Breaking News And False Equivalencies

Instead of doing the big story of the preceding week I wanted to cover two cautionary areas using recent events as examples today. Let’s explore.

The first is breaking news. I’m talking about real breaking news, not something that happened hours ago that the networks just want to get you to pay attention to. I truly feel that the vast majority of straight news reporters try to be accurate. However, they are only as good as the information they have to work with. The example I want to use is a shooting. The story that is initially reported and reality often differ by significant degrees. Most news outlets clearly label the initial reports with the cautionary breaking news label. Please regard the reports that follow with a grain of salt.

Perhaps the biggest reason I refrain from things like Twitter is because too often I would find myself commenting on fiction, not reality, and then having to walk back my original comment. Not that I think any of them will take my advice on this topic, but I’d advise politicians to do the same. The best course of action is to be cognizant of the event but wait for clarification before taking a stand. The recent case of a celebrity staging his own attack is a great example. The prudent early reply would have been along the lines of: “If the attack took place as reported it is reprehensible, but we need to wait for the investigative professionals to finish their work.” That won’t get you news coverage, but at least you won’t have to retract your initial comment. For a liberal I’m being pretty conservative but this is an instance where conservatism is prudent.

Now to false equivalencies; does a great portion of our news media ever have a problem with that! With many issues there are differing but legitimate points of view. I understand that; it’s called debate, public discourse and most preciously democracy. Especially with the current admiration too often one side is basing their position on facts and the other on outright lies. Don’t get distracted by phrases like “Alternative facts” and “Fake news”. (I.e. almost any time Trump or one of his minions open their mouths.) As we were taught by the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts. We can disagree as to whether or not we feel a certain automobile is attractive or not; but if someone is calling a giraffe an automobile we are not going to get anywhere.

Too often, I assume in attempt to be fair, news broadcasts and columns will include divergent views. However when one side lies all they are doing is confusing their audience and perpetuating the lie. This is not a public service; in fact it is a public disservice!

Both ends of the political spectrum spin the conversations to put their best foot forward. That is fine and the consumers of news have to recognize the difference between spin or opinion and straight reporting. Networks and newspapers must clearly label both. Most, but not all, do.

In the end unfortunately most of our media is for-profit and they either attract viewers/readers/ listeners or perish. It comes down to the consumer of news being discriminating in what they believe. Considering the bombardment of messages and how busy most adult Americans are, that is no simple task.

I have two suggestions that will get you a long way toward being a better consumer of news. First, be aware that the initial reports in a breaking news story may well contain some information that later proves to be false. Second, is an old adage most of heard our parents tell us: “Consider the source.”

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