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Why is the Media to Blame?

I have been seeing posts accusing the media of fear-mongering in regards to COVID-19.  This is especially true after the announcement of the first confirmed US death attributed to the virus.

These accusations of fear-mongering against the media are a double edged sword.

If the media covers COVID-19, we’re fear mongering.

If the media doesn’t cover it, we’re part of (insert plot) to cover it up.

I have seen both these opinions repeatedly posted on social media.  It’s become a common theme for many issues.

But Why is the Media to Blame?

The job of the media is to inform.  Different ethical codes* guide how, and exactly what, information journalists relay.  And I assure you, this is not always an easy task.

Painting all media and news sources with the same brush is no longer reasonable, or fair.

But the flow of information does not end once you have received it.  What you choose to do with that information is entirely up to you.  Will you act on it, disregard it, share it, fact check it, or engage to find out more?

Accountability in the News

Will media outlets and journalists make mistakes? Absolutely. The 24-hour news cycle, analytics and revenue dollars often put unnecessary pressure to go faster, produce more and be first.  The recent death of Kobe Bryant and the immediate coverage of the helicopter crash is a perfect example of how the race to be first in reporting, and to provide information to the public, can cause sloppy and damaging errors.

Journalists are humans.  We make mistakes.  And it is part of our job to take accountability for those errors, should we make them.

However it is equally as important for the public to remember that, while the media can make mistakes, intentional bad actors are out there. These bad actors actively spread misinformation and disinformation about a plethora of issues.  Including about COVID-19.

In today’s social media dominated society, it is too easy to accept something we see on our smart device and accept it at face value.  These bad actors are depending on that.  Relying on information shared on social media alone is not enough.  Only reading the headline or summary introduction of an article posted on social media is not enough.

Diversify Your News Sources

You must independently verify the news and information you consume.   Check multiple sources, and be mindful to include sources that do not strictly align with your opinions and beliefs.

Like any good investment portfolio, you must also diversify your news sources. Reading only the same sources can result in confirmation bias.  Allow yourself and your ideas on an issue to be challenged.  Even if your opinion does not change, you will gain insight into differing perspectives.

Courtesy the Not So Fast Campaign https://notsofastcampaign.org

It is also extremely important to recognize, and acknowledge, when a news source or media personality is providing commentary versus publishing a fact-based (unbiased) article.  Commentary will inevitably be biased, does not necessarily require fact checking, and can absolutely have fear-mongering qualities. (For example, this is an opinion piece).

There are a plethora of local independent outlets in the Puget Sound (see below).  We recommend including these outlets in your regular news intake.

YouTube and Instagram also have a variety of independent news channels that provide quality content that can help widen your perspective. (I like Rogue Rocket, the Philip DeFranco Show and Minute with Mads)

Not all media outlets have the same resources.  Not all journalists have the same methods.  Not all news sources have the same ethics and standards.  Painting all media and news sources with the same brush is no longer reasonable, or fair.

Local Independent News Outlets:

Check out these local news outlets to help round-out your news intake.

If you know of a local, independent, outlet I’ve missed please let me know. 

Media Literacy:

Use these resources to be a better fact checker. Help put an end to the spread of misinformation and disinformation by verifying memes, social media posts and articles before you share them or repeat what they said.

*The Auburn Examiner practices the SPJ and RTDNA Code of Ethics.  If we do not have a clear ethical course of action, we consult with the ethics committee.

4 Comments

  1. Bob Zimmerman Bob Zimmerman March 10, 2020

    It is not surprising people say it is either fear mongering or cover up. Look to psychological research; only 40% consider facts in their decision making processes. Only about 12% are capable of identifying a problem, engineering a viable solution and see to ring it though resolution.

    • Elizabeth Miller Elizabeth Miller Post author | March 11, 2020

      Hi Bob. Can you provide the source for the study you’re referencing?

  2. Bob Zimmerman Bob Zimmerman March 11, 2020

    It is from a variety of sources and articles I have read over time in addition to comments by medical providers and causal observation of surveys consistent with the researcher’s results. For instance only 40% of the population believes earthquake preparedness is a concern. We are smack dab in the middle of possibly the biggest ever recorded on modern equipment at some point in the future. Only 12% will make any significant preparations. 60% of us are considered to be ideologues who literally ignore facts.

    Doctors have told me very few people will follow through to obtain the best results with their medical treatment. One doctor said there is nothing scientific about her estimate, just casual observation, but no more than 20 or 25 % obtain the best results. She said it was because so few people are capable of analyzing a problem, engineering a viable solution and following through to completion. Another recently told me no more than 20%. Those numbers are consistent with the 12% who will actually make significant disaster preparations even though 40% think they should probably do it. Interestingly, only 12% accept the scientific world’s consensus on climate change. Last summer there were ice melting events in Greenland that were not expected until the end of this century. California and Australia are literally burning flat due to drier climates. Here at home 40% of brush fires are on the Westside as we dry up; unimaginable of 20 years ago. The evidence in undeniable. Why do most not accept fact? Those 12%s demonstrate a consistency of thought processes.

    One of the most interesting and concerning is the lifelong research of Professor Bob Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba. He researched Right Wing Authoritarians for about 40 years. The research originated after WWII to see if what happened in Germany could happen in the US. The conclusion was that it could, but it is thought with our long tradition of peaceful transition of power after an election, the public will not tolerate a dictator’s take over.

    The name “Right Wing” has no political reference; however, the majority will be right leaning politically. The majority of authoritarians will follow their leader to their own detriment. The majority of them will not believe anything they do not already believe; facts are irrelevant. Approximately 33% of the population are Right Wing Authoritarians. 67% of our population are visual learners with the other third being audio learners. Bottom line, you can’t tell most people anything!

    Professor Altemeyer’s research indicates an authoritarian controlled society will be a miserable place to live. Not for lack of assets or resources; because of authoritarian thought processes and need to control. I believe we have been experiencing that for the last 40 years. Homo Sapiens has been in subsistence mode for most of our 300,000 years. The world’s 3rd affluent middle class developed here in America after WWII. In the 60’s, some of my classmates fathers were farm laborers at minimum wage or slightly above. They lived on that single income. Today we have 2 income families a pay check way from disaster. Today homelessness is a crisis. The denial of fact seems to be chronic today.

  3. Bob Zimmerman Bob Zimmerman March 11, 2020

    Hi Elizabeth, I thought of another behavior study that explains a lot about our obsession with unaffordable housing. I read this years ago. No idea how to reference it. A researcher found an isolated population of squirrels. He doubled the size of one nest. The other squirrels doubled the size of their nests. He observed them maintaining the larger nest size for a couple/ three years. He then started reducing the size of all the squirrel’s nests back to normal size. The squirrels in that area maintained the larger nest sizes. I do not recall how many years he tried to return them to normal, but the squirrels never went back to normal.

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