NOT FAKE NEWS

Fred Faour: Stop blaming the "media" and start looking in the mirror when it comes to news

Washington Post Chief Correspondent Dan Balz (L); Judy Woodruff (C), anchor and managing editor of PBS' 'NewsHour' and Bret Baier (R), chief political anchor at Fox News, discuss news. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Media

noun

  1. a plural of medium.

  2. (usually used with a plural verb) the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, magazines, and the Internet, that reach or influence people widely.

One of the most popular games on the internet these days is to blame the media for everything. “The media says this.” “The media is responsible for this.” “The media is fake news.”

In reality, the “media” is a reflection of society. So we should be blaming ourselves.

Still, there is often an element of truth to blanket statements, which is why people believe them. But media bashing needs to be more specific. Of course, that requires rational thought and a discerning mind, and who has time for that?

First off, what is the definition of the media of which we speak? Newspapers? Radio? TV? Is Alex Jones media? Is Bill Maher? By the textbook definition, yes, all of the above. It’s that vague bit in the definition above:  “that reach or influence people widely.”

That encompasses a LOT of people. By that definition, we need to include the Kardashians as media. But just because there is a wide influence, it does not mean that is where we should get our news. We need to understand how to define the types of media, and first and foremost that means knowing the difference between “news” and “influencers.” Most people don’t, because those lines are blurred at the source. They have become so flexible we have no idea what is “news” and what is opinion. And that’s a serious concern. We have become a society of sound bytes, hot takes, and divisive opinions taken as fact.

Traditional media outlets have done their part to foster this mentality. Shoddy reporting, poor, biased commentary that is presented as news and just outright sloppiness has eroded public confidence. When the New York Times had a reporter (Jayson Blair) cooking sources in its stories, it did more damage than anyone could have imagined, because it ruined public trust and helped create this new age of opinion over substance, and gave a voice to those whose only purpose is to discredit actual news sources.

While Fox News often takes the brunt of this type of criticism, mainly because they are entertainment that calls themselves “news,” the reality is this is prevalent throughout all forms of media. For years, many people got their “news” from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Stewart was an entertainer, not a news source. That did not stop people from accepting his commentary as truth, as they do with no shortage of commentators -- or influencers -- now.

We live in a society where even the president decries “Fake News” with everything he disagrees with. “Fake News” is not a take we dislike. It means something is completely made up. But when presumably reliable news sources get something wrong, that is what it is branded these days. And they do get things wrong, especially in an Internet world where it is more important to be first than right. That leads to mistakes.

Frankly, it all started with sports. Many years ago, we began blurring the lines between sports reporting and sports commentary. What we thought became more important than what actually happened. This was fine for sports, because it is merely entertainment and not life and death. But when that model moved into things that actually matter -- politics, social stances, serious issues -- it eroded the fabric of society.

It’s no surprise that people want to blame the “media” for everything now. Because the “media” brought it on themselves. And as consumers of that, we bought right in.

It all comes down to definitions. We shorten everything now because we are too busy to think about it. For instance, I host a “Sports Talk” show. But if you have ever listened to The Blitz (4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN 97.5) it is about everything happening in the world, our personal lives, TV, movies, entertainment. And also sports. But that does not fit our need for quick definitions.

If I chose to host a political show instead, it would have to be defined as a “conservative talk show” or a “liberal talk show,” because let’s face it, who would listen to a show that talked politics without a perceived bias? So the easy thing is to brand content with one or two words and put no more thought into it, because we as consumers aren’t thinking about it.

So who can we trust? This is the root problem. I get my news from the Associated Press. But the organization also does commentary and has opinions on subjects. It shouldn’t, because people confuse that with news, no matter how carefully it is branded. There is nothing wrong with opinions and commentary based on actual news. Discourse is a good thing. But that is not what is happening in rest of the media world.

Having said that, blaming media in general is silly. It is like saying “police officers are corrupt.” Which ones? HPD? Constables? Harris County Sheriff’s Department? HISD police? Metro police? DPS? That’s just in the Houston area alone. A single police officer might be corrupt. But they all aren’t, and every police organization is not. But that does not make for good sound bytes. We lump everyone in together because it is easy. And lazy. We are too busy in our lives to think beyond the 240 characters of Twitter.

The same rationale goes for “media.” What type of media? TV? Radio? Internet? Opinion? News? A single member of the media might be sloppy and making things up. But not all of us do; not everyone should be painted with the same bold strokes.

So we have a trust issue.

Because of that, somehow we have to relearn what is opinion and what is news, and accept that even the most trusted news outlets make mistakes. That does not make them corrupt or “fake news.” It makes them fallible. It makes them human. But for some reason we demand perfection -- unless we agree with the source’s premise, in which case no further thought is necessary, even if it turns out to be completely wrong. And we should be alarmed by this, because we are headed to a world where the newsmakers control the news. It goes back to sports. The major leagues all have their own web sites and networks. They determine what the news will be. What happens when that model finally takes over the rest of American media? Politics? Religion? We will get filtered news, and who will know what the truth really is at that point? And we are so close to that paradigm now, we should be concerned.

However, accepting that does not fit our short take, don’t-use-our-brains narrative. “Oh, look, they lied about this. They can’t be trusted. Fake news.” Traditional news sources -- and by that I mean primarily the print world -- are dying off. Reading a story, analyzing the facts and developing our own opinions is a lost art. Subtle bias has become so prevalent that we pick out the buzzwords and let our brain fill in the rest, because who has time to think?

