What is it good for?
Once upon a time, there were relatively few, large, news organizations that served the public at large. The majority of these organizations traded on appealing to a broad audience and eliciting trust in their audience. Now we live in a world where the primary job of a news organization is to sensationalize stories in order to make them more sellable. There is a natural inclination on people’s part not to feel this is the case because it is uncomfortable to believe that you are drinking from a poison well when the water tastes so good.
When we look at the media and observe how they manipulate the truth to elicit an emotional response from their audience, we see they consistently use certain tactics to mislead them. Tactics such as outright lies may constitute libel or slander when used to malign a person or set of people. Lies can be used. However, more typically in circumstances where the victim isn’t in a position to prosecute a case against the offending agency. Other tactics that avoid outright lies are manifold:
- Lack of proper context
People assume reasonable context. However, one can report a thing, removed from context, whose meaning is entirely different or totally opposite from the meaning in context. e.g. “I never said ‘Mr. Smith is a mind control robot from the planet Mars.'”. It could then be reported as Mr. Jones said quote “… Mr. Smith is a mind control robot from the planet Mars.”.
- Reporting on reporting
There is zero need to quote credible sources when using this tactic. This creates the illusion of credible reporting. When consuming news, listen for the special words used to remove all need for accuracy. Typically phrases like ‘Witness report…’ or simply ‘Sources have reported…’
e.g. Sources have reported that Mr. Smith is a mind control robot from the planet Mars.
- Cherry picking
This is the tactic of selectively reporting only those facts that support the narrative you wish to present and can be used in a number of different ways. The simplest way is just to tell a one-sided story. The more insidious is use cherry picking to give a totally false impression.
e.g. A public figure acts like a jackass. He does this numerous times. This behavior is then reported when engaging a minority. Suddenly this person is a ____ist who picks on ____s. Nope. Still, just a jackass who is a jackass to everyone.
- Manipulative descriptions
This is the art of describing things in a way that leaves a specific impression that is typically unbalanced and manipulates the reader into a mental image divorced from the facts. Select, descriptive, terms give a particular impression in order to bias the audience.
- Selective profiling
This is when stories are only reported when specific groups are involved in specific ways. Stories emphasize that group’s involvement. Stories become big news. These would be virtually ignored were the gender, ethnicity, orientation, etc. of the parties involved different.
e.g. Extremists repeatedly attack schools giving a western style education each time they murder the boys and let the girls go. The story gains traction when the extremists kidnap the girls. Murdered Boys are described as “students”; Kidnapped girls as “girls”.
The interesting thing about newsworthiness is the property that makes any story newsworthy. In short, what makes a story newsworthy is its ability to make the reporting agency money. This is the whole long and short of it.
Adjectives used to describe the ability of a story to make money are things like compelling, exciting, horrifying, tragic, frightening, outrageous, riveting, etc. These words all have one thing in common, they describe eliciting intense human emotion. Terms not used to describe newsworthy stories: thoughtful, informative, balanced, even-handed, fair, well researched, competent, etc. The reason is those things don’t create an emotional need to consume more.
People love to feel they are doing God’s work. Whatever that god may be. Often it’s the god of moral righteousness. Forever there are people who feel they need to show the evils of the world and reveal them for all to see. The only real way to do that is to make the news more exciting. All the while they feel they are doing the right thing. Sure maybe the story they are reporting will mislead people, but in the end, it will be a good thing. This is because they, the good-hearted reporter, have raised awareness. Is it important that they have distorted the facts to do this? No. After all, facts only get in the way of the greater truth that will bring about a better world.