Media Massacre

There is so much wrong with the mass violence boiling through America. There are the unresolved racial issues we've glossed over for so long. There is the mass proliferation of guns including assault rifles. There is the clear evidence of widespread police brutality. There is the consistent economic uncertainty and a sense of more fear, more us versus them, in general.

The reasons for our mess are complex but one factor gets very little attention -- the damage done by the current sensationalist clickbait media model. In order to try to capture ratings, clickbait-driven corporate media outlets rush to report on events ahead of, and in a more entertaining manner than, their competitors.

I know from personal experience that this mad rush to break the news often involves speculation and results in grievous misinformation and inaccurate reporting.

In coverage of both the terrible police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota and the heinous massacre of police officers in Dallas, the mainstream media's manic drive to report "Breaking News" just added to the terror, the conflict and the heartache.

With the Dallas shooting, it was first reported (as fact) that there were multiple shooters. That turned out not to be the case. There is no way of knowing how or how much the belief in multiple perpetrators affected the situation. It has since been stated that some of the police acted as they did on the scene because of the reports of multiple shooters.

Also, in this social media age, news reporters, even big name reporters, rely more and more on tweets and posts from other reporters and from people near the scene. Quite simply, that is a completely unreliable source for factual news.

After falsely reporting multiple gunmen, a man was falsely accused as the possible shooter! Apparently he was at the scene of the protest where the shooting occurred and, in what I would call a not so bright move, was openly carrying an assault rifle as part of the protest (exerting his right to own and openly carry as allowed under current U.S. gun laws). When the shooting started, he handed the gun to a police officer but was later misidentified as a suspect by the Dallas Police Department and his name and photo was blasted on CNN and from there all across other media and the internet.

In studying the phenomenon of public shaming in the digital age, most of the blame is placed on social media -- Facebook and Twitter -- and the regular people out there who decide to go after someone. But very often, as in this case of falsely accusing someone of being a possible murderer, the biggest culprit was corporate media and professional reporters. What gets too little attention is how the current clickbait-driven media model feeds and is fed by the social media mob.

I now say, if you are watching "Breaking News", beware! You are not being informed so much as entertained. You are watching speculation and emotional spin-doctoring. And, you probably like it because it is carefully constructed to get and hold our attention!

As I've become all too aware of the incredible amount of inaccuracy, dishonesty and sensationalism in corporate, professional media, I have completely changed how I get my news. I now do my very best to avoid CNN, FOX, MSNBC etc. when they are in the "Breaking News" mode or the spun-up, drawn out "analysis" mode, which is actually just adding fuel to the fire to ring out every last bit of our attention span possible. I now rarely read, and always with a skeptical eye, corporate newspapers.

I get my news mostly from the Nation, the Guardian, public broadcasting like NPR and BBC and a dozen issue specific, independent sources. I peruse the daily headlines in The Week and if any of the stories seem worthy of my attention I look at them through multiple media lenses.

I feel for the guy who was falsely accused, even if I may disagree with him about my "right" to carry an assault rifle around town. Once one media outlet puts out misinformation or lies about you, most of the rest repost it as fact and there is no way to get that genie back in the bottle. He's been getting death threats and all sorts of anonymous hate-filled messages. He fears for his safety and that of his family. Scary, scary stuff.

Interestingly, however, in his case, it does look like the mainstream outlets are trying to correct the misinformation. The internet is now filled with stories about the false accusation and even interviews with this man. But I'm skeptical. Are these media outlets really trying to clear up misinformation or simply skewering another piece of clickbait to the hook?

It's true that Americans, particularly black Americans, are in danger of finding ourselves staring down the barrel of one of the countless guns our country is awash in. But as scary as that may be, I think a bigger threat is a news industry that shoots first and tries to pick up facts along the way.

In this new norm, it isn't news they're breaking at all but the public trust and their sacred responsibility to inform us in a truthful, unbiased manner.

"The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses."- Malcom X