Just the Facts, Ma’am

I watch the news. Doesn’t everyone?   We had an incident of bullying in my town that garnered national media coverage.  That experience really brought these ideas home: What you see on television is rarely the entire story. Much of what we take as unbiased reporting of fact is not that. We need to take the profit out of media.

News is necessary.  An informed public is vital.  Unfortunately, most of what we encounter is sensationalized. Why? Dramatic headlines sell news stories.  Startling coverage lures us in and excites our consciousness, so more people tune in to the most exciting broadcast.   Advertisers flock to the most watched programs so that profit margins grow. Stations as well as printed press are in direct economic competition with one another. “Tune in here,” the channel promises, “We will bring you the inside story that you won’t hear anywhere else”. Wink, Wink. This is a vicious cycle that encourages flamboyant, emotionally charged coverage.  We don’t need more drama.  What we need is fact.

Every report on the bullying incident, from our local television to the cover story on People magazine contained some fact.  Because of privacy issues however and legal constraints that prohibited all sides from open disclosure, much went unreported , and the facts that the public reiterated over and over did not comprise the whole story.  Of course, everyone in the country believed they had a thorough understanding.  They did not. The entire reality will forever remain unknown, except for those directly involved.

It didn’t matter. Our town was condemned in the court of public opinion and has yet to completely recover.  Hyperawareness and social consciousness abound.  Ironically, bullying has again started but in the opposite direction.  The message in our schools and on our streets is clear: you will align with the most liberal agenda possible. If you express dissenting opinion you will be shunned.  Ostracizing and finger pointing are way more prevalent now, in what is supposed to be our new, improved all-accepting environment.

When I tune in to the news I want the facts and fact only.  I want to form my own opinion and not have it thrust upon me by an omniscient media source.  The job of the news reporter is fact coverage, not interpretation.  In our pursuit of public approval and funding we have clearly lost sight of this fact.

I was very proud of my son, who wanted to discuss a recent rape case.  Internet gossip, and that is what it is, has ensured that the guilty party will be labeled and shunned for the rest of his life.  The internet gods, after bringing race and privilege into a rape argument, deemed his punishment insufficient and promised public retribution. After taking the time to actually read through court documents and all testimonies of the case, my son’s reaction was “This was a difficult situation.  There really wasn’t enough solid evidence to justify a tougher sentence.”

He gave the legal process the benefit of the doubt.  He stepped outside of press coverage and public gossip to seek logical perspective.  He abandoned drama to formulate his own opinion from fact on record. He knows he is not a lawyer. He does not know the parties involved.  Because of these things he opted to withhold outrage in favor of reason.  The man was found guilty. The court did its job to the best of its ability.

Is it our public responsibility to second guess those directly involved, those in possession of all the facts?  Who is that really helping?  The answer is not the victim, because she has remained anonymous.  Rape is a heinous crime.  Yes, we all should be outraged that rape exists.  Yet to give ourselves the pleasure of taking the moral high ground, must we add to the furor?  Must we hastily jump on the public bandwagon, brandishing our pitchforks at people we have never met, secure in our superior knowledge that has been hand fed to us from the media?

Displaying our moral superiority is fast becoming a national sport.  Basing these displays on commercial media driven frenzies is irresponsible.  Before you condemn someone, remember the adage about glass houses.  Listen to the news, but actively search for unbiased fact before accepting conclusions.  Use the internet wisely. Work to support sources that actually do their job: telling you the unvarnished truth and nothing but the truth.

news desk

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