Navigating the Media Minefield

The saying knowledge is power is a well known idiom, and in our society it is most decidedly the truth.  With the right information you can make millions  or change the world.  This emphasis on knowledge has led to a booming news industry with TV stations, newspapers and websites all vying for your attention.  These sources of information have become so powerful that they can now shape the facts to their choosing, resulting in often contradictory coverage.  As global citizens it is imperative that we learn to separate the true from the false and the biased from the facts.

It is worth noting that in todays day and age few news organizations can get away with a complete lie.  Not only are there laws in place to prevent it, other organizations will jump at the chance to call their opponents out for slip ups.  Instead we see subtle, and sometimes incredibly overt biases guiding the tone and nature of the news.  This far more insidious practice can have a massive influence on peoples opinions, resulting in multiple conflicting interpretations of the same facts.

As a global citizen you should always take new information with a grain of salt.  All news has at some point been written and repackaged by another person.  Even if they are trying to give an unbiased account they can still give a slant to their news, not to mention the possibility of their source being biased.  Furthermore, many news stations and sources purposefully give their news a bias in order to maintain viewership and therefore money.  For instance, a 2012 Pew Research Center Survey “found that opinion and commentary fill 85 percent of the airtime on MSNBC.” (Logiurato)  This heavy level of opinion can result in misinformed viewers whose opinions are not necessarily their own.  While this specific example highlights TV, biased news of all mediums has become a hallmark of American media.

So as a concerned citizen, what can you do to sift through the slant?  The single most important thing you can do it get your news from a variety of sources that present the news as straight as possible.  Yet, having a few opinionated and contradictory sources can help give you new perspective.  For instance my father, a fairly liberal guy who enjoys listening to NPR and watching CNN, tries to tune into Fox’s opinion panel “The Five” to “see how the other side thinks”.  Having a diversity of opinions can make you better informed and more capable of making your decisions.  Another helpful trick is to go international.  There are many reputable news sources outside of the US that can give great insight into international affairs and even American politics.  The BBC and Aljazeera are are both incredible sources, if a tad conservative.

 

The other key to navigating media bias is to dig deeper.  Often times what is presented in a simplistic manner is actually far more complicated.  Beyond this, sometimes news sources end up simply reporting lies.  For instance, in the fall of 2012 a french research study came out implicating genetically modified food consumption with highly increased rates of cancer.  This sent the media into a tizzy and ushered in renewed calls to label GMOs.  Yet upon further investigation it was revealed that the study was done in a completely haphazard manner with little regard for the scientific method (Revkin).  Because of the shallow initial investigation the issue was sensationalized and lies perpetuated.

Another great way to sort fact from fiction is to look at the numerous fact checking institutions.  The fact of the matter is that manipulation of the news is so widespread that some groups make a living off of exposing their lies.  For instance, factcheck.org is an unbiased website that monitors statements made by American politicians and news sources that separates fact from fiction.  These sites are indispensable tools for any global citizen.

The bottom line is that as global citizens we need to take everything with a grain of salt.  Everyone is out to make a living, even the people that are supposed to be giving us the facts.  As Linda Polman points out in War Games, many news stations used children with amputated limbs to increase sympathy and to try and garner a few more views (Polman).  What some may call the deplorable exploitation of suffering, others would call the presentation of the facts.  It all boils down to opinion.

Works Cited
Logiurato, Brett. “MSNBC Has Become Almost Entirely Saturated With Opinion, And Fox News Is Doing Much More Factual Reporting.” Business Insider. N.p., 18 Mar. 2013. Web. 27 June 2013.
Polman, Linda, and Liz Waters. War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern times. London: Viking, 2010. Print.
Revkin, Andrew. “Six French Science Academies Dismiss Study Finding GM Corn Harmed Rats.” Dot Earth Six French Science Academies Dismiss Study Finding GM Corn Harmed Rats Comments. N.p., 19 Oct. 2012. Web. 27 June 2013.
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