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Is Mainstream Media the New Tabloid?

Melissa Cranmer

Posted on December 1, 2020 20:36

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2020 has been a wild ride. Politics, a pandemic, lockdowns, wildfires, protests, a recession. I am fixated on the news as I try to make sense of a continuously shifting landscape, searching for answers, looking for glimmers of hope. And I know I'm in good company. If there has ever been a time when we relied on the press to keep us informed, it is now.

Yet more than ever, I find myself invariably questioning its accuracy.

Biased reporting is nothing new. But there was a time when I rarely questioned the factuality of news reports. I could toggle between news channels, and the key difference between them would be the reporters themselves -- the stories were usually equivalent. Newspapers offered similar accounts of the same events. News channels weren't considered "right-wing" or "left-wing." Our news of choice was based on which weather person we found the most affable or good looking.

"Fake news" and sensational stories were relegated to the National Enquirer and regarded as entertainment. No one expected the National Enquirer to be credible.

I grew up in Arizona, during a time when news reports for the state featured one scandal after the next (try Googling "Charles Keating" or "Evan Mecham"). From the outside looking in, Arizona looked like a crazy town. There is no question that these stories painted a skewed picture -- unfortunately, nothing else about Arizona was deemed all that "newsworthy" by mainstream standards. A lot of the positive aspects of Arizona went unnoticed. But at least the scandals were true, and the reports accurate.

Much of my social circle is still in Arizona, but I now live in Washington. I've received more panicked phone calls and texts from friends and family than I can count, all due to erroneous reporting. These range from reports on angry mobs forcing residents from their homes and demanding money, to non-existent riots, to photos that have been doctored, taken out of context, or taken in another state entirely.

Recently, I was asked about protest-related shootings, and if I was planning to purchase a gun for protection. Ironically, Arizona's gun violence ranks considerably higher than the national average, while Washington's ranks below. I should be asking them about their safety.

How does such rampant misreporting go unchecked?

Most of us have our go-to news sources, and we assume that reports have been properly vetted. We form opinions, assumptions, and conclusions based on their reporting.  As such, they have an obligation -- a civic duty -- to report news that is factual and accurate.

I would argue that providing opposing views and multiple perspectives are just as important. The old saying "there are two sides to every story, and the truth falls somewhere in the middle" has merit. If you aren't getting the other side(s), it's impossible to make informed decisions.

The press has tremendous power to define important events and shape narratives. Without direct knowledge of events or primary sources of our own, the media is virtually the only source available for keeping us informed. We place our trust in them. Misleading news and misreporting have dire consequences for all of us.

We expect conspiracy theories, misinformation, and gossip from the tabloids -- not from mainstream media.

I absolutely support freedom of the press. But when the press intentionally dupes the public, how are they being held accountable?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Melissa Cranmer

Posted on December 1, 2020 20:36

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