What is the solution? A more well defined dichotomy. Trusted news sources should stop trying to be commentators and not rush to publish stories just to be first. Opinion mongers should not define themselves as news. We as consumers should make sure we know the difference, and apply rational thought.

Yes, it’s easy to blame the nebulous, undefinable “media.” That requires no thinking, no critical analysis. But we as consumers of all the different forms of media need to take it upon ourselves to define what it is we are actually absorbing.

The “media” brought this distrust on itself. But we the people are the real culprits. And until we realize that, our democracy is headed to a dark place.

 

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Mattress Mack and the Astros host Pearland Little League at Wednesday night's game. Photo by LittleLeague.org

Sure, it’s impressive that the Astros have made four World Series appearances in recent years, but they’re not alone. There’s another baseball team around here that’s also headed to its fourth World Series since 2010.

Pearland defeated Oklahoma, 9-4, on Tuesday to win the Southwest Regional and qualify for the Little League World Series starting Aug. 17 in South Williamsport, PA.

Most fans and media say the Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, but it’s South Williamsport, just a 5-minute stroll across a bridge over the Susquehanna River in north central Pennsylvania.

Pearland is on a torrid 13-game winning streak that swept through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments to earn the Little League World Series bid.

Here’s how difficult the road to the Little League World Series is. There are 15 teams in MLB’s American League. If the Astros finish with one of the two best records, they’ll have to win two playoff series to play in the World Series.

Little League is a little bigger than MLB. Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.5 million kids playing for 180,000 teams in more than 100 countries on six continents.

Pearland, representing East Texas, had to defeat All-Star teams from West Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado to win the Southwest Regional. The Little League World Series will host 20 teams - 10 from the U.S. and 10 from international regions.

If you have children that play Little League, or you’re just a fan, attending the Little League World Series should be high on your baseball bucket list.

I covered the Little League World Series in 2010 when Pearland made its first appearance and made it all the way to the U.S. championship game. It may have been my most fun assignment ever.

The Little League World Series is played by 11 and 12-year-olds in Little League’s major division. When ESPN and ABC air these games, they’ll present the players as innocent little kids, like Beaver and Wally or Tom and Huck. They’ll show the kids playing Simon Says with the Little League mascot called Dugout. They’ll ask the kids who’s their favorite big leaguer.

I was a Little League coach. I followed Little League All-Stars across Texas all the way to South Williamsport. These kids are absolute baseball maniacs with $400 gloves, $500 bats and Oakley sunglasses. I thought the Astros might call and ask where they got their super neat equipment.

Especially in Texas, these kids are built tough with long ball power and play year-round travel baseball with high-priced private coaches. This isn’t a choose-up game in the park where kids play in their school clothes, one kid brings a baseball and the players share bats. I looked at some of the Little Leaguers and wondered if they drove to the stadium.

I half-expected, when ABC asked who their baseball idol was, they’d answer “me!”

Here’s how seriously good these kids can play the game. Justin Verlander throws a 97-mph fastball. That’s pretty fast. It’s not rare anymore for a Little League pitcher to reach 70-mph on a fastball. The Little League mound is 46 feet from home plate. A 70-mph pitch in Little League gets to home plate in the same time as a 91-mph pitch from 60 feet 6 inches in MLB.

In 2015, a pitcher named Alex Edmonson fired an 83-mph heater at the Little League World Series. The reaction time a Little League batter had against Alex’s pitch was equal to a Major Leaguer trying to hit a 108-mph fastball. Good luck with that. Alex pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in six innings at the Little League World Series. Now 20, Alex is a relief pitcher for Clemson.

The Little League World Series is a trip. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Philadelphia and drive to South Williamsport. I sat next to CC Sebathia’s mother on the plane.

Admission to all Little League World Series games is free and snack bar prices are reasonable. A hot dog is $3. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

The first Little League World Series was held in 1947. Only 58 players have played in the Little League World Series and later played in MLB. The most famous are Cody Bellinger and Jason Varitek. Only two players from the Houston area made the leap: Brady Rodgers and Randal Grichuk both played on the 2003 team from Richmond, about 30 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County.

While you’re in South Williamsport, you should visit the Little League museum and Hall of Excellence. Among the inductees: Presidents Joe Biden and George W. Bush, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dick Vitale, Rob Manfred and someone who’d later play stadiums in a different way, Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking of Springsteen, I shattered a record at the 2010 Little League World Series. The record was Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. I was talking to a Little League executive while teams were warming up on the field. Born in the U.S.A. came over the stadium loudspeakers.

I told the executive, I’m a big fan but maybe this isn’t the best song you should be playing. The executive asked why not? Well, you might want to listen to the words. Born in the U.S.A. is a depressing song about a U.S. soldier who is sent to Vietnam and can’t find a job when he gets back home. It’s not exactly Yankee Doodle Dandy. You have teams from Asia here (Japan won the tournament that year). The executive said, please tell me you’re kidding. Here’s one verse:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the (what is considered a slur for Asians).

Later I got an email from the president of Little League International.

“Quite honestly, I've never listened closely to the words of Born in the USA. I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.”

Play Centerfield by John Fogerty instead. The message of that song is, “put me in coach.” Little League couldn’t say it any better.

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