America's Most Important Week is not the Election
By: Ivana Segvic-Boudreaux
The week of Oct. 26–30 is Media Literacy Week. Given the demise of what many of us remember as unbiased media, it is perhaps more critical than ever to be media literate.
Media Literacy Week is Oct. 26–30.
We live in a world of misinformation, foreign powers and bots infiltrating our lives. We have become pawns in the hands of social media and find it more difficult to differentiate between media and disseminators of falsehoods who cloak themselves as media.
This is why Media Literacy Week is so important.
MLW is hosted by the National Organization for Media Literacy Education. The 2020 theme surrounds and celebrates the five components that define media literacy: ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, CREATE and ACT. Each term provides detailed information on how media consumers can not only become literate, but also become involved in weakening the grip of inaccurate, sensational and false stories. It gives us the tools to see through a political or false narrative and become educated media consumers, instead of brainwashed, monotonous and redundant pawns in the hands of controlling propagandists.
A common problem that occurs in countries where the government attempts to censor media is the society becomes infiltrated by propaganda, society’s rights fade and media become a mouthpiece for the government.
Since 2002, Reporters Without Borders has published an annual World Press Freedom Index, which measures press freedom in 180 countries. The United States ranks 45th in terms of media freedom, surpassed by South Korea, Italy, the Czech Republic, Botswana, the UK, South Africa, Australia, France, Lithuania, Latvia and 34 others. RWB addresses specific problems affecting the freedom of media: geopolitical, technological, democratic, economic and trust crises. U.S. media are not immune.
The job of the media has slowly been consumed by Tweets, memes, bots and fabricated tales fighting for the infamous viral retweet or worse, a vote for our future.
Our basic rights appear to be whisked away in a political hurricane fueled by propaganda, racism, fear, suppression and falsehoods. Friendships, even rudimentary humanity, no longer defined by a composite of basic characteristics, such as compassion or sympathy. Instead we have become a caricature of left or right; red or blue; elephant or donkey. Our lives now defined by our political posture, not by whom we have worked to become in life, not our character, not our morality, not human decency. We alternatively became a Facebook post, tempting those who do not agree with us to fire back with a better GIF, or meme or terminate our friendship altogether if they cannot agree with our views. This is a tale even Homer would fear to tell.
A tumultuous environment has been created by lies from authority, churning misinformation and delivery of false rhetoric in forms many do not realize to be biased or completely false. Media is blamed but is not blameless as journalism has taken some liberties with objectivity, as well.
The sitting president labeled media as “the true enemy of the people.” A journalist in AMERICA was arrested for doing his job — the job listed in the First Amendment — for covering the brutal murder of George Floyd by police officers. Last week, the president called CNN “dumb bastards” for covering the Coronavirus, which has killed more than 225,000 Americans.
While the relationship between media and politics has never been a love story, under this presidency, reporters are being peppered with a lexicon that resembles a 3rd grade bully in a playground:
· “Terrible reporter”
· “Terrible reporter”
· “Nasty question”
· “Wise-guy question”
· “You should to be ashamed”
· “Third-rate reporter”
· “You’ll never make it”
· “You’re the fake news. You don’t have the brains you were born with. I’ve had the most unfair press in history”
· “You’re not a good reporter”
· “I say that you are a terrible reporter”
· “Be nice”
· “Fake News Media is riding COVID, COVID, COVID, all the way to the election. Losers!”
· “Fake News conspiracy…. Corrupt Media conspiracy at all time high.”
· “Total fake.” “It’s a fake newspaper that they write fake stories,” in regards to the reputable New York Times.”
· In an interview with the respected news program 60 Minutes, the president walked out of the interview, calling it “fake” and “biased.”
These words and actions by our commander in chief continue to incite a mistrust and even hatred of the media, in a relationship that was frail to begin with. Yet it continues.
White House reporters were escorted out of briefings. They were not allowed access, attacked for wearing masks. The White House even directed government agencies to stop subscribing to the New York Times and Washington Post. Tweets by the president demanded the firing of reporters. Most of the main-stream media lay under the thumbs of Twitter attacks for reporting “fake” stories (“fake” often times being synonymous with stories not favorable to the current administration). A live, searchable database of the president’s Tweets indicates that at the time of the writing of this article, he had tweeted the term “fake news” 2,160 times.
Critical information was kept from media, and consequently, the public. While convincing Americans COVID-19 was “going away” and was “totally under control,” the president was being interviewed by a renowned journalist to whom he said, on record, the virus was, in fact, “deadly stuff,” and “It’s more deadly than even your strenuous flus.” Yet he continued convincing the public that COVID-19, which has killed many more people than the Vietnam War and World War I combined, is going to “disappear like a miracle.” This was misinformation at its greatest and most dangerous.
