American citizen. There was police brutality in this situation but not a racially-motivated assault.
In similar events, cable news network HLN, interviewed local New Jersey hero and retired police sergeant Steve Eckel, after saving the life of a 4-month girl that was trapped in a hot car for nearly forty minutes. The interview conducted through Skype was intended to showcase a hero and the events leading up to the child’s rescue. After the interview’s live-broadcast, it was re-aired but with one glaring difference. Eckel’s blue “Trump 2016” t-shirt had now been blurred out through the entire interview. HLN describes itself as a politically non-biased news outlet. If that is true, there is no reason to censor the original interview. HLN should show people how they truly are and not blur out political opinions. Much like HLN’s sister network CNN, they were eventually exposed for censorship and released an apology.
Note that what was presented to CNN’s audience was not false. The clip of Shrelle Smith speaking to her community was not fabricated either, but it was edited to put her speech into an entirely different context. It was lie of omission that persuaded audience members into believing a distorted truth. Doing this for any reason is not just unethical but perverse. Journalists and news organizations are relied upon to present their audience with just that facts, so they can evaluate those facts and make a decision regarding that information for themselves. When a journalist tries to deceive people into believing their own personal views it stops being journalism and becomes manipulation.
When a professional news agency that has millions tuning in expecting to hear the truth only to be misled and given one person’s side of the argument as fact, it becomes an epidemic. This may signal to other news outlets that it’s okay to distort information in pursuit of advancing biased news for whatever reason. There are various scenarios where the consequences of this biased media, damage the people they inform and also damage themselves as well.
By feeding audiences skewed information it’s fair to say that these audiences will be skeptical of the truth when it’s finally presented to them. In fact, some might even dismiss what is accurate choosing to defend the biased news they were given. This more than likely causes unnecessary division between friends and family over what’s factual and what’s not.
None of this is to say that no one can differentiate between biased news. It’s clear that some people would rather refer to this kind of reporting, but to the average apolitical citizen, the news provided seems entirely objective. And with the way current events are so easily forgotten by the public, it should be in these outlets’ best interest to be as detailed and non-partisan as possible.
CNN reported on a 35-page document put out by BuzzFeed, a tabloid-type Internet media source, which alluded to outrageous claims regarding then President-elect Trump. People are worried about Trump and his administration undermining the press, but they make it easy for him when they publish salacious articles like this. As a highly reputable news source, CNN should be expected to report on facts not biased information from a tabloid source. Once this report reached millions of people, BuzzFeed news editor-in-chief Ben Smith said, “We’ve got to engage information that is out there, true and false. Do our best to verify and be as transparent as we can with our readers.” BuzzFeed’s original stance after releasing the document was for audiences to decide for themselves. This calls into question how much verification is obtained before being released. News is relied upon for factual reporting not speculation on the consumer’s part to decide.
If Trump becomes an authoritarian, as columnists and political commentators predict, that hinders or censors the press, it would be hard to believe an audience member is going to stand up for the news agencies. It is more likely that audiences find no verity or editorial integrity with these agencies that are turning out more biased news. This brand of journalism will become the usual and viewers won’t see objective news any more, only a façade of subjective bias masquerading as objective news. A classic case of the boy who cried wolf.
After all that has been said by mainstream media outlets, it’s clear that the average news consumer can no longer take the information provided at face value. It’s a good idea to take time to read articles on a subject from various sources as to understand the full picture. As for mainstream news organizations, take notice. If the continued trend of apparent bias prevails, the profession of journalism is in clear and present danger. Honest ethics and rules regarding journalists and their efforts must be reevaluated and resurrected in order to reclaim news reporting as credible.