Dec 20, 2014

Media Hype - Shootings, Autopsies, and Incomplete Information

I don't want to write about Ferguson.  But I do want to write about WHY I don't want to write about Ferguson.

I feel like things are cooling down enough to have a reasonable discussion.  By reasonable, I mean we're able to look past the outrage and horror and start analyzing why we feel this way.

Does that seem off base?  Let me explain.

To me, it seems like the media has gotten so extreme with what they're reporting and, more importantly, how they're reporting it that it's difficult to sift through and find the actual facts.  A good portion of it is hearsay, opinions, and events framed in such subjective language that you're unable to form your own opinion without being biased by the so-called "news" article.

So yeah, I was outraged when I first heard that cops had killed an unarmed teenager.  And the racist implications were utterly horrifying.  But then I started to see how slanted every article was.  Example: "Michael Brown shooting: Cop cleared over killing of unarmed teenager."  This title, and article emphasize that Brown was unarmed, black while the cop was white, a teenager and refers to it as a "killing."  Here's the opposite end of the spectrum: "Michael Brown Robbed Convenience Store, Stole Cigarillos Before Darren Wilson Shooting."  It uses his name or refers to him as a "man" rather than a "teenager," heavily emphasizes his criminal record and substance use, and refers to the incident by referencing the police officer's name and "shooting" rather than the "killing of" anyone.

The very language used in these articles is designed to sway our opinions before we even read it too thoroughly!  Is an 18 year old a "teenager" or a "man"?  Is it a race issue or are we always going to call something a race issue if the people involved happen to be different races?  Does it make a difference if the person killed had committed a crime earlier and whether the police officer was polite when he asked him to move onto the sidewalk?  Even the use of the word "cop" rather than "police officer" is an intentional play on our emotions.

So at some point I thought we'd get past the he-said-she-said stuff and down into actual evidence.  In this case, the autopsy.  But even here, in the realm of what should be investigative science, it's not so clear.  Take a look at this article claiming the autopsy proves everything and Brown was less than innocent: The physical evidence in the Michael Brown case supported the officer [updated with DNA evidence].  Then take a look at this one discrediting all autopsies done and related "evidence": Fake Michael Brown case pathologist: ‘If they want to think I’m a doctor, that’s their issue.’  The first article completely brushes off that the qualifications of the man who performed the autopsy were being called into question, and the second proclaims him a "fake" before ever explaining why that is.

So you know what?  I have no idea what to believe and I'm starting to think any opinions I form on anything reported by the media will be based on faulty or even misinformation.  So I'm not going to loudly proclaim who I think is right or what this means for America.  Because it's total bullshit and I have no clue.  What I will say is that I think it's good that this opens the door for us to discuss and maybe scrutinize race relations a little more clearly.  And I'm all in favor of cameras for the police because then at least we'll KNOW what happened.

I'm sure there's inequality in our country that I'm unaware of or unexposed to.  I'm sure I have prejudices deep down that I don't even know are there.  I will even admit that being white, along with being born into the comfortable middle class, has made my life much easier than it could have been.  But I won't tell other people what to do or think because of it.  I don't think I'm qualified to form an opinion and I don't know how to help.  If anyone has any ideas, I'd certainly be willing to listen.

What scares me more than anything is the amount of control the media has over our country.  If you watch liberal comedy news shows, I can probably predict the stance you'll take on most current issues.  If you're conservative and get your news from Fox, I can be pretty sure it'll be the opposite side.

I shouldn't be able to do that!  Your opinion should not be dictated by your source of news.  News should be impersonal and unbiased and they're not even trying anymore.  They're not even hiding how biased they are anymore.  It's all about ratings, and views, and clicks.  And public outrage is worth a lot more to the media than an accurate presentation of facts.

Here's another, less controversial example.  I saw this image about Russell Brand on Reddit.  Go look at it, it's funny.  But basically, the media saw a chance to score some views by bashing Russell Brand, who we seem to enjoy calling a scumbag.  His version of the story places him in a much more flattering light.  Which version is true?  No one knows but Brand, the homeless man, and any eyewitnesses who happened to be present.

Here was my reaction to the story: "That's nice, but probably not true.  Russell Brand seems like a dirtbag" (because I'd read a headline once that said he had a sex addiction, because that's totally not even remotely related).  Then I read the comments and they all pretty much said Russell Brand seems like a nice guy and I thought, "Oh, maybe it IS true!"

Based on what?  The fact that some other people thought so.

Just like my opinion of the events in Ferguson have swayed all over the place because other people told me to think so.

But I'm done trusting every source of news I get.  And I'm done pretending I have all the details.  No one does, and we do the best we can with our incomplete information, but maybe we can do just a little bit better and start taking "the news" with a grain of salt.  Scratch that, a whole heap of salt, because those bastards have nothing to lose by making us overreact and only more news coverage to gain.

What do you think about the way news is reported in your country?  What sources of news do you use and do you trust any of them?

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  1. I was just having this conversation with the other half. I was going into a rant about when I was in college over 10 years ago for communication classes, stories were not to be released until all of the facts were straight. Same thing when I was listening to a broadcast about when September 11th happened, no one knew what had happened, so no one could report anything other then the fact that there had been a plane crash. The media gets everyone so hyped up just to be the "first" to report. Its very disheartening and quite harmful if you ask me. Thanks for sharing this, and sorry for the rant :)

  2. Can't say I've ever tried, but I've heard it's easier to get objective US news by reading a foreign news source like BBC. Would be interested to see how they portray Ferguson.

    Also regarding Russell Brand: from the interviews I've watched, he always comes off as intelligent & insightful, but also obnoxious & annoying. It's a weird combination.

    1. I guess I could see that. If he's intelligent but doesn't care if people know or what they think of him. I will have to check out BBC - that makes sense that news in another country wouldn't care as much to put a slant on our news.

  3. Don't even get me started on the media and how they persuade people's thoughts. I so wish that we could all be educated adults that can research actual facts and be able to toss away all the BS that gets hyped up, but unfortunately there are too many ignorant people out there. I get tired of he said/she said shit, ignorance, people believing anything they hear because someone they like thinks it, and I get tired of people playing race cards. I believe that all lives matter, no one said they didn't. I am not sure what happened in Ferguson, and there are very few people that actually know. We allow the media to make up the story and shove it down our throats.


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