Thoughts on how to watch the news media with remarks about problems associated with news media

Recently, I have thought a lot on the news media and how one should watch it.  This has been prompted especially by the nonsense, panic, and hysteria that surrounds President Trump recently (see my article “Thoughts on a media-induced mass hysteria . . . the “Trump panic”“).   My observation is that the news media is largely responsible for creating this hysteria and panic, which has gotten out of control.   In addition, they are responsible for keeping it going.  Not only that, the news media has been successful primarily because everyone has been so gullible, believing whatever it says without question.  In short, the combination of the news media and the gullible people have created a mass hysteria and panic which is unnecessary, destructive, and basically over nothing.  This shows that how one watches the news can have great impact.  The result of this observation is that I began to think about how one should watch the news media.  Here are some of my thoughts: How one watches the news is very important.  By “how” I mean things such as these:

  • Why do you watch the news?  What is the purpose for watching the news?  What do you intend to get out of it?  Why listen to the news at all?
  • The stance you take when learning the news.  What’s your position in relation to news?  Do you really care?  Do you really care about any of the “issues”?
  • The attitude you take in regard to news.  Is it meaningful to you?  Do you look for news to find problems?  Do you look for news to find facts?

The “how” will determine what you get out of the news, how you interpret it, how it affects you, and how it affects your world view.  In short, the “how” determines what you get out of the news.  Unfortunately, this is something most people never think of.  People generally hear or read news and blindly react to it without thought or consideration.  Though this may sound comical my observation is that people really need to “prepare” for news.  A person needs to go through their minds what they want out of the news, what they are looking for, and so on.  The thing is to avoid blindly listen to the news which leads to blindly reacting to the news.  When this happens its basically the blind leading the blind.  Blindly reacting to news tends to cause things like over-reactions, misinterpretations, blowing things out of proportion, villainizing, false threats, panic, hysteria, and such. What this more or less says that anyone who listens to the news has a responsibility.  That is to say, a person who listens to the news has a responsibility in how they interpret it and react to it.  There seems to be this belief that a person can interpret and react to the news anyway they want and that they are immune of the consequences.  This is not the case.  Ones reaction to the news is their responsibility, not the news!  In this way, one can speak of “responsibly listening to the news”.

THE QUESTION OF TRUTH OF THE NEWS MEDIA

One thing is to never assume what the news media says is true.  As a general rule, I do not look up the news for “information” nor do I view it as THE “source of information”.  In fact, I don’t regularly watch or read the news.  My confrontation of the news is generally because I “happened” to see it somewhere.  I make no effort to see what the news media says, unless I have a specific reason to.  This is because I treat the news media much like gossip or “hearsay”.  As a result, I do not cater to it.  In other words, I do not accept the news as authority and something to be relied on exclusively.  I only view it as something that a news agency or journalist said.  Who made their opinions right?  And who made them the authority in things? My general stance toward news is:  “It could be true but I don’t assume that it is”.  This perspective is not as easy as it sounds as it requires a person to waver between truth and untruth.  It seems, to me, that the inability to do this is one of the main reasons why people so easily believe whatever the news says.  People tend to need a black and white orientation . . . its either true or not true.  Since the news says “something” the tendency is to view it as “true”, whether it is or not.  It makes everything simple.  But, in doing this, people tend to believe whatever the news media dishes out.  It seems that some people even look to the news media to find a certainty in the world.  The “wavering between truth and untruth” seems to require a specific type of person.  That is to say, not everyone can do it.  Some of the qualities it requires include:

  • An attitude of caution.  A person must always be cautious of what the news media states.
  • The ability to hear things and not assume its true . . . develop a doubtfulness.  Many people tend to hear something and automatically assume that its true.  In other words, once they heard it or read it becomes true in their mind.
  • The ability to accept that one “does not know what’s going on”.  Many people have a hard time with this, I’ve found.   People want to know or, rather, they want to think they know.  As a result, they are easily swayed into believing that they do know by the news media.  In fact, this is one of the appeals of the news.  Because of this, many people have a hard time saying something like this:  “despite what they say, I still don’t know what’s going on”.  In other words, people tend to have a hard time hearing something and admitting that they still don’t know, for sure, what’s going on.
  • An awareness and watchfulness . . . a continual vigil and “being on guard”.  Its easy to fall to what they media says . . .  it always sounds true.  A person must continually watch what one hears and how they react.
  • An awareness of ones gullibility.  Many people do not realize how gullible they are and, accordingly, assume they aren’t.  But, the fact is that we all are.  Its good to watch how one responds to things and to watch ones gullibility in action.  I think many people would be amazed by how gullible they really are.

