dear auntie – updated

by ibull

 chapter 3

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Censored: me, tagging my aunt, as i share an article published by the LA Times titled, “Want to keep fake news out of your newsfeed? College professor creates list of sites to avoid”

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[First comment:] And unfortunately CNN must be added to the list as it’s proven bias is being proven by the American people

[Second comment:] Bias from the left is significant. It’s not always truth but it’s the “allowed ” truth in media, especially those stations owned by liberals

Note: the next few responses were penned by a friend (who I have anonymized); this exchange that occurred between my aunt and my friend happened while I was offline. 

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Friend Responds:

CNN shouldn’t be held as a reputable news source, but not because it is even necessarily “liberally” biased as one could argue that assertion was actually challenged quite thoroughly this year given how CNN gave quite a lot of positive press to the GOP and ran stories that undermined the Dems. I’d say they’re more interested in how to hike up viewership, and less on representing a specific point for a specific goal beyond that.

CNN is owned by Charter Communications ultimately (CNN is owned by Turner Broadcasting which is a division of Time Warner, which was purchased by Charter Communications recently). People don’t necessarily own the media companies anymore, it’s more that they’re beholden to the profit interests of large, multi-layered organizations. Also, if you’d like to see how such companies spend lobbying dollars here you go: http://gizmodo.com/how-much-money-big-cable-gave-the… It’s a pretty even spread across Dems and GOP. I also really don’t believe that any CEO who makes $2mill (as the head of Charter Comm does) is particularly interested in any radical leftist politics as much of those same politics would challenge such a person’s right to earn so much more than everyone else both in their own company structure, and given the deep income inequality in our country in general.

Just because someone might be registered Dem doesn’t mean they’re liberal, and even a “liberal” democrat is not necessarily likely to uphold or believe in what I think is likely hinted at when people talk about CNN being liberal (it seems when people say CNN is liberal what they seem to intend is a claim that CNN is in forceful opposition to the GOP’s policies and existence–again: the coverage of the GOP this election was uncritical and unserious, so to claim that CNN represents some secretive desire to take down the GOP… in what manner?)

I think CNN is little more than fluff and un-serious reporting, and they lack journalistic integrity because their intent is not to inform but to sell. This would be a legitimate argument for pretty much all cable news networks at this point: they are set up as private companies intent on maximizing profit, and in order to do that they pull in viewers via sensationalized stories, chatter that does little more than purposely avoid intelligent analysis, and gossipy pieces on whatever seems to hold people’s interest that day. But to claim they’re some end all be all liberal news station is deeply incorrect.

Further, I take issue with the idea of truth as existing objectively, but I won’t jump into a whole exploration of social and cultural construction of reality and perception of reality.

Yes, CNN sucks. No it’s not because it’s liberal, as it’s actually just trashy centrist news without clear intent or focus on what’s reported and why.

Auntie Responds:

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The media which clearly has an agenda has created the need for counter-news. Catering to the most views and polls is business, but biased news is not news , persuasive journalism has its place in the editorial column…under “our opinion”, not on the front page headlines

Friend Responds:

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“The media” is not a functional monolith. I also wonder what you mean by counter-news? Not facetiously, I really am curious as to how one defines news and counter-news.

All news functions with some bias, I believe the issue you’re actually talking about is undue prejudice within news which, I agree, is an issue in general with news, especially currently and with cable news media. However, again, I question how we create a functional and absolute standard for what counts as “news” and what doesn’t especially given the wide breadth of what might matter at a local, regional, state, national, and international level. I’m wary of ever saying “that isn’t news” as I think then that gives people license to ignore at random, and without more reason than “well, that isn’t news,” whole swaths of stories and information that people should have the right to be informed on by a structure (the press/4th estate) that claims to be about keeping “the people” informed.

Journalism that uses persuasion as a tactic is arguably the majority of journalism, as, from a critical communications point of view there is no such thing as pure and absolutely neutral writing. All writing has an intention to inform the reader in a particular way, even if it is not expressly trying to argue a point. Now, journalists who purposely misinform, veil, or otherwise avoid disclosing necessary information for the reader can definitely be argued for being unethical. But to ask all journalists to write without incidentally persuading is a near impossibility as the persuasion happens not just because of what the journalist has written but how the reader chooses to respond.

Also: I am agreeing with you that CNN is trash. I don’t support it any more than you do, but I also don’t support FOX. I don’t view them as being binary opposites of each other, they actually are fairly similar in function and reporting style–that they try to appeal to certain social sensibilities is true, but I think they do that both with the intention of upping viewership and thus profit at the expense of ethical journalism.

To that end, I don’t support any cable news, and really can only stomach some of MSNBC if rarely. I prefer print and radio media as I find I’m better able to take the information in and make a measured decision. With cable news the visual aspect along with the aural (both speech and sound effects including music) do influence how we’re orienting to what we’re being told; in a neurocognitive/psychological manner that’s just part of being human and how our brains take in and process stimuli. And especially with more serious news I don’t want tense music or images flashing across the screen priming me to respond to what is being said in a particular way. I want to be able to sit and read, and comprehend, and move slowly to understand the full breadth of what is happening, probable consequences, effects that are being felt by those involved.

But I also refuse to rely solely on one news source because I don’t believe any of them are ever 100% solid in how they report. Nor do I really expect them to be. Nor do I view taking in news media from one country source to be a reasonable if I want to be informed and have enough information, given that there’s always an underlying reason for how and why something is presented as it is.

