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  • Writer's pictureGuy G. Gorman

Fake News

If you've ever felt cheated by media hoopla and/or reviews over some band or another, you'll probably see a musical connection to this blog.

Donald Trump has done us a great favor in emphasizing the concept of fake news.

Problem is that, as with all things Trump, most people don't see the real value in his contribution.

It's ALL fake news.

The very nature of news and the news business gives us a distorted view of reality.

First, news is a business: media report on what sells. And what sells? Anything that makes one feel threatened: terrorism, auto accidents, murders, global warming. Readers' instinct to survive kicks in. We want to make some sense out of the world so that we can feel safe. That's why we read the news. Forget that statistically we're very unlikely to ever be affected by terrorism, that autos are safer than ever, that crime is near all-time lows, or that global warming coverage is presented in just about the same way as every other end-of-the world scenario since the beginning of recorded history--does anyone remember nuclear Armageddon? (BTW: I'm not a climate change denier.)

Second, media naturally focuses on exceptions and extremes. It's human nature. Think about a sheet of paper with a small spot on it. What do we focus on? Not the 99+% of the page that is white. Terrorism, crime, and accidents are exceptions to our peaceful, harmonious world. When the news reports on violence at a political rally, they neglect to point out that the vast majority of the marchers were peaceful. When the news reports on a rush hour auto accident, it doesn't mention that tens of thousands of cars got to and from work just fine. No one is interviewed who says, "Yeah, I got to practice my Spanish with a CD on my commute today. I sang along with some of my favorite Stones tracks too! I even got home five minutes early."

Third, a lot (A LOT) of news is really just publicity or propaganda. I used to naively think that reporters went around looking for the most significant stories. Of course the truth of it is that press and publicity agents cozy up with media organizations, invite them to news conferences, provide press releases, free food and drinks. Much of the "science" that is reported is funded by various interest groups. For instance, the research showing that you need to drink lots of fluids was paid for by--surprise--the drink industry. The propaganda-news link goes WAY back. When William Randolph Hurst, who wanted us to declare war on Spain, published sensationalized, often untrue, reports of Spanish atrocities in Cuba leading up to the Spanish-American War. His apocryphal quote: You give me the pictures, I'll give you the war. According to Vox, Fox--Hey, it rhymes!--News was first conceived of as an outlet to air Republican views.

Two and three together: Since news focuses on extremes, honest interest groups who are trying to get a message out must be more extreme in their statements to get attention. And of course, an interest group with an opposing view must be more stark in contrast to counterbalance. A vicious, negative cycle ensues. No one who says, "Yeah, things aren't good right now, but can be fixed with some effort," gets heard.

Fourth, the very nature of reporting is limited. Only an omniscient being can give all sides of the story. A reporter's natural bias and limited human experience can only give one facet of the story.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we should be uninformed, ignore terrorism, crimes, or auto accidents hoping they'll just go away. And let me repeat: I'M NOT A CLIMATE CHANGE DENIER.

Also, I'm not saying that we shouldn't work to make the world a better place.

I'm just advising stepping back a bit and seeing a bigger picture, which also features a lot of good.

Our good work is not unrewarded.

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