Monday, April 18, 2016

American trust in the press has hit an all time low.


Only 6% of the American population claims to have a "great deal of confidence" in the news media. AP. To compare, only 4% of Americans are have the same amount of confidence as congress. 38% say that they remember a specific incident where they lost faith in the media. The media has gotten some huge stories wrong, including the Boston Marathon Bombing and the Obamacare Supreme Court ruling. Critically, Rolling Stone published an article about a sexual assault that never happened, and would have been exposed as a faux scandal if the magazine had done any research at all into the alleged incident. News media has been trying to balance accuracy with the desire to get the information out as fast as possible.

My Comment:
Here's the part where I bash the media for doing things that I am probably guilty of as well. I too have occasionally rushed posts out or made mistakes. But I don't think I am a hypocrite for what I am posting here for the following reasons:

1. I'm a blogger not a journalist. I mostly do this for fun, and I don't think anyone expects me to have the same standards as a major news organization. 

2. Everything on this blog is my opinion. Even the little content summaries I write are my interpretation of the articles I use as sources. 

3. Most of the actual facts I write about are pulled from journalist sources. When I do screw up it's often because someone else screwed up before me. 

With that out of the way I am surprised that trust in the media is as high as it is. The media has been just completely wrong on several major stories lately. The Rolling Stone article, A Rape on Campus was a great example. The magazine had a story they wanted to tell, but they never bothered to find out if the source on the story, Jackie Coakley was telling the truth. It took a bunch of bloggers looking into it before the story fell apart and it turned out that the Rolling Stone didn't even try to confirm what they were being told. And that wasn't even the only case like that. Remember the Duke Lacrosse scandal? "Mattress girl" Emma Sulkowicz? 

The article claims much of the problem is due to the media rushing to get stories out in order to beat the competition. In the rush, the media sometimes forgets to make sure they have the story right. That is certainly part of it, but I think it goes much further then that. All too often the media out and out lies or misleads on purpose. I think the Rolling Stone article is a good example of that, and I am sure you can find dozens of others. 

The problem is that so much of journalism is completely biased. Most of the media is biased to the left politically, and whatever is left over is biased the other way. And instead of trying to at least appear to be objective, many journalists wear their biases on their sleeves. There are just some issues that you are guaranteed to never get an objective news story on. The short list is anything related to the culture wars, gun rights, global warming, internet, race, gender, and especially politics. 

Sometimes this manifests itself as sins of omissions. For example, the media has been calling Donald Trump a racist for almost a year due to remarks he made about illegal immigrants and the Mexican government. The media almost always focuses on his "rapists" comment without putting into context. Right after that he said that some of them are good people as well. There is room to criticize Trump's comment but the media almost always leaves out the mitigating parts of it. 

We saw the same thing in Europe as well. Abuses and attacks by the Muslim population, many of them recent migrants and refugees, were covered up until the situation became so dire that they could no longer do so. Both the child sex rings in Rotterham and the New Years Eve attacks in Germany were the straw that broke the camels back. Everyone in the media knew that these kinds of things were happening but nobody outside of the right wing press, which has its own problems, were talking about it. 

Another problem is that the media is just plain ignorant about the subjects they are talking about. Some of this is to be expected due to the fact that reporters are experts in reporting, and not everything they are being asked to recover. But everyone who is an expert in their field knows that when the media covers something they know about, they tend to get it wrong. I don't think people are as susceptible to the Gell-Mann amnesia effect as Michael Crichton believed. I know that when I see that the media screws something up I know about, it makes me less likely to trust them.

I also think that social media is part of the problem. A lie spreads the speed of light on Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes the media, to their credit, corrects those lies. But the problem is that once people make up their mind, it's hard to convince them they were wrong. Remember Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Twitter convicted both George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson before the bodies were even cold. When the actual story came out, supported by strong evidence, nobody was convinced because their minds were already made up. 

I really think that some of that mistrust is just due to situations like that. People see something on twitter, make up their minds and when the media actually tries to correct the bad information they trust the media less because they aren't telling them what they want to hear anymore. That least them to sticking to media sources that bend the truth to fit their particular worldview. I think everyone is guilty of this to some effect, even me. 

So how do you counter the media? I think people need to read about stories from multiple sources. Though I am a conservative myself, I don't just read Breitbart or the Daily Caller. I get most of my news from wire services, who actually try to be unbiased, and I make it a point to read some of the less insane left wing outlets as well, such as Vox and CNN. 

I also think that if there is reporting on a subculture it is very important to actually visit that subculture to see what they are saying themselves. For example, when the Reddit/Ellen Pao thing blew up last year I didn't just take what the media were saying. I actually went to Reddit and saw what the users were saying. Same thing with gamergate, anything related to Donald Trump's supporters and even gun rights. You have to actually listen to what people are saying and see how that relates to what the media is saying. Sometimes you find the media is right and sometimes you find out they are full of crap. Either way, you find out more then if you had simply trusted the media. 

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