Greene: Fake news: the media tears itself apart in the information era
One month ago, President Donald Trump tweeted “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” Hillary Clinton delivered a speech advocating for the private and political sector to take action regarding fake news: “So called fake news can have real world consequences. This isn’t about politics or partisanship; lives are at risk.” Melissa Zimdars, a liberal assistant professor, released a list of “fake news” websites to avoid that included a number of established conservative news sites such as Breitbart, the Blaze, the Independent Journal Review and the Daily Wire. In retaliation, Alex Jones’ InfoWars released a “fake news” list of their own. Google and Facebook, under pressure to crack down on fake news, banned a list of fake news websites from accessing their advertising services.
As technology becomes increasingly interactive, broadcasting opinions over the internet via social network sites, blogs, podcasts and independent news websites becomes easier and wider spread than ever before. We are being ushered into a new information age, one where the bias of individual journalists and the interests of mainstream media companies don’t have to limit the news and opinions available to the public. Stories or angles that might have gone against the mainstream agenda can now find their way to the public. Unfortunately, this also brings more competition, and as outlets vie with each other for the attention and trust of the public, ethical transparency can be clouded.
CNN has recently earned a reputation for sacrificing truth in the interest of competition. In an interview with Fox, Trump advocated for profiling, but in their coverage, CNN blatantly added the word “racial” to Trump’s statement. CNN was also called out for editing “Crooked” out of “Crooked Hillary” in one of Trump’s tweets, and was criticized for editing the first sentence out of a Clinton speech.
These were all done during the heated election. CNN had endorsed Clinton and was notoriously anti-Trump. Media taking sides during an election and reporting on issues with their chosen candidate in mind is expected, but honesty should always be the first priority, even in election season.
Richard Spencer, a radical alt-right leader, made a speech on Red Ice TV attacking the mainstream media. “Indeed one wonders if these people are people at all or instead some soulless golem animated by some dark power,” Spencer said. CNN then ran a segment that explicitly stated “Of Jews, Spencer said, ‘one wonders if these people are people at all, or instead some soulless golem.’” Never did the segment, or panel discussion on the issue, acknowledge that Jews were not the target of Spencer’s attack. This lie was then tweeted out by several other journalists who assumed CNN was a valid source.
Admittedly, Spencer is a bit of a devil in the liberal community. This is not surprising: he is considered a white supremacist and made references to Nazi Germany in this very speech, but that does not, and cannot, warrant blatant lies. If CNN wants to turn people against Spencer and his movement, they must do so with the truth; otherwise, it just serves to make a fool of the media.
In another instance, The Washington Times published an article about Alex Jones, the founder of the so aptly named news source InfoWars, a site notorious for conspiracy theories. The article quoted Jones as saying “Hillary Clinton ‘personally murdered and chopped up’ children.” Jones did say this, but the quote was taken entirely out of context. It was a hyperbole that he used to link to her foreign policy regarding ISIS and Syria.
Taking a quote out of context is not the same as editing or fabricating one, but it is just as dishonest. Alex Jones has a habit of baiting audiences with juicy and outrageous claims, but he often provides real insight into serious issues after. Mainstream media often takes his words out of context because they know it effectively convinces people he shouldn’t be taken seriously.
We’re living in an age where the media seems more focused on playing defense and offense with itself than taking on real issues. Even public opinion poll data is compromised by small groups flooding polls on social media. It’s no wonder our president is commenting on the situation.
But shifting the “alternative” underdog sites like Breitbart to the mainstream political news outlets, like Trump seems to be doing, isn’t going to make a lasting difference since these sites can be just as biased as the mainstream. Censoring what people can access online or taking away the power of alternative media isn’t the answer either — once America abandons free press, we abandon our integrity.
The solution to “fake media” lies in consumers. We can’t fall into the trap of confirmation bias. News that considers itself real will have valid and honest things to say, but we can also expect all sources to be skewed in some way. Instead of ignoring the bias you disagree with, search it out. Expand your perspective, balance your sources to cover the left, right and those rare sites sticking to bare facts. Don’t hide from the truth, even if it threatens your view of the world; however, don’t blindly believe everything you read, no matter how trustworthy the source looks. Read the news story and then watch the video clip, look up the policy or simply re-Google the facts.
In an era where our journalists can’t always be trusted and news is largely spread by individuals on social media, we have to remain diligent in our quest for the truth.