Disinformation. Deflection. Disregard for truth: Each of these is hazardous on its own, yet combined, they are deadly to not only our lives, but also to our democracy.
The obvious scenario developed. Misinformation stemming from the highest office in the nation, coupled with propaganda, tweets and viral Facebook posts have become what some Americans consider to be “news.” Unsubstantiated, shared posts cloaked as news, tweets and retweets populate the so-called “news feed” of social media pages across America. And we believe them, share them, retweet them.
The Pew Research Center found that 43 percent of U.S. adults acquire their news from Facebook and nearly 2/3 of American adults say they “at least occasionally” get their news from social media in general. Taking this phenomenon and applying reductionism identifies that the words “social,” “news” and “media” have become the ménage à trois of journalism. Couple this with the undercurrent of the government’s destabilizing, attacking, repressing and undermining the media, we are setting the foundation for an oligarchy.
A democratic society cannot breathe or grow if media is censored or self-censored. We have seen this historically throughout the world.
Media is not the innocent victim in this story; the principles and ethics of journalism came under attack as much from within as from out. As journalism gained a renewed life in the social media forum, it struggled with its roots, with reporting just the facts, with not engaging in personal attacks, with covering news stories objectively. And, it took some attacks personally; something it should never do.
Consequently, Americans became aware that media “frame” or package stories; they select stories we see on the news by a criteria of news values. Simply put, the more news values (such as timeliness, prominence, conflict, human interest, etc.), the more likely the story makes the news. As the studies of Agenda Setting in journalism have shown, the media do set our agenda — they tell us what to think about, what to talk about and what is important. HOWEVER, true journalists, true media, do so in an unbiased fashion relating the pure facts. When trained journalists are not allowed to report on the topics based around news values, they cannot properly inform the nation. This loss leads to the loss of a democracy.
It is for this reason that the press MUST battle for the basic right of the Freedom of Speech.
It must not allow itself to be saturated with opinions and biases that have spread throughout many of our newsrooms, forming an “us vs them” dichotomy. It must battle the architects of false news by producing superlative journalism. Today, as consumers of news, we are forced to differentiate between fact and fiction. The brainwashing of the viewers is a result of propaganda, yet many fail to realize the reprogramming taking place.
Cable networks, in particular, have fallen prey to the large conglomerate of business, and sacrificed their souls to the variety of devils that have been allowed into the newsroom: politics, opposition, advertising dollars, opinions, sensationalism… As charming as blue-eyed baby Cuomo can be, his opinions are just that, opinions. Personalities are for talk shows. Journalists report facts, also known as news; whereas, Hannity, Cooper, Carlson, Lemon and other personalities run talk shows peppered with filtered and opinionated “news.” That is not to say that real news cannot be found on these channels. It can. However, today, the audience must be literate in media speak to know the difference between news and informed (or uninformed) opinions.
How does one go about doing this? By proactively seeking truth, confronting misinformation and falsehoods and educating others while simultaneously promoting media literacy. The Media Literacy initiative suggests the following for uncovering bias or false stories:
· Know what media technology is available and how it works.
· Understand and identify the author/s, their credibility, intent or biases.
· Check other sources and media outlets; do not trust a single-source of information. (In other words, is it just one or two publications or networks reporting this, or is it everyone?)
· Ask questions such as: Who wrote this, when was it written, who paid for it, who are the cited or interviewed sources, is anything missing?
· Does the article include credible sources and credible information?
· Does the message of the story manipulate or misrepresent in any way? Does it include fact or opinion?
· Who will benefit from this message? How does the message make me feel; is it speaking to my emotions rather than presenting facts and allowing me to interpret?
It is also important to realize that news may be in a cultural shift where traditional objectivity is in the process of a metamorphosis — one where we do not know the resulting transformation. What we do know is that opinionated Tweets, memes, lies and bots seeking divisiveness are not news. News comes from those educated in the field of journalism, living ethics first, and all else second. And they are not extinct yet.
Thomas Jefferson said, “The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” He adds a less quoted sentence. “But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.” This is where equality, knowledge and social responsibility arise.
Without a socially responsible and ethical media, our democracy will crumble. So much of the job does fall on the field of journalism and journalists themselves. But as we turn to the media for information, we must remember that we decide our views; we decide between right and wrong; we decide racism must end; we decide that to wear a mask is to protect another human life and not a political statement. We decide to inform ourselves. We decide to be socially responsible.
By speaking up, keeping the media accountable and by being accountable and informed ourselves, by engaging civically, we can protect the freedoms of our country and, consequently, our own freedoms.
Dr. Martin Luther King said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Silence, suppression and censorship are not the answer; media literacy and education are.