Many of these requires a self-awareness and a humility.  A person must know ones self and how one reacts to things.  In addition, one must have the humility to admit that one does not know, is gullible, etc. My experience is that people who are cautious with the news media tends to be very self-aware.  People who believe everything the news says tend to have little self-awareness.  In other words, there is an association between self-awareness and being gullible to the news media.  In this way, being cautious with the news is often a way of discovering aspects of ones self.

TECHNIQUES OF THE NEWS MEDIA

Its also good to watch for the techniques the news media uses in its portrayal of the news. The reality is that most news is actually opinion, not fact.  This is something one should be aware of when listening or reading the news.  In fact, it would be best to assume all news is opinion, regardless of what it is.  The news media is not a science and its not the Bible. Some of the techniques the news media uses include:

  • Hype.  This is a tendency to cater to certain themes excessively, generally to “touch a nerve” with the population so they will get more people reading the news.   Often, it uses great distortion, blowing things out of proportion, twisting things around, and bias.
  • Villainizing.  This is a tendency to portray particular people or things in a particularly bad way.
  • Sanctifying.  This is a tendency to portray particular people or things as “saints” or some great thing.
  • Neglect.  This is a tendency to neglect certain themes in the media.  Because its not reported people are not aware of it.  The fact is that what the news media does not report is often revealing.

In general, the news media tends to “twist things to its orientation”.  As a result, each news agency tends to cater to a particular point of view.  This fact is often neglected and not considered.  People tend to view all news as unbiased and a statements of facts, particularly if its from a “big news agency” such as CNN or NBC.  A good example is “The Salt Lake Tribune”.  This news agency is particularly biased toward a liberal point of view which is why I call it “The Salt Lake Biased Tribune”.  I often read it to not only laugh at the liberal nonsense (which is often hilarious, by the way) but to learn about the liberal mentality.  I sometimes play a game with myself.  I’ll hear of an event in the news and then say, “let me guess . . . The Salt Lake Tribune will portray it this way . . .” The next day I eagerly look at the paper and see what it says.  I’m often right.  Do you understand what this means, if a person knows the mentality of a specific news agency they can sometimes predict how it will portray the news!  This fact, alone, shows how much news agency twists things around.  The moral of the story:  you can’t assume everything a news agency puts out is gospel!

THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES OF NEWS AFTER ALL

The news is not all of one type, of course.  There are actually different types of news.  In fact, there is actually something like a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is what can be called “concrete news”.  This is news that is hard to distort or twist around.  A good example is the weather or stocks.  Generally, with this type of news they are describing a situation.  Typically, this type is news is not social in orientation. On the other end of the spectrum is what can be called “fluid news”.   This is news that is easily distorted, twisted around, and is greatly influenced by personal opinion and bias. Typically, it entails social issues . . . the more social the more “fluid”.  What this shows is that the more the news is related to society and social issues the more “fluid” it becomes and, accordingly, the more easily distorted.  As a result, any news involving social issues must be looked at with great caution.  This includes news about subjects such as these:

  • People
  • Politics
  • Religion
  • Entertainment
  • Crime

I’ve often been amazed by how much this type of news is nothing but opinion.  Different news agencies, and different people, will give different explanations and interpretations.  But when the news media says it there is this aura of “officialness” to it.  Its actually this type of “officialness” that one must be cautious of.

