Make News Great Again

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At first it’s subtle, then you see it… and it’s very overt.

People want the news. People need the news. The news are the facts of the day. They are there to inform the general population, and help us to better understand our world – from our local community, to our city, to our states (and provinces), to our countries and to the world. The news is not supposed to be biased. The news is supposed to present the facts. The news is supposed to show differing opinions (without taking sides). The news is not supposed to be #fakenews. But… the world has changed. Now, news is slanted by the left and the right (especially in North America), and the output is overt and obvious. You don’t have to have a keen media eye for this, you just have to know a little. Then, that’s suddenly all that you see it.

Maybe we see it more?

I rarely watch the news at home on TV. For fun, I’ll slip between the mass news producers on satellite radio from time to time. I enjoy listening to the very slanted options on the same news item across multiple news networks. I do the same thing while I travel in the U.S. I tend to switch between the major news networks as an attempt to get a fuller picture. Some might say that I’m a glutton for punishment, but I’m not really caring about the content or the partisan sides. I’m much more interested in the mechanics of how these network news operations produce and broadcast the news.

This is not a political post. 

It’s going to be hard (for many) to not make a political statement in the comments. Please don’t. Don’t think about which side you’re on, who you believe to be right, which outlet produces facts or anything like that. Let’s dive deeper. I want to share an experience on the news that happened several weeks back. I’m choosing something from several weeks back on purpose. I’m hoping that the heat of the situation has been shifted to whatever happened in the past twenty-four hours. How does the news manipulate us? The answer is subtly, but when you can recognize it… it’s very (very) overt.

Here are the steps that the media takes to manipulate us: 

  • Step One: Pose a question. By asking a question, it deflects everything away from the media outlet and, these questions often sound like they’re coming from someone else (and not the journalist) – maybe the public? In this instance, the question was whether or not the President of the United States is The Manchurian Candidate? It’s an outlandish question, and that’s why it works. It gets attention. In its absurdity, it creates a visceral reaction. If you’re mad, you want to hear what they say next. If you agree, it’s inflammatory enough that you will want your deepest/darkest thoughts validated.
  • Step Two: Substantiate your position. The way that this media outlet substantiated their question was to pull quotes from a myriad of other media sources – in rapid fire – and edited perfectly to create this very quick and hard to absorb blast of talking heads getting increasing energetic about why this is a possibility or a reality. None of the individuals edited together are cited or sourced. This substantiates the position, without having to put in the proof points and furthers the consumer’s anxious desire to hear more. It’s worth noting that this substantiation of the position is also a bunch of quotes – all of which – are completely out of context. It’s hard to even know which ones are recent sound-bytes (in relation to the question), and which ones were from years ago, and used as a way to scare the public away from this individual as a potential candidate for the presidency. 
  • Step Three: Give It A Break. Before that question gets played out on TV, the news outlet plays a news segment about a local hero. The story is about an individual who saw a veteran’s home on fire, and managed to save their American flag from being destroyed. No matter which side of the aisle that your opinions sit on, this kind of story realigns the audience to a human act of patriotism, and further enforces an idea that goes something like this: “If we’re telling such amazing stories of the human condition, we can’t be that bad, after all?” This heartwarming story is placed in this, exact, position to soften up the consumer and reframe them and their focus. This is a story of fact and news. No opinion. No argument.
  • Step Four: Bring in the experts. Panels are the latest craze in network news. You can always spot the bias by how many “experts” are presented from either side of the aisle (it’s usually 3 or 4 against 1). Another tactic is that they (typically) allow the person with a counter perspective to go last. As in, “you get the last word.” Once that commentator is done speaking, the host (or one of the other guests) usually adds in a one-liner or shot at the differing opinion, and then quickly follows up with a line like, “now, moving on to our next story…” which will, typically, be another piece that is more towards the center versus a divisive opinion to re-validate that this is news. Facts. No opinion. No argument.
  • Step Five: Speak but don’t back it up. You will often hear statements that are either not backed up by facts/details or opinions masked as truth statements. An example from this news item had one pundit saying that the previous President held meetings with [insert a country’s name] and there were no records of this meeting… why would this be ok with the opposing side when it’s their representative doing it? We don’t know if this statement is true or what the context is. These pundits take two different situations (and dilemmas) and pose them next to each other, as if they have the exact same value and quality. What’s fair is fair, right? That’s true, but only if those two different encounters were fair, in terms of context. We have no way of knowing. We also have no way of knowing if that is even a true statement. The anchor/host doesn’t push for proof that the previous President acted in a similar fashion. The consumer is left in the dark. The assumption is that both of these statements are facts. Real news.
  • Step Six: Exaggerate. This happens all of the time and everywhere. A situation is taken and exaggerated to an extreme, and then a possible outcome is positioned as a plausible reality. But, it’s not a reality. It’s just a opinion of a talking head that is turned into a graphic quote that scrolls beneath them on the screen. This idea that it could be a reality is suddenly placed out in into the public as if it is “breaking news.” When, in reality, it’s just an exaggeration and a statement by one individual.
  • Step Seven: Don’t go backwards. Even if people mis-speak. Even if the facts are later revealed. Nobody works backwards. It’s always just light apologies or gloss overs or corrections that are then questioned, until everything is glossy, hazy and uncertain. 

What a mess.

How would your business perform, if this is how it handled their consumers and audience? How long would your industry allow for this kind of communication? Awareness is key. Knowing that the news outlets are doing this (on both sides) is what’s truly important. Become more media savvy. What makes this current situation so sad, is that this is the true state of the media and the news. We need news, journalism and journalists more than ever. We need the manipulation and subtle innuendos to stop. Are these outlets all #fakenews? That’s a little harsh, but they are doing themselves no favor, as they search for more opinions that align with their political leanings over details and facts.

Make news great again… for all of us.