Is Your News Fact or Fiction? The Impact of Media Bias

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There are over seven billion people on this planet.  As humans, we are all tied together, and we have a duty to one another.  Acknowledging these ties and this duty makes one a global citizen.  Global citizens recognize themselves as part of the entire world; therefore, as part of the world, they are responsible for the protection of its citizens.  Awareness is key if we are to successfully protect our fellow citizens.  Since we are so far from many of the current humanitarian concerns, we have to rely on news outlets to inform us.  Is this news accurate?  How can we determine whether a story is true?  What happens if we find out it is not?  Awareness plus action is what equals a true global citizen.  If we act based on faulty information, we may do more harm than good.

In this day and age, news flies at us every second of the day.  From our computers, to our phones, to just a plain old newspaper, everything is programmed to keep us up to date on the latest stories of the day.  With all of this surrounding us at all times, it is important to look critically at these stories.  News only matters if it is true, so determining which stories are biased or flat out lies is extremely important.  Bias is common in journalism, with many journalists admitting to using a liberal slant in their stories.  People’s feelings about a situation can be significantly affected depending on how the media portrays it.  The same goes for humanitarian aid.  Often, when donors give large amounts of money to an aid organization, they dictate where it will be spent.  Their choice is influenced by what they see on TV, what they read online or in the newspaper, and what other people are saying about the crisis.  How much of this information is actually true?

Greg Mortenson is the best-selling author of Three Cups of Tea.  This book is marketed as a story about a man who was inspired to build schools in Pakistan, and includes tales about him being taken care of by a small village and being kidnapped by the Taliban.  Recently, many of the stories in this book were exposed as exaggerated or completely false.  In the book, there is a picture of Mortenson with his alleged Taliban kidnappers.  One of the men pictured is a member of a respected think tank in Pakistan, and until a short time ago did not know that he was being passed off as a member of the Taliban in a best seller.  The stories in the book are not all that is fishy.  Over the fourteen years that Mortenson’s charity, the Central Asia Institute, has been in existence, they have only once submitted an audited financial statement.  Questions are rising about how the Institute’s money is being spent.  In fact, more money is spent on domestic travel to promote the idea of building schools in Pakistan than actually building the schools.  Mortenson’s story is an example that not everything you see is what it seems to be.

Greg Mortenson with his book, Three Cups of Tea

Greg Mortenson with his book, Three Cups of Tea

Misrepresentation of information can have huge ramifications, especially in the aid industry.  When learning about world events and crises, it is important to do your research.  Checking what several news sources say about a particular topic is one way to protect yourself from inaccurate or slanted news.  For instance, if you rely on Fox News as an information source, there will be a conservative slant to your news.  Knowing this and examining a piece of news on several news outlets will allow you to see a clearer picture of what actually happened.  Scholarly, academic articles can be another source of information.  Because these articles go through several rounds of vetting to ensure they are accurate, they will not offer up-to-date news.  However, they can paint the big picture surrounding an event.  There have been many scholarly articles written about the Rwandan genocide, which happened nearly twenty years ago.  These articles try to answer questions about the genocide, such as what actually happened and why it happened.  First-hand accounts can also be useful in piecing together a story.  The book Emergency Sex gives the reader multiple eyewitness accounts from Ken Cain, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson, who worked in humanitarian crises all over the world in the 1990s.  However, when reading stories such as these, we must be appropriately skeptical.  Greg Mortenson’s story was a firsthand account, and we now know how much of that was actually true.

In her book, War Games, Linda Polman discusses how aid organizations sometimes aren’t spending their money wisely.  Some employees take kickbacks, money is not competently kept track of, and projects go unsupervised.  “Neither the donors nor their INGOs dare to visit the projects they finance.  The result is an unfathomable channeling of aid billions that is highly susceptible to fraud.” (Polman 134).  Do we hear about this humanitarian aid fraud in the news?  Personally, I feel like it is important enough to be more thoroughly covered by news outlets.  We must demand that the media cover these topics, so that aid organizations will fix these problems to function more effectively.

It is easy for us to assume the best in people, especially in organizations that are based on doing good.  However, we must still remember to keep them accountable, to let them know that someone is watching what they are doing.  Being aware of what is happening in the world is the first step toward becoming a global citizen, and knowing that you are being told the truth is crucial.  Thomas Sowell said, “If people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda, it is all the more important that the public understand that difference, and choose their news sources accordingly.”  It is important that we be able to distinguish fact from fiction, for our own knowledge and for the sake of the person whose story we are hearing.

 

Works Cited

 

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone. London: Ebury, 2004. Print.

“Greg Mortenson’s Stories From ‘Three Cups Of Tea’ Called Into Question By ’60 Minutes'” American Attorney. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 June 2013. <http://americanattorneysonline.blogspot.com/2011/04/authors-tall-tale-comes-to-light.html>.

Huber, Michaela, Leaf Van Boven, A. Peter McGraw, and Laura Johnson-Graham. “Whom to Help? Immediacy Bias in Judgments and Decisions about Humanitarian Aid.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 115.2 (2011): 283-93. Web. 26 June 2013. <http://leeds-faculty.colorado.edu/mcgrawp/pdf/huber.vanboven.mcgraw.johnsongraham.2011.pdf>.

“Journalists Admitting Liberal Bias, Part One.” Media Research Center. N.p., 20 Apr. 2012. Web. 27 June 2013. <http://www.mrc.org/media-bias-101/journalists-admitting-liberal-bias-part-one>.

Kroft, Steve. “Questions over Greg Mortenson’s Stories.” 60 Minutes. CBSNews, 24 June 2012. Web. 27 June 2013. <http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57455559/questions-over-greg-mortensons-stories/>.

“Media Bias Explained in One Picture.” Imgur. Imgur, n.d. Web. 27 June 2013. <http://imgur.com/xMpLl>.

Polman, Linda. War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern times. London: Penguin, 2011. Print.

“Rwanda Genocide Scholarly Articles.” Google. Google, n.d. Web. 27 June 2013. <http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=rwanda+genocide+scholarly+articles&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart&sa=X&ei=41rMUb-JI4f28wSaxIHgCQ&ved=0CCoQgQMwAA>.

Sowell, Thomas. BrainyQuote. BrainyQuote, n.d. Web. 27 June 2013. <http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/thomassowe440790.html>.

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