NOT FAKE NEWS
Fred Faour: Stop blaming the "media" and start looking in the mirror when it comes to news
a plural of medium.
(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.