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Why We Keep Getting Lied To
By Gretchen Gales
Once again, it seems that our trust in the media has been betrayed.
Brian Williams, a (formerly) well-respected news anchor and television journalist of "NBC Nightly News," has recanted his story about being shot down in a Chinook helicopter was inaccurate. Back in 2003 when the Iraq War started, Williams reported that the helicopter ahead of his was hit and nearly knocked out of the sky. But within the 12 year span, Williams added embellishments that somehow focused the story on him. After some of the retired soldiers took to social media, Williams issued an apology.
"I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago. I want to apologize. I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft," said Williams.
But it was not very convincing to his audience. Backlash and memes emerged shortly after the apology was issued, and Williams was suspended for 6 months without pay.
Embellishments and fabrications aren't new in the media. The National Enquirer makes a living off of stories that stretch the truth. How many Elvis resurrection stories does it take to get to the center of the conspiracy? Go in any chain grocery store and you'll see scandalous headlines right next to the register.
Even the more reputable magazines are guilty. It was just December when Rolling Stone found "discrepancies" in their article"A Rape on Campus" (which went viral in November) after failing to assure all information given to them was, in fact, accurate. In a released statement, Rolling Stone editor Will Dana wrote:
"We published the article with the firm belief that it was accurate. Given all of these reports, however, we have come to the conclusion that we were mistaken in honoring Jackie's request to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. In trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault, we made a judgment — the kind of judgment reporters and editors make every day. We should have not made this agreement with Jackie and we should have worked harder to convince her that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story. These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie. We apologize to anyone who was affected by the story and we will continue to investigate the events of that evening."
For the sake of an interesting story and more publicity for the magazine, Rolling Stone set efforts for rape victims backwards. Of course, readers around the world fired back, shaming the editorial staff for their irresponsible journalism.
But what if I told you, that to an extent, it's our own fault?
Remember that game from elementary school called Telephone? And as the message traveled from each kid, it got increasingly outrageous. Turns out most of us didn't learn anything from that game. The way we gossip and spread information as adults is just like Telephone. We don't go directly to the source. We don't bother to fact check. We want attention, we want to have a story everyone wants to hear. So does the media. And large media outlets make a hefty profit from those stories.
In Self Exposure: Human Interest Journalism and the Emergence of Celebrity in America, 1890-1940, Ponce De Leon explores the birth of the media as we know it today. In Chapter Two, he explains where "celebrity" journalism stems from: "[T]he expansion of news coverage was inspired by a conviction that newspapers covered things that the public had the right to know. But the mass-circulation press's commitment to revealing the truth and spreading knowledge coexisted with an equally compelling obligation to provide readers with good stories" (46). Inspired by James Gordon Bennett, creator of the New York Herald, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulizter's "story-telling" journalism took off in the early 19th century (46-47). Soon, "yellow journalism" was born. People bought Heart and Pulizter's publications because they were like something out of an adventure story.
With the yellow press came the emergence of sensationalism, or purposely creating hype to gather and retain readership, launched the dishonest form of press into the world and it has yet to go back. It has been seen in cases such as the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995 the Casey Anthony trial in 2011. With Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, it's possible we may never return to them. Stories spread faster on social media than most news sites. Think about the Telephone game and how quickly that turned from one story to another within minutes. Imagine social media spreading and twisting it in seconds. We keep buying into this garbage. If we want respectable and credible journalists and stories again, we have to demand it.
The other problem here is that we let ourselves be fooled by little to no research in a story. We crave exciting and outrageous stories so we can talk about them NOW; checking for the facts is too time-consuming and boring for us. But the bigger picture is that many consumers simply don't know how.
We have the tendency to believe that everything we read is true. If it's online or in print, clearly it is a legitimate source of information. Right?
I did not learn about fallacies and truly identifying credible sources until I took my required research writing class in college. In a world that stresses becoming globally minded, why do we reserve critical thinking and research as skills for the most educated? These are skills people should develop in high school, and not just private ones. Do we really want any more uninformed adults making decisions and spreading more inaccurate information out there?
As for Mr. Williams, perhaps he can serve as an example for those in the journalism field as well as teach us all a lesson about respecting the weight of words.
Ponce De Leon, Charles L. Self Exposure: Human Interest Journalism and the Emergence of Celebrity in America, 1890-1940. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
#Real #The Tall-Tale Heart #Current Events #Brian Williams #NBC #Journalism #Integrity #Lying #Fabrications #Media #News #Critical Thinking
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