While working on one of my perennially unfinished side-projects, I’ve had cause to dip into a couple of newspapers and other media outlets that I don’t usually read. I don’t avoid them necessarily (well, except one), but they don’t form part of my normal news consumption as I know they have certain biases and opinions that I either don’t agree with or just find to be wrong-headed. The effect was akin to Alice Through the Looking Glass.
The same story reported in two separate newspapers can be wildly different depending on the slant taken. And in some cases, a story may even turn out to be completely untrue. Yet for that paper’s regular readers, the erroneous report was what would be taken as the authoritative record of the matter, and any attempt to correct their opinion is likely to be the truth. After all, why would a newspaper print lies? Wouldn’t that lead to them having to print an embarrassing retraction?
Given the fast pace and constant updating of today’s rolling news cycle, a misleading report or article may be read once and promptly forgotten if the story doesn’t have “legs.” Something new always comes along to drag our attention away, and unless an opposing viewpoint that challenges the facts of the original story comes to light and gains similar prominence, most people will be left with the wrong impression. As seen in the link above, even when a story is corrected, the clarification may still be skewed and may not be given the same prominence as the original.
It’s difficult to know how often this is happening, as it’s generally only controversial stories that have their facts picked apart as a matter of course. Most readers assume that news outlets will have checked their facts before reporting a story, but it appears that some are more concerned with bolstering previously-held prejudices than with presenting the truth. It’s one thing to pick your news media according to how well they reflect your own views; it’s quite another for them to attempt to shape your views through misleading reporting. Sadly, as the news landscape grows ever more fragmented and partisan, it looks as though conscientious readers are going to have to double-check everything they read on news websites, as it’s no longer guaranteed that they are telling the truth.
[Image by Ted Abbott]