(Like that article title? See what I did there??)
Major news outlets have become absolutely infected with bias, advocacy and opinion with any facts hidden under influential tones that distort the way listeners and readers formulate their beliefs. Article after article under every “news” category is more opinion oriented than factual. Sound like a bold claim to you? You can test it yourself – pick any outlet (CNN, Fox News, Washington Post, etc.) and any article. Did you notice the suggestive words framing the information meant to shape your reactions? If at any point in your reading you thought to yourself “I agree/disagree with this writer” then I’m sorry to say, you’ve just read an opinion piece.
News stories shouldn’t tell you what to think about an event, person, or idea, but simply report what the facts are so that we, individually, can form our opinions. The problem is, that type of journalism doesn’t generate much interest from the public and that doesn’t generate much revenue. Media’s solution? Clickbait titles and entertainment news!
Facts, stats and truth are boring, but clickbait titles, sleek designs, fancy animations, and jokes the youth can relate to are exciting! They’re all that’s needed to generate audience interest and keep them watching all day in this modern 24 hour news cycle (which has been a big challenge as interest in traditional media has been rapidly declining).
Engaging modern audiences has been quite an obstacle with our low attention spans and possibly lowering IQ’s which leads the average reader to not even make it past the headlines.
According to a study from June of 2016, 60% of people will read and share an article just based on the headline but never actually click and read the article itself. This means that writers have to get more creative, making enticing headlines by any means necessary. This effectively encourages news outlets to exaggerate or flat-out lie in an effort to draw more interest as opposed to spread more truth (whatever gets them to click, right?)
Let’s compare the title of that study from 2016 to a Washington Post article headline about that study:
Be honest, which one would you rather click?
But the problem goes beyond clickbait titles, the headline on Washington Post is self-evident of the integration of opinion, advocacy and agenda into the news. The title reads “…a new, depressing study…” The headline is telling you that you should be depressed by this statistic. You aren’t left to draw your own conclusion, the conclusion is provided for you even before you read the article. And choosing the word depressing? That’s quite a strong emotion to be used here and actually not an appropriate use of the word, but I digress.
For anyone curious or interested in succumbing to depression, here’s the full, factual, scientific and dry study. Halfway through the page and you’ll understand why this type of content doesn’t make it into the news, it’s dryer than the Sahara desert. Revealing about the nature in which we share our ideas on social media? Yes. Depressing? Not in my book.
If we go back to the Washington Post article, for the 40% that read on past the headlines, you’re not going to see anything less biased either. You’ll read words such as “depressing”, “thoughtless”, and “unfortunately”. The tone is set, and every bit of information is structured around these emotions, every piece of data flavored first with how they want you to taste it.
And I bet you wouldn’t have even noticed it if I hadn’t pointed it out. That’s because we have gotten so used to news stories telling us how to feel about what we’ve read, it’s actually a challenge to find an article that doesn’t display the writer’s bias at least once.
So what’s the problem with writer opinion integrated into the articles? Doesn’t it make them more interesting to read? I don’t disagree with that, creative writing is significantly more entertaining. But the question that should be asked is why do we want our news to entertain us? And more importantly, do we really want to hear the opinion of the journalist?
Your average journalists are not typically experts on the topics they report on, making them poor sources for individuals to rely on when formulating their own opinions. Occasionally reporters add quotes from individuals that are more qualified to provide their opinions, and sometimes you’ll even be lucky enough to see representations of multiple viewpoints, but so many stories rely on testimony only from people or groups that further that writer’s agenda. The reader is at the mercy of the writer’s bias at all times.
What’s even worse are the late night “news” shows that mix heavily biased news opinions with comedy. I’m talking about “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” specifically. This is a problem regardless of where you align with them politically when “12% of online Americans cited The Daily Show as a place they got their news” and “one-in-ten (10%) online adults said they got news from the show [The Colbert Report] in the previous week, on par with such sources as the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.”
Photo Credit: BagoGames
“…I didn’t realize quite how liberal I was until I was asked to make passionate comedic choices…”
“From the very beginning, I wanted to jump back and forth over the line of meaning what I say, and the truth of the matter is I’m not on anyone’s side, I’m on my side.”
He told “Meet the Press” in 2012,
“I’m not trying to make a point; I’m trying to make a joke. Sometimes my personal views are what I am saying, but it is important to me that you never know when that is.”
And people are viewing this content, meant to be left-wing comedy, as reliable news! How can anyone form a serious opinion for themselves based on nothing more than a comedy television show host? Now that sounds like something I could get depressed about.
Entertainment news and opinion/advocacy journalism have seriously concerning ramifications, but how can we expect a writer to keep their bias out of the news? Everyone has opinions that influence the way we write and talk, isn’t this problem unavoidable?
The solution lies not in trying to eliminate opinion from all news – in fact, despite its flaws, I think it has value for contrasting opposing opinions with your own – but rather we need to separate it in a way that is more clear to the audience. Label opinion as it is, and provide the actual news in a format that sticks to the bare-bone facts. There’s no reason we can’t have both. But we are suffering when the latter is only smothered in an agenda.
Photo Credit: CNBC
It’s no wonder there is a rise in the distrust of the media. When so much of what you read is so opinion heavy, its hard to have faith in something you find yourself weighed down in disagreement with. President Trump on his first press conference as president in February of 2017 said with regards to fake news, “And I’ll tell you what else I see. I see tone. You know the word tone. The tone is such hatred.”
Don’t believe him? Here’s Slate’s presentation of his press conference titled “A Selection of Crazed, Baffling, and Outrageous Quotes from Trump’s Press Conference“
I believe it’s necessary to say that not all of the media does this every time. Here’s an example of how New York Times presents the press conference video and transcript separate from an article discussing it, titled “Full Transcript and Video: Trump News Conference”:
The New York Times coverage is a perfect example of how the news can separate the facts from the opinion and still provide both. Slate doesn’t give you a chance to see the information in any other light than the black one they are shining on it. The problem is certainly not all media, but it’s enough of the media to warrant concern.
If you think that journalism being separated from bias and entertainment some day is just a lofty ideal, a Utopian unreality, consider this: The media and it’s content are shaped by the viewers and their demands. That means you. For every article with an outrageous title that gets your click, you are supporting the clickbait phenomenon. For every article riddled with an agenda, peppered with lies and statistical misrepresentations that you share, you are supporting an unethical news propaganda. The only way we’ll see this stop is if we stop buying into it. So with all that said, keep in mind, that’s just my opinion.