Thursday, January 24, 2019

Consider This – Getting the Facts Straight

Fake News. Alternate Facts. Misrepresentation. All claims against mainstream journalism – “The Media” – which come from Trump and those who support him. With the longest government shutdown in history still going, as well as the continuing investigation into Trump and his campaign, alleged collusion with the Russians, and continued unrest for various causes across the country, news outlets need to be extra cautions about stories, their sources, and their veracity.

In recent days, we’ve had the news service Buzzfeed report on alleged conversations between Trump and his former “fixer” Michael Cohen. In their online articles, Buzzfeed claimed to have evidence through a third party that these conversations did occur, where Trump directed Cohen to lie about prior conversations had between the campaign and Russian officials about a Russian Trump Tower plan. While Buzzfeed tries to be a serious journalistic outlet, in at least this case they jumped the gun without confirming their sources and seeing the evidence their source claimed to have. The original Buzzfeed article was picked up by major news networks and carried nationwide, and then the facts came into question when doubts were expressed on both sides of the story – even the Mueller investigation team denied some of the allegations in the article.

Also, just a few days after this bombshell of alleged wrongdoing, a group of high schoolers were in Washington DC as part of a school-sponsored trip. The trip was allegedly planned to correspond with this year’s Women’s March in order to protest against it. Initial reports, after a video appeared on Twitter, claimed the boys confronted a Native American man who was walking The Mall near the Lincoln Memorial. Later updates to the incident also showed another group of individuals which had been also protesting, which the student group had also been dealing with, and claims continue that Nathan Phillips approached the confrontation of these two groups in order to try and diffuse it. This was also picked up from the initial Twitter post, and spread virally through social and news media. More video was released from different angles, as well as statements from the two main players in the video – Nathan Phillips, and the smug-looking student face-to-face with him, Nick Sandmann.

Consider this – breaking news is breaking the news.

While the newer news outlet, Buzzfeed, may have jumped the gun a bit to try and break a story, it isn’t the first time any media service has made this mistake – and it won’t be the last. There was a well-known network news anchor who depended upon his team of producers – Dan Rather. The CBS News team thought they were breaking the story about George W. Bush’s questionable service in the Air National Guard, but it came down to a lot of hearsay and no confirmable facts. Even now, respectable, mainstream media outlets, are trying to out-do each other and the plethora of online news startups (or “upstarts” as some think of these non-standard news sources). Even social media is a challenge to those traditional sources, since anyone with a smartphone and a Twitter account can post from the scene of any event, beating those “legitimate” journalists from getting the scoop.
As part of the business, news services want to be the first to every story. This is how they get the ratings, which then gets the advertisers, and that’s what pays the bills in most traditional media models. The “always on” capability of the general public – what I refer to as hyperconnectivity – defeats a lot of the efforts of the news outlets to be that “breaking news” source. More often, even the newer, hyperlocal news sites, still find their latest stories from social media, and then rush to get the details before a competitor can get the story out.

Because of this, the cry of “fake news” is becoming common. While there are certainly questionable sources out there – those created with a deep bias for or against a certain person or cause – not all news outlets are actually fake. However, even the legitimate news from traditional services or internet-based sites can suffer because they are lumped into the generalized grouping of “news” – even the most stalwart and trusted media companies of the past suffer from the accusation of falsifying their reports, misrepresenting the facts, and only trying to sensationalize one side of a story.

While it is up to news agencies to ultimately “get the facts right” in their reporting, the public needs to remember there are basically three sides to a story; two of them are based upon the opinions of the opposing sides, the third is the truth between them. Sometimes it isn’t worth it to be first on the scene, but instead to be thorough and get all the facts to present a well-researched article for the readers and viewers to form their own opinion. Too much sensationalizing and polarizing of the story is part of the reason there is such controversy in this country now.

Get the facts – all of them – and then consider this…

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