The U.S. media has come under intense scrutiny and skepticism with the rise of fear over fake news, cyberattacks, and simply people accusing journalists of bias. Many blame news outlets for the outcome of certain events, one obviously being the outcome of the elections. So, it’s safe to say that most will agree that the U.S. has a media problem.
There is definitely an argument for the blame to be passed on to the news outlets themselves but at the end of the day, the bias within the articles themselves aren’t the root cause. It’s the people and readers themselves as well.
Firstly, we must examine today’s circulation of news. Many people have their go-to news outlets, whether that be it Facebook, CNN, Fox News, etc. One thing in common between almost all outlets is the accessibility of them to hundreds of articles on a simple mobile phone. When opening the recently created News app on the iPhone, users can scroll through headline after headline on current “trending” issues.
From CNN, headlines read, “Trump’s Staff Seems Totally Miserable. Which Makes Sense” and “Rape and Domestic Violence Could Be Pre-Existing Conditions.” On the Economist, “A Plan to Put More Americans in Prisons,”, and on Fox News some headlines read, “Liberals and Media Finally Getting the Violence They Wanted”.
From simply the headlines, there are large inflammatory remarks made, which serves the purpose of a headline– to draw the reader in. The problems with that is:
1. People don’t seem to fully read articles anymore, and even worse, just read the headlines
2. This same type of emotion invoking rhetoric used in headlines is slowly seeping their way into the articles themselves
The first problem is more of a systemic problem within today’s culture itself. With the abundance of news articles, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with information to the point where we just stop trying to keep up. This has created a culture within many where we simply read headlines because it’s easier. Who needs to read the rest of the 1,000 word article when the summary is fitted into a neat six-worded phrase at the top? We all have that one friend that reposts articles on Facebook when they clearly haven’t read it’s content. The headline that was intended to draw readers in has now turned into the article itself.
For those that do read the article, that’s where problem No. 2 comes into play. Much of today’s news has turned into an exchange of dramatic readings on what is or what writers interpret is happening in the world. This is not an attack on the validity of such news but rather the presentation of it.
According to Oxford Dictionaries, the definition of news is, “Newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events.” Key word is information, which hints towards unbiased facts. In practice, news is always present in some sort of biased fashion.
The headline above which reads, “Rape and Domestic Violence Could be Pre-Existing Conditions” is enough to rile a person’s anger towards the new GOP Healthcare Bill. However, people largely tend to ignore the word “could” and also interchange the word “could” with “is.” Then as readers continue on to reading the article, it is not only largely speculative and unsure about the claim that the health bill makes rape and domestic violence a pre-existing condition, but the majority of the quotes about the bill in it are from individual citizens expressing their, “concern” over the bill.
The article is obviously from the critical viewpoint of the bill. Whether or not the claim in the article is true, there is a problem when most of the supposed information provider is full of quotes that have less to do with information on the bill and more on the opinions on it. It is obviously written to evoke some sort of emotional response from the reader with its use of words such as “concerned” and “worry.”
Articles such as this do and should have a place in the world of news, however, they shouldn’t make up the majority of major news outlets.
Secondly, although it is easy to point the finger at solely news outlets, we also have to look directly at the consumers as well and that means ourselves. Today, consumers widely seek the type of news reporting that confirms their own opinions. We watch and read outlets whose reporting is consistent with our views. So for example, those leaning right will more likely use Fox News while those leaning left will use the Atlantic or CNN. This is understandable, and I personally do this as well.
A study published by RAND Journal of Economics in 2011 writes that viewers will watch programs who characters share similar characteristics with themselves. This can also reflect on how we choose to watch certain news channels. The second adverse effect is the fact this can often lead to the rejection of information, valid or not, that is inconsistent with our beliefs.
In a study by Mathew A. Baum and Phil Gussin published in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science called, “In the Eye of the Beholder: How Information Shortcuts Shape Individual Perceptions of Bias in the Media”, emphasizes the idea of “biased information processing.” Readers with different political views will interpret the contents of the same article in very different ways depending on many factors including the name of the outlet itself. Bias lives not only within the news itself but also the consumers as well.
It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy then since the news is biased and the way we intake news is also biased.
Humans are inherently biased creatures. Every day we are shaped and influenced by an infinite of factors that all add up to who we are and how we think. The work that humans produce will also biased in some way. That being said, it’s still imperative that we try to keep an open-mind especially in an age where news is so easily falsified or unverified but still published. To do this, requires not only reading from many sources but being able to recognize the difference between an informative and well researched article versus one that is meant to cause a certain response from readers.
Obviously, the way that the news and media functions is not going to change overnight. However, each person can take the steps necessary to allow themselves the best chance of awareness.