I’m not saying CNN is good. At all. But I don’t think that it’s fair to claim it’s inherently “liberal” or reporting “false news” based on a perceived adherence to a leftist view (which… it really isn’t even leftist, it’s centrist and extremely neoliberal). And I think the conversation placing CNN as some particularly evil company doesn’t consider a lot of historical and current social context of journalism as a whole, and specifically the rise of cable news sources and their power in society. In short: it’s not just CNN, and it isn’t some inevitability that cable news sources function as they do.

Auntie Responds:

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I also pay attention to many sources . I have seen networks and our Local paper report differently depending on who is in office. Some of the above classified fake news sources have absolutely reported truth. At times a stretch of the truth and other times false narratives and that’s where you make a judgement call. Just because s professor from a college makes a list doesn’t make it gospel.

Friend Responds:

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I think that’s a fair point, that to assume all news from a particular source is false or wrong is problematic and ignores that correctness and rightness (and truth) are often bound by subjective judgements. However, I think the list above is not necessarily of news sources that are wrong, per se. I think the wording on it is not particularly reflective, but I do think that a vast majority of those sources do purposely report on stories in such a manner as to appear entirely unbiased and as though they are always reporting an objective truth.

Now, beyond my own dis-ease re: any assertion of objective truth, I do think that it’s fair to use the term “fake” as a basic assertion that if we took the number of stories those sources reported, did a content analysis, gathered up the both qualitative and quantitative data from said analysis, and could determine how often both the data (in terms of numbers, names of actors, organizations. locations, other absolute, v. easy to determine whether what was written exists in what we know as a material reality–something does or does not physically exist in the world as we purport it to) and the ultimate read of the message in a discursive capacity (that is the intention imbued in how something was written/communicated), we would find that a fair amount of the time those news sources either mis-reported, or purposely skewed writing to make it hard to discern or otherwise lead the reader to a conclusion not supported by actual reality. Again, I’m not talking whether or not something is good, but whether or not something happened as it was reported to have happened.

So I agree that perhaps the term fake, in this instance, feels a bit more like a value judgement like an assertion that the consistency of those outlets’ reporting is so low, and so unmatched to a material, physical, actual reality, that they do pose a danger in that people will not be aware of that. We don’t teach media literacy in this country, and do very much on both sides adhere to an assumption that the news we take in is inherently legitimate or truthful.

I don’t think that the intention of that list was so much to say “there is of no value to these outlets” as that is a hard measure to prove. But more, that given the habit they have of not abiding by certain basic consistency in reporting in adherence to reality, just rote facts like “Ms. Smith appeared in court on a charge of assault” which is a reality: we can check court records and see that Ms. Smith did indeed appear in court, and the reason for her appearance was because she had been charged with assault, they aren’t reporting anything. Because what they are reporting, a vast majority of the time, is not founded in reality.

Now, that doesn’t mean they’re lying straight out. It’s not that they reported “Ms. Smith appeared in court for robbery charges”, or “Ms. Smith did not appear in court.” But rather the way in which they undermine the veracity of their own reports is in how they phrase things, the details left out, the photos used that aren’t from that incident, audio clips edited to purposely convey a message that was not actually the message. Both sides do this. Many news outlets to some degree practice behaviors which questionably do this. And to some extent, creating a narrative requires editing which can convey a message with murkiness in terms of truth.

I think it’s not just or only that this happens, but the repeated, intentional, and high numbers of it happening with these outlets that does render them less useful to the general public than other outlets.

But that’s a long discussion to have (I appreciate you joining me in this discussion, btw). And as humans we like to take long, complex ideas and try to force them into small little casings like words. So instead of saying “these outlets often […] and thus we don’t think they report with enough consistency and adherence to truth of reality to be a good central or reliable news source because of the checking needed after printing for the reader to verify a story themselves.” Because the point of the news, of journalism, is that someone else was supposed to do the fact checking and caretaking of writing something carefully and honestly enough that others can read it and know more about the world in a very real, truthful sense. That doesn’t mean that a person doesn’t reflect a particular standpoint in the world, it does mean they that are not supposed to take what they have and edit it to fit their narrative when it does not. These outlets don’t abide by that standard, and so they fail to meet a standard of rigor. It’s not that they’re reporting wholly false stories, but that lack of rigor and likelihood of containing at least partially, purposely misrepresented information (and it’s important that it’s done purposely as the purpose is part of why people are putting out lists like this: that the intention is to misguide readers) that leads us to deem them fake.

CNN, FOX, MSNBC, CNBC, Good Morning America, etc. all can be said to have done this either intentionally in-house, or by not properly vetting an external source for a story (whether that be another journalist/reported story, or a primary source like someone claiming to have witnessed aliens landing or POM juice making your colon better). But the difference is in that intention. I think for a lot of cable news you can claim there is an intention to mislead. I think in print, that intention is easier to see and more immediately recognized. It’s harder to hide it in written reporting (for a lot of reasons I’m happy to go into but don’t want to bore with pedantic discussion of rhetoric and grammatical structure of sentences and discourse analysis).

So then, if it happens all over, the metric we end up having to use to determine any news source as viable for finding information that is reflective of reality is the frequency in which they adhere to that standard of factual as described above.

Finally, there’s an argument to be made, that given social constructions of right/good/healthy/safe/fair/etc. (there are a lot of words that can go in there) in society, we are constantly in a state of creating our world. And I don’t actually find myself as worried when reporting takes on a persuasive tone, so long as it is in an attempt to head towards a socially just world. I don’t want all reporting to do this, as I don’t think that’s useful to devolve to. But I do think that it would be useful for us to perhaps not penalize reporting which otherwise adheres to factuality, for also taking a stance. I don’t think those two things are or have to be mutually exclusive.

Anyhow, I’m writing a veritable novel. But sincerely, I appreciate that your responses have been civil and if you’re reading all of this thanks for sticking through my v. long train of thought.

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