I can tell you from experience as a journalist that you’re being lied to, whether intentionally or not, and it’s best everyone just accept that fact. After talking with many people about this subject, I’ve concluded news outlets lie more often than the average person would suspect. I have both personal and professional insight into how this happens. In my work I strive to deliver the truth as accurately as possible, however, there are journalists who lie intentionally for any number of reasons.
In my daily work as a writer and editor, I have to do a considerable amount of research. Despite what some people might think or claim on social media, it’s impossible to know everything about all things. That’s what makes research so essential, because it’s not about knowing everything off the top of your head but knowing where to find the information. Besides, our memories aren’t perfect, and I know this because so many facts and figures I thought I knew cold turn out to be slightly off when I look at an authoritative source.
That’s one possible source of unintentional misinformation in a news report, and I can look past that. To err is human and if we don’t have enough grace to allow others to make mistakes, well there isn’t much room left for our own screwups.
More troubling and sometimes insidious is when journalists purposely lie because they have an agenda. Whenever I catch the scent of an interesting story from other outlets I always do one thing first: check to ensure the story is accurate. Too often journalists these days just trust what their peers have reported and they repeat everything, citing the other news outlet. Not only is that lazy, it’s unethical. In a perfect world you could trust no journalists were stretching the truth or even straight-up fabricating stories, but we don’t live in a perfect world.
In any given week I catch at least a dozen or so news agencies in the act of stretching the truth or flat-out lying. They range from small local news stations to some of the largest organizations in the world. It’s troubling, because so many people just open up and swallow whatever the news tells them, like it’s an undisputable fact. The reality is far different since often opinions are passed as facts. We humans do this all the time, even when we talk to our own selves, which is the origin of self-defeating thoughts (another topic for another time).
For example, just this week one of the many lies I’ve caught my colleagues crafting or perpetuating had to do with a company which is relocating its headquarters from one state in the US to another. Some outlets reported, without contacting the company, that employees were laid off and not given a chance to move with the company. That sounds incredibly harsh, but the company says it notified everyone last fall of the move and gave most employees the option to move and keep their job. It would seem someone wanted to paint this company in a negative light and they succeeded. Even worse, at least one outlet blatantly lied, saying the company was closing forever because vehicle electrification has made it obsolete. That was a fabrication with an agenda, and I think it’s pretty obvious what the aim was.
Fortunately, I was trained to get my news from many sources, which helps to an extent to control for this skewing of the facts. However, when multiple news agencies get a lead from one agency where the truth was stretched or facts were straight-up fabricated, the same misinformation is replicated and that can defeat this strategy. It’s troubling, but there is a solution, although it’s not an easy path.
I was also taught to use primary sources to confirm facts. In fact, many of the papers I wrote in college couldn’t cite any secondary sources or I would’ve received an automatic F. We all filter information, like I said it might not even be intentional. If you go to the source of information on a topic, you can get at the truth more easily than if you just read what others say about the source. For example, if there was a criminal act committed and the police arrested someone, instead of just seeing what a news organization says about it, the police might have released a statement or even issued a press release if it’s a big enough of a story. Often you find information or perspectives you don’t get from the news report.
Ah, but if you’re thinking actively you’ll say the police department or another primary source can also stretch the truth and fabricate facts. Yes, that’s always a possibility, which is why if you can find other primary sources about an incident it helps, but that strategy is admittedly not completely fool-proof. Better are records of an incident, like a video or audio. However, even if you find a video of an incident, that video can be open to interpretation and different people will notice or emphasize different details in it.
This leads us to the uncomfortable reality of how we as human beings often try to pass things off as facts when they are perceptions or opinions. You’ll always get that in the news, no matter how honest the journalist is trying to be because they’re human and that’s just the way of humanity. If you don’t take that into account when consuming the news, you’re just fooling yourself.
Are you confused yet? Is this exhausting? This is the very reason why people just open up and swallow what they’re told, or they just fall back on their preconceived notions about how things in the world are, because doing that requires less effort. However, if you lead the life of always doing what’s easy you won’t have a very rewarding or satisfactory life. The effort required to dig deeper and understand more can make you stronger and open your mind to things you might not have ever considered. In other words, that will set you on a path of enlightenment, something which seems to scare a fair number of people but is definitely worth the cost.
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You nailed it. Most news outlets have an agenda and you have to be aware which way they slant. News used to be just the facts, but it’s all opinions and lies now. That’s why I’m careful what news sources I read and check them against others.
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Thanks, Alex. We definitely have to be actively thinking and forming our own opinions, but that was always the case.