What Has Happened To The Quality Of Our Mainstream Media?
Pseudoscience is a term used for science that is so flawed it can no longer be considered as legitimate science. Now replace the term “science” with the term “journalism”, and you are describing much of the mainstream media we are seeing today.
Don’t believe me?
In June 1976, the public trust of media reached a high of 72%, according to Gallup¹. Yet by the year 2016, our trust in the media had fallen to 32%².
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A 2018 Monmouth University poll indicated that 77% of Americans believe mainstream media reports fake news³.
Some sources even claim that as low as 6% believe the news media today!⁴
Regardless of who you believe, it is hard to ignore the obvious trend — the credibility of our media has never been lower in our lifetime.
The question is why did this happen?
Why would members of this once honorable profession allow their credibility to erode almost 60% below its one time high?
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It’s not like this lack of trust happened overnight. Everyone saw it coming. Why didn’t they evaluate this negative trend along the way and make some adjustments?
Did they quit caring about their image?
4 Methods Used By Pseudo-Journalists
Let us examine four (4) compelling reasons why our news media has lost so much of the public’s trust.
1) Finding Evidence that Fits
One of the most prominent elements found in pseudoscience is when researchers start with the desired result and work backward. This approach plows a fertile garden to grow future biases of every kind imaginable.
Conversely, good science moves from an initial hypothesis and attempts to disprove that hypothesis. This approach leads to a stronger conclusion that is much harder to refute.
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However, many journalists are choosing the pseudo approach for creating news stories. They begin with a storyline that would delight their readers, and then they go about finding evidence to support this desired conclusion.
A prime example of this pseudo approach is when President Trump was accused of colluding with Russia during the 2016 campaign. Despite all the claims, no real evidence of collusion was ever found after an exhaustive investigation⁵.
2) Media Propaganda Tactics
Over the past few decades, the mainstream media has become a propaganda tool for both corporate and political interests. Read some of the alarming quotes below from existing and former media executives⁶:
“We are going to impose our agenda on the coverage by dealing with issues and subjects that we choose to deal with.” — Richard M. Cohen, Senior Producer of CBS political news.
“For better or worse, my company is a reflection of my character, my thinking, my values” — Rupert Murdoch
“We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. To make money is our only objective” — Michael Eisner, CEO, The Walt Disney Co
“We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets, and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.” — Katherine Meyer Graham, Washington Post publisher
“News is what someone wants to suppress. Everything else is advertising” — former NBC News President Rubin Frank
Incredible insight from those who run the mainstream media — both conservative and progressive. Is it no wonder why media trust has fallen given the mindset of their leaders?
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Let us examine some of the propaganda methods that mainstream media uses:
Debate framing — This is where the media covertly manipulates the narrative of a debate.
They claim to offer both sides of an argument, but in reality, one debater is slightly off-center, while the other debater takes an extreme position to one side. And the ideology they want to suppress is not represented at all.
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They achieve the same objective by pitting a strong debater that represents their view, against a weak debater who has the opposing view.
Either way, the viewer (or reader) has been fed a contrived narrative of the media’s choosing.
Manipulating Viewer Attitude — This is where the media presents a complete story with their ideological spin. As they sum up the main points, they interview a few live members from their viewership to opine about the story. This spontaneous endorsement from ordinary people gives authenticity to their narrative.
What viewers don’t know is that hundreds of people may have been pre-interviewed to find those two or three people who suit their purpose. Yet the intended impression is that ordinary people support their narrative — when in reality, perhaps only 10% of them approve.
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Group Thinks — This method takes advantage of how most people believe that groups make better decisions than one person. Also, it targets people who have difficulty thinking for themselves.
The group is usually pre-loaded to include members with similar beliefs — even though they may have different political affiliations. An expert is often included to boost the validity of the overall group.
Discussions within this group will center on a predetermined set of viewpoints. In this way, the narrative is controlled by the media, and they can eliminate a majority of opposing views.
Broad Stroking — This is where the media takes a specific statement made by their opponent and turns it into a generalized statement.
For instance, if Person A said, “low-income southerners performed poorly on the SAT exams”. Person B would then claim that Person A said “all southerners failed the SAT exams”, in an attempt to turn all southerners against Person A.
A current example of broad stroking is how the Republican Party currently implies that all Democrats are in favor of full-term abortions. This is not true, while some Progressives favor full-term abortions, there are many Democrats who oppose them⁷.
3) Smearing for Impact
A smear campaign is one that attempts to tarnish an opponent’s image based on either lies or badly twisting the truth. The smearing of political opponents is quite common during our election cycles.
Yet the once neutral mainstream media has chosen to participate in these smear campaigns in recent years. Therefore, they have established an agenda of their own. This is very concerning when you consider this along with the quotes from leaders of the media in the last section.
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The big allure for using smear campaigns is that they are very effective when done right. If the allegation made against an opponent is sensational enough, and at least a little bit plausible, it can grow legs and do some real damage. Here are two smear campaigns that had a significant impact:
During the Presidential Campaign of 2004, Democratic Candidate John Kerry’s military record was questioned⁸. The claim was that Kerry lied about his Vietnam tour. The Bush Campaign was blamed for the smear and later won the election.
After President Barrack Obama was elected, there was a smear campaign claiming he’s Muslim — even though he’s a practicing Christian. According to Pew Research, the number of people that believe Obama is Muslim increased from 11% to 18% from the year 2009 to 2010. That’s an increase of 64% in a single year!⁹
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Here’s what happens when the media gets involved in smearing campaigns:
Impact Severity — Since smears are based on lies, their effects can be extremely hurtful. Not only does the target of the smear suffer, but their colleagues, friends, and family members also suffer.