THE BUSINESS OF NEWS MEDIA

We must also remember that news media is business.  I’ve often told people that too, reminding them that the news is in the business of having people look at their paper, site, news program, or what have you.  As a result, they “do what it takes” to get that business.  In some respects, the news media is like a big advertising agency, “selling” what they think the consumer (the people) will “buy”.  As a result, the news media will often twist things around, add things, delete things, etc. to make it more “appealing” to the consumers, the people.  What this means is that the news media tends to “dress” up the news to make it more “appealing” to the consumer.  This can even go to the point of making up stories as I, myself, have seen.  Here are several instances:

  • In one instance, I know of a person who was murdered by his wife.  During the hearing a journalist was there from a specific newspaper.  He was only there for about half the hearing.  When we looked at what the newspaper said about the hearing they had completely distorted the situation, making the husband look like some evil bad man.  Everyone was pissed.  The guy didn’t even get the whole story but, yet, he wrote a story in the newspaper!  He was catering to the “battered wife” image, which was not correct.  They apparently viewed that as more appealing to the people than the “mentally ill” issue, which is more accurate.
  • I can remember when the U.S. bombed Bagdad many years ago.  I sat and watched CNN as this situation was interesting to me.  As I sat and watched it I saw how the news media, frankly, had nothing much to report.  All they knew is that Bagdad was being bombed and had some footage of it, but could not say much more.  Every so often they had commentators on it talking a little bit about the situation, citing their opinion of what they think is going on.  But, still, there was really no concrete news to report.  I then began to see these journalists start to state “could be’s”, “maybe’s”, “might be’s”, and such.  Over time, the “maybe’s” slowly changed to facts that they were now “reporting”.  The problem is that they weren’t facts.  It was actually sort of neat watching this happen before my eyes.  But it also stunned me and I never watched CNN after that.

A lot of news media will do anything to “make a sell” and this fact must be remembered.  Often, they distort, change, and view things from an angle that they believe their consumers will believe.  Some news, even, caters to specific crowds of people or themes (such as “liberal news”).

THE AUTHORITY OF THE NEWS MEDIA

One big illusion is the”big news agencies”, such as ABC, NBC, CNN, and such.  Because they are so “big” they give the appearance of being “general” in its orientation and that they do not cater to specific people, points of view, and so on.  In actuality, though, the “big news agencies” is not so “general” as it may seem, and are often very biased.  Some examples of bias include:

  • They are often liberal in orientation.
  • They tend to favor “white people”.
  • They tend to be secular in orientation (that is, they concern themselves with the general “mob” of people and not specific groups of types of people).
  • They tend to favor the U.S. over other western or industrialized countries.
  • They tend to favor western society, law, belief, etc. over those seen in foreign lands.

In this way, we can see that the orientation of the news tends to reflect things like these:

  • The culture and belief system of the society.
  • The situation and conditions of the country.
  • Who or what is in power.

In other words, the general stance of the news media is as an interpretation and it uses the various forms of social “powers-that-be” as an authority to give their interpretation authority.  This is one reason why people in that society tend to acknowledge news as being “right”, as the news media bases it on the social “powers-that-be” that most people accept.  Of course, if you don’t accept it then you will see otherwise.  Many foreign people, for example, can see the “wrong” or distortion in another countries news.  In addition, people who do not watch the news (such as myself) can often see the bias in news reporting.  This, of course, is not seen by the people who watch the news and believe the authority of the news media.  What this reveals is that the believability of the news media is very much based in a particular belief system.  For the news media to work they have to cater to that belief system.  In addition, for a person to believe the news they have to also cater to that belief system.  The common denominator between the news media and the people:  the belief system.

THE “POPULAR BELIEF SYSTEM”

To me, much of the news media seems to cater to a particular type of belief system, what can be called a “popular belief system”.  This is a belief system that has qualities such as:

  • It is very socially oriented.
  • It tends to cater to the people as a whole, as a “mob”.
  • It tends to cater to popular and accepted thoughts, points of views, etc.
  • Any controversies or disputes are looked at from “accepted” ways.
  • Any conflict of point of view tends to lean toward the point of view of the majority of their consumers (news is, after all, a business).

This belief system, then, caters to what is “popular”.  Being a business, the news media survives by catering to the “popular”, not by catering to the “unpopular”.  This, in itself, is a bias. The “popular belief system”, though, rarely matches what many people think in private.  As a result, when one looks at the news, and what people think, there is always a big gap.  In many cases, people just flat off refute the news and its points of view.  There are even many people who view the news as a joke.  Interestingly, I’ve found that the people who tend to not believe the news tends to be more “individualistic”.  People who tend to believe the news tends to be people who “follow the crowd” . . . like “sheep”.  To be frank, I tend to view people who believe everything the news dishes out as “sheep” and look down on them.  In other words, I don’t cater to the “popular belief system”.

