I fully understand that media outlets seek viewers and that they want those viewers to be regular, continuous viewers so that they will (1) see more advertisements, (2) buy more of the advertised products, (3) become regular viewers, and (4) boost the media outlets’ ratings. That’s all part of the game, and we’ve come to expect them to stretch themselves in finding ways of making those goals reality.
But they are increasingly proving that they will stop at nothing to achieve those goals. To them, the end justifies the means, even if that means duping their viewers to do so. One of my college psychology professors defined a lie as “any intent to deceive.” Based on that definition, many members of the media have proven themselves to be–put plainly and bluntly–liars.
The latest such proof was abundantly evident during coverage of the much vaunted Hurricane Florence, which literally crept up on and across the states of North and South Carolina this past weekend. Before it was within 250 miles of the U.S. coast, the experts were telling us that it would be a monster of a storm, one the like of which the nation had never seen. When it did hit (as a Category 1, not the 3 or 4 they had predicted), they seemed to find relatively little to report.
Now let’s be clear what I’m talking about so that there’s no mistake. I’m NOT referring to the hurricane itself, and I’m NOT referring to the weather people’s predictions about the force of the winds or the amounts of rain or even when it would hit or where. I AM referring to the dishonest way that a few members of the media reported the weather event and its effects. Allow me to describe what is probably the most egregious deceptive act that now characterizes much of the reporting by media today.
A weather reporter is standing out in the rain and wind giving a live report as the hurricane comes ashore. He is bundled in soaking clothing, hood over his head in a futile attempt to remain dry. And he is shouting into what one is led to believe is a powerful, roaring-loud wind. He is leaning into that wind and occasionally staggering in a desperate attempt to remain on his feet.
“Wow!” viewers surely exclaimed, “Look at that! The wind is so strong he can hardly stand upright in it!” Viewers are glued to the screen, watching in amazement the force of this mighty hurricane.
Until across the background behind the reporter stroll two local residents. They are walking as though on a leisurely walk in a gentle breeze on a cloudless day. They are talking and gesturing as two friends might under normal weather conditions, totally oblivious to any adverse conditions. Their clothing is not flapping wildly. They are having no difficulty staying erect or walking in a straight line. (See it here https://youtu.be/fC9Cb0-X-l0.) Then what’s with the crazy weather reporter? He’s intentionally trying to deceive viewers as to what the real conditions are. He’s trying to create a story where no story exists.
In another example I saw this weekend, a reporter is hyperventilating about how deep the flood waters are in the street where he’s reporting. He exclaims, “The water here must be a foot–no, a foot and a half deep.” To prove his point, he steps off the sidewalk and into the street, where his feet sink to barely ankle depth in rainwater, about the same as one might find along the curb during a moderate summer cloudburst. A car drives past, barely raising a splash. Having nothing more dramatic to report, that reporter was trying to deceive viewers and make a reputation for himself by making something out of nothing.
In another scene that made such media deception clear, a reporter is standing nearly waist-deep in flood waters. Yet, walking casually behind him are several people whose shoes aren’t even covered with water. The reporter was trying to make viewers think that conditions were worse than they really were at that location.
Now none of what I’ve said takes anything away from the reality of the situation or circumstances that existed in this hurricane. It was bad. People died. Property was destroyed and even more was damaged badly. People suffered losses personal, professional, and economic. But weren’t those losses enough for reporters to cover? Did they really have to make stuff up to gain and keep viewers’ attention and interest?
And what about the reporter who, questioning a FEMA official, tried to make it seem as though the people suffering from the hurricane’s destruction were being hurt further by President Trump’s alleged withdrawal of FEMA funds just as the hurricane struck? The official repeatedly emphasized that the funds in question were not from disaster response funds and that FEMA had plenty of funds available for the hurricane, but the reporter had sowed the seeds of doubt. And that was precisely the reporter’s purpose–to deceive viewers who might not hear the full, truthful answer.
These are just a few of the more recent examples of why people have a growing distrust of the media. If they will stoop to such depths of deception with something as common as the weather, what’s to make us have any greater trust in their reporting of political or economic news? It used to be that the journalism industry held themselves and their members to a higher standard. It once was such that if a reporter plagiarized someone or fabricated a story or twisted facts, he or she was looking for another profession the next day. The Scripps-Howard newspapers’ motto used to be “Give light, and the people will find their own way.” Such is not the case with media today. The motto now seems to be “Give them darkness and tell them it’s light, and we’ll guide them the way we want them to go–and they’ll never know the difference.”
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the reporters in the examples I’ve cited were promoted or even given awards for their “journalism.”
Does anyone remember when NBC rigged incendiary devices to a car before they filmed a crash test that “proved” that General Motors’ trucks were prone to gas-tank explosions? Yeah, these weather reporters apparently learned from the best in their profession.
Is it any wonder that the average person ranks the trustworthiness of the media right down there with that of politicians? We can’t trust either profession today as far as we could throw them. From now on, if I want to know the weather, I’ll look out my window, check the thermometer, and ask my arthritis. That’s about the only ways I’ll know that I’m not being lied to!
Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson