Thomas Calabro | United States
The media is probably one of the most politically powerful entities in the US. This unique group can reveal dark secrets, spin stories for deceptive purposes, or blatantly lie to create emotional backlash against an event. Their social status puts them in a position where they are not only respected, but their claims are immediately revered as truths. This special status distorts any skepticism of the press as threats against the media as well as our very own democracy. Any person who wishes to challenge the media is automatically a tyrant, who wishes to keep their operations a secret from the public.
This is not a support for taking away the rights of the press, nor is it supporting strong central figure to destroy the media for exposing bad policies, unnecessary military conflicts, and his/her lies to the people. The media does play a role in preventing authoritarians from using fear-mongering tactics to suppress liberty, to engage in war, and to obtain more influence. Without a free press we would not we might not know of our atrocious policies, military conflicts, and much more. But one can support the media while also having some skepticism towards this institution’s claims.
This leaves me with the question: What is the motivation inside the media? Is it a desire to provide information to all, and truly stop tyrants? Is it an evil inclination to deceive the pubic to fall in line with their own personal biases? What drives those with such power to go out and write stories about the world, or engage in a hilarious confrontation with the president?
We all have some sort of bias in our minds and our hearts. From how we were raised, to what we’ve experienced, and even what morals we follow, we can look at the world and see it differently from others. These biases can be so strong that it is obvious where the writer/pundit is trying to lead the audience. Someone who has a political agenda, such as those from past administrations, or supporters for the opposition party, can find the spin that can make a story support their own beliefs.
However these biases can also be very minute, as well as difficult to spot. The biased person may not even notice their bias, but can find themselves following these deep-seeded inclinations. This could be exposure to some phenomenon, or the acceptance of some beliefs as factual, instead of arguable. It could be poor experiences with authority that may not seem significant at first glance but can still impact how one looks at any kind of established authority.
With a media as powerful as today’s, many argue that such a force has the ability to take down powerful figures, especially the President. This in turn gives media figures a special place in history as fighting corruption, removing a President, or preserving democracy. The obvious example is the Watergate scandal, which both uplifts and destroys the media’s role in the impeachment/resignation of President Richard Nixon. While we generally see the media as essential in uncovering Watergate, and Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as important for their work, many argue, as well as Woodward himself, that we should not “overemphasize” the press’ power.
To say that the press brought down Nixon, that’s horseshit,” he says. “The press always plays a role, whether by being passive or by being aggressive, but it’s a mistake to overemphasize (the role of the media)” – Robert Woodward
Of course, without Woodward and Bernstein, the Watergate story would’ve either been hidden forever, or lost public interest as it developed. It is possible that many may wish to become the next Bob Woodward, exposing corruption, creating buzz, and creating a name that will last throughout history. Even if Woodward is right about the media’s actual role, sociologist Michael Schudson thinks it doesn’t matter, that the myth of the media’s role makes the media far more powerful and respected.
A mythology of the press in Watergate developed into a significant national myth, a story that independently carries on a memory of Watergate even as details about what Nixon did or did not do fade away. At its broadest, the myth of journalism in Watergate asserts that two young Washington Post reporters brought down the president of the United States. This is a myth of David and Goliath, of powerless individuals overturning an institution of overwhelming might. It is high noon in Washington, with two white-hatted young reporters at one end of the street and the black-hatted president at the other, protected by his minions. And the good guys win. The press, truth its only weapon, saves the day.” – Michael Schudson Watergate in American Memory
Regardless, the media’s past is one of a powerful entity, one that can also preserve our names if we expose dictators and make significant changes in political climates.
Every ideology has their own group that supports their stances, and worships their heroes for defending their cause. They also have their super villains to fight against. This creates a demand for stories, data, and opinions that promote their views and beliefs by telling the story they want to hear. A great example is the left-leaning sites that claim Senator Sanders influenced Jeff Bezos’ wage hike. The audience wants their hero to defeat, or even outsmart their villain, will rejoice anyone who panders to them.
The Truth Seekers
Obviously, even if you have a negative view of the mainstream media, there are some out there who truly want to spread information and make a difference. They can expose problematic policies, sad stories, and horrific tales, as well as uplifting stories about the good in the world. They will rely on facts, listen to the reality we live in, and let the people know what goes on in our world.
Regardless of the media’s specific motivation, we find ourselves struggling to grasp on to truth and knowledge without getting caught up in the hysterics. The best approach to look at the news is to have a certain skepticism until enough research can support claims made. This will not only create a sense of responsibility, but can help one look objectively at the world around them, and focus on the facts, not the deceptions.
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