Monday, May 29, 2017

Fake News and the War on Journalism

Montana held a special election for a house seat last week and the night before the election, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte, allegedly body slammed and punched Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian.

Most would think the loss of composure for a public official would cost Gianforte the election, but Montana has a wide voting window and something like 300,000 votes had been cast before this explosion happened.

The side effect that disgusts me is the amount of people that applaud him for body slamming the reporter for grilling him about the Republican health care bill that universally is panned by medical groups.

Reporters report. Part of running for public office is that everything in your life will be under scrutiny. Reporters are just another check and balance on our policy makers. Can you imagine if the Washington Post didn't report on Watergate? Or the Boston Globe didn't investigate the priest molestation case?

So why the war on journalism?

Editorializing the News

Cable created a new problem for television networks. There were now 40 channels that needed content quickly. The advent of the 24 hour news network was created as a relatively cheap but reliably watchable channel.

The goal was to keep people informed of more than just their local news, do special reports and investigative journalism, change the world while making money.

Unfortunately there's not 24 hours worth of news to cover per day. The channels had a hard time filling time with with entertaining enough content.

Then the OJ Simpson trial happened. People couldn't get enough. News channels would follow OJ from the court room to the jail cell, bringing in special guests and experts in various fields just to talk about what they thought was going to happen and ratings went through the roof. Once the trial was over, the news networks were addicted to the ratings.

So 24 hour news channels like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox spend most of the day creating drama on what used to be small news and editorializing.

Sensationalized Headlines

The Washington Post reported that only six in 10 people acknowledge that they have read past the headline of a news article.

So to get those clicks, the farther a site has a bias, the more sensationalized a headline is.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Tweeted out a few months back that they had Donald Trump's tax returns. People started flipping out. Other news sites picked up the story. Everyone tuned into Maddow's 9 pm show.

What did she have? 2 pages from a 10 year old tax return that told us nothing but Donald Trump is rich as hell. She spent 20 minutes talking about the ramifications of him not turning his tax returns over and how it could lead to tax evasion charges or Russian links. Basically everything we already knew.

I know a lot of police officers, so my Facebook feed is filled with headlines from a site called It obviously caters to Police Officers and tends to skew a little right.

When Pepsi cancelled their Kendall Jenner Ad, they ran the following headline: "Pepsi Cancels Kendall Jenner Ad for Being Too Police Friendly, Apologized to Black Lives Matter."

The real reason Pepsi pulled the add is because the entire world started making fun of them for white washing the increased protest movements across the entire world. It had nothing to do with Black Lives Matter and they didn't apologize to anyone in Black Lives Matter. They apologized to everyone. They were hoping to spread a message of unity and delicious cola and instead got burned.
Or let's look at the left, Mother Jones is one of the worst offenders. Guess what, Republican's are actually Sith Lords that collude with those damn dirty Russians... or at least that's what these two headlines make it seem like

Here, I'll rewrite those headlines to not be sensationlized.
  • Pepsi Cancels Ad After Early Viewers Criticize the Content
  • New Healthcare Bill Introduces Additional Penalties for Lapses In Coverage
  • Russian Hackers Have Spread Deceitful News Worldwide
Hmmm... those headlines just aren't as sexy are they? Much less shareable.

Reporting to the Echo Chamber

It's hard to make money on news. One of the ways you keep people coming back is confirmation bias.

Tell them what they want to hear.

Need an example?

When James Comey was fired a few weeks ago, the headlines among newsites, how the stories were written, and how certain stories were promoted were completely different. (See the Comey Test for more information)

The New York Times, Associated Press, CNN, and NPR all discussed possible Russian ties within the first sentence of their stories. They focused on who within the Trump administration have known ties, who is likely to have ties, and what it means for the American people.

Other sites like NBC and ABS news, downplayed Russia connections, but did discuss them after talking about Clinton's emails.

And then Breitbart didn't mention Russia until the 14th paragraph, of their story. Daily Caller didn't mention Russia at all. And Fox News briefly had a story from AP discussing the Russian ties, but then pushed it down the page instead reporting on the White Houses's official statements on the situation.

So none of the resources actually lied, they just chose what to push toward the top and promote.

How to know if there is a bias

This chart below went viral. I shared it on Twitter. You can argue some of them might be more left or right or center, but generally, this chart comes close to showing editorial biases.

Part of what has torn us apart as a country is the inability to admit our echo chamber might be wrong. When this chart went viral, far right sites like Infowars and Breitbart immediately went on the offensive. They whipped the echo chamber into a frenzy, talking about the supposed Deep State and Liberal Media Bias as a way to justify talking to the echo chamber. Infowars even went as far as creating their own chart where everyone but them and Breitbart were skewed left of the middle and labeled as unreliable. 

Liberal leaning media love to point out how conservative's are in the pockets of major corporations and only care about enhancing their wealth. 

In reality, it's somewhere in between. Both sides think they are the good guys, which creates this huge gap because if I'm the good guy, then you must be the bad guy. 

If your news source spends time talking smack on other media outlets, it's probably a warning that you need to research why they are spending so much effort convincing you they are correct. 


The internet is our greatest resource and our greatest downfall.

Don't stop at just the headline. Read an entire article. And if you feel an emotional response to an article, it's best to search for a few other sources before you look like an idiot and fall into these media conglomerate's traps.

And don't hate the journalists. Hate the businessmen that run these giant publicly traded companies, that will do anything to squeeze a few more dollars out of their empires.

The reporters are and have been an integral part of keeping our country free and protecting free speech. They are the ones to topple tyrants and corruption.

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