When the media participates in the smear, its severity becomes more intense. And many of these smears leave permanent scars on the reputations and financial welfare of its intended victims — even after they have been cleared of any wrongdoing.
Lost Credibility — In my opinion, phony smears have damaged the media’s credibility more than anything else. When major media throws their weight behind a harmful story, it can have a ferocious impact.
However, when that story is discovered to be false, its effects can backfire severely on the media source. When a media organization is caught publishing one phony story after another, their reputation suffers.
CNN is a great example of a media source that has participated in several smear campaigns against President Trump. They have published numerous stories over the past few years that have been labeled as “fake news”¹⁰ by several sources¹¹.
As a result, CNN has suffered a significant drop in ratings relative to its competitors¹².
No Remorse — Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of publishing hurtful stories that are phony is the lack of remorse by the media. Sometimes they won’t even bother posting a retraction¹³.
And when corrections or retractions are published, they are briefly mentioned on the back pages on a newspaper or a two-line mention on the back end of a newscast.
These half-hearted retractions are a clear indication that 1) they know they lied, 2) they don’t care they lied, and 3) their lie was an attempt to negatively impact their opponent at any cost– including their reputation.
4) “According to Anonymous Sources”
When all else fails, pseudo-journalists play the “according to anonymous sources” card.
There was a time when these hidden sources of information were valued and believed, but that time has come and gone. Why? Because journalism has lost so much credibility.
The “according to anonymous sources” card seems to give them free rein to “create” stories. Who is verifying their sources?
And why should we believe the media and their sources?
As of this writing, Joe Biden held a recent “Press Conference” and media members didn’t ask him a single question about current topics of concern like¹⁴:
Will he defund the police?
Would he break up the CHAZ/CHOP zone in Seattle?
Would he protect any statues from the protesters?
Why did he support a Clinton crime bill that incarcerated countless black Americans?
Why did he lie about knowing anything regarding the Flynn investigation when recent FBI records say otherwise?
Yet this same media who openly protects their preferred candidate from objective scrutiny expects readers to trust their secret “anonymous sources”? Really?
To be fair, traditional media has been navigating some tough waters in the information age. They have faced stiff competition from every angle imaginable.
There are far more players today in the mainstream media arena than ever before — thanks to cable TV. And there are also thousands of news sources online — many of them freelancers — that are biting into the news cycle.
Also, celebrities can now hold their press conferences through social media and eliminate the news media. And when you factor in how online breaking news is instant, why do we need to wait for printed content to be delivered anymore?
Perhaps all of these factors have lowered the quality and reliability of news. But this is not an excuse for the pseudo-journalism we have been seeing. The public still deserves to have reliable quality news content.
: Jeffrey M. Jones. (April 20, 2004). Americans’ Trust in the Mass Media. https://news.gallup.com/poll/11428/americans-trust-mass-media.aspx
: Jesper Stromback. (April 24, 2020). News media trust and its impact on media use: toward a framework for future research. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23808985.2020.1755338
: Cristiano Lima. (April 2, 2018). Poll: 77 percent say major news outlets report ‘fake news’. https://www.politico.com/story/2018/04/02/poll-fake-news-494421
: RT Question More. Only 6% of Americans trust the media — survey. https://www.rt.com/usa/340124-americans-trust-media-plummets/
: Philip Ewing. (March 24, 2019). Mueller Report Finds No Evidence Of Russian Collusion. https://www.npr.org/2019/03/24/706385781/mueller-report-finds-evidence-of-russian-collusion
: George Orwell. (November 3, 2012). A Citizens Guide to Understanding Corporate Media Propaganda Techniques. https://www.filmsforaction.org/news/a-citizens-guide-to-understanding-corporate-media-propaganda-techniques/
: Madlin Mekelburg. (February 27, 2020). Fact-check: Do Democrats support abortion up until (and after) birth? https://www.statesman.com/news/20200227/fact-check-do-democrats-support-abortion-up-until-and-after-birth
: CNN.com. (August 22, 2004). Bush campaign denies ‘smear tactics’. https://www.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/08/22/bush.kerry.ads/
: Futurity. Why Americans Believe Obama is a Muslim. https://www.futurity.org/why-americans-believe-obama-is-a-muslim/
: Glenn Greenwald. (January 20, 2019). Beyond BuzzFeed: The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump-Russia Story. https://theintercept.com/2019/01/20/beyond-buzzfeed-the-10-worst-most-embarrassing-u-s-media-failures-on-the-trumprussia-story/
: Victor Davis Hanson. (September 17, 2019). CNN: Everything but the News. https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/09/cnn-trump-derangement-everything-but-news/
: James Barrett. (January 2, 2020). CNN’s Ratings Collapse In 2019, While Fox News Dominates, Hits New Record. https://www.dailywire.com/news/cnns-ratings-collapse-in-2019-while-fox-news-dominates-hits-new-record
: Tim Hains. August 29, 2018. Glenn Greenwald: This Is CNN’s Most Humiliating Moment, “Can’t Admit They Lied… To The Entire World”. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2018/08/29/glenn_greenwald_cnn_has_major_credibility_issue_after_lanny_davis_backpedlaing.html
: Yael Halon. (June 23, 2020). Sean Hannity accuses ‘media mob’ of ‘protecting fragile Joe just like they did Hillary’. https://www.foxnews.com/media/sean-hannity-media-mob-protecting-joe-biden