THE QUESTION OF “RESPONSIBLE” REPORTING OF THE NEWS

The general assumption is that the news media is responsible in its reporting.  My observation, though, does not support this.  This is not to say that all news media is irresponsible in its reporting.  My feelings is that its best to assume that the news media is not reporting in a responsible way.   I’m sure that we can start a big debate on what “responsible” means.  To me, it means “reporting things as-they-are and that is relevant”.  This would mean that it has qualities such as:

  • They report “news” exactly as it happens.
  • They are without opinion and interpretation.
  • They are unbiased.
  • They are impartial.
  • It is not frivolous.

This condition, though, is not as easy to maintain as it may seem.  In fact, its probably almost impossible.  Because of this, “responsible” reporting is hard to maintain and tends to become compromised.  In other words, the nature of news media is that it cannot maintain a “responsible” stance in its reporting.  Some of the things that create this condition include:

  • Some news agencies will deliberately distort, twist, and modifying things in order to suit their own ends, to fit their agenda, to satisfy their consumers mentality, to follow social trend, etc.
  • The fact that reporting news, as it happens, is actually boring and dull.  People probably wouldn’t watch the news if only the “facts” were reported.  As a result, news is often “fancied up”.  When they do this, though, it tends to distort the news.
  • The need to appeal to their consumers and cater to their wants.  As I said above, news is a business.

What all this more or less means is that the news media, in actuality, is not really reporting “actual news” but a “fancied up news”.  This fact must be understood when looking at the news.  If anyone understands this there can only be one conclusion: that the news media cannot be relied upon and one shouldn’t believe everything they say, no matter how convincing it may seem.  To put it another way, the news media is not a reliable place to find the “news”.

THE NEWS MEDIA AS A RELIABLE SOURCE OF INFORMATION FOR IMPORTANT EVENTS SUCH AS AN ELECTION

From what we have seen above the news media is not that reliable.  This brings up the question:  can the news media be relied upon to give reliable information during an important event, such as an election?  I think the answer to that is “it could but I wouldn’t count on it”.  The problem with the news media is that there are too many variables, too many opinions, too much business, and such.  All this muddles the reporting, creating an increased likelihood of biased and distorted reporting.  In short, the news media cannot be relied upon to give reliable information about important events, such as an election.  I think this fact was brought out in the 2016 Presidential election where the media gave horribly biased and condemning reports about the candidates, particularly about Trump.  It did this with such an intensity that much of the country went into a panic over it.  As I watched this happen before my eyes, it put the nature of the news media under question . . . and all its led to is doubts.

There is now the question:  if we cannot rely on the news media then what can we rely on?  I can’t fully answer that question.  I think that the reason why is that it shows a basic problem with the news media.  The news media is the main source of “news” about the world, politics, and such, but, as we’ve seen above, it cannot be relied upon and tends to be biased.  How, then, do we get that information?  My feelings is that we will never really fully know what is going on.  All we get is “bits and pieces”, some true, some false, but the full facts we never know.  The thing is that it has always been that way.  The creation of the news media, particularly with TV, has given us the illusion not only that it gives accurate news and information, but that we actually can know what’s going on.  The fact of the matter is that we never do know the facts, nor did we ever know, even with news media.  In some respects, the TV, internet, and such has given us a grand illusion these past 70 or so years, making us believe things that aren’t really true.  I think its time to admit the failing of the news media and to look at it from that perspective.  Some of what we should understand are these things:

  • The news media is not a reliable source of information. 
  • We should not immediately assume the news media is correct.
  • Accept that we never really know what’s going on, despite what we are told, and how convincing it seems.

AFTERTHOUGHT

You must keep in mind that this is not saying that the news media is all bad.  That’s not the case, but it has some serious flaws that a person must be aware of.  Sometimes, the news is a statement of facts.  Sometimes, its a big lie.  Sometimes, its a lot of hype.  A person has to be alert and watch for what type of news is being dished out and learn to believe or not believe it. 


Copyright by Mike Michelsen 

This entry was posted in Current affairs and events, Government and politics, Life in general, Mass communication: media, social media, and the news, Modern life and society, Society and sociology, The 2016 Presidential election and things associated with it and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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