Standing up to Media Misinformation
By Katelyn McCarthy
“Democracy dies in darkness.” That’s the motto of The Washington Post, and it is a motto which is applicable to all institutes of journalism. Revelation—light—truth. Journalism fosters these, and, without them, democracy has no heart with which to pump its lifeblood.
The media is, unofficially, the fourth branch of the government. It, protected by the First Amendment, has the power to check the other three branches without being checked by them. It thus possesses the sacred duty to protect the rights of the people from infringement. If it sees democracy dying, it can shed light on the would-be killers so as to resuscitate liberty.
This is a noble calling, and a necessary one if American civilization is to be preserved. But, despite the media’s prominence, it is currently bringing neither revelation, nor light, nor truth. It has aligned itself with the parties and, in so doing, has traded its ability to stand up for the rights of the people for ideology and big money. News reporting, I contend, is itself often fomenting darkness.
E.M. Forster, an English novelist, once said: “‘The king died and the queen died.’ That’s story. ‘The king died and the queen died of grief.’ That’s plot.”
The news, if it is to be considered honorable and meritorious, ought to report solely from the lens of story. It is the news’ job to tell you what happened. It’s up to you to decide the happening’s significance. The news gives the story. You decide the plot.
News anchors should not be telling us why we should hate certain politicians or why we should love them; they should not be overplaying stories which they like and downplaying stories which they don’t. The media has no business telling anyone what or how to think. The only proper podium they have to attempt to do so is through an opinion column. And, when reading such a column, one should approach the information cautiously.
Why? The media does not want to tell you what’s happening in the world so that you can have greater control over your life. It wants to twist what you see and hear so that it can have control over you.
It has a good platform by which to do this. It props up professional looking people in business attire who speak eloquently, write catchy prose, or take good photographs. It’s hard to mistrust organizations known by official-sounding acronyms, possessing prominent histories, and promoting famous faces. But mistrust is all that they merit.
The recognition that certain news corporations have marked political tendencies is in itself a hallmark of their failure. The media ought not lean to the right or to the left, nor should it rest in the middle. Its beliefs should be non-existent. It’s the news’ job to tell you about politics, not to be political itself.
There is hope. If one but recognizes the media’s biases, one regains control over it. If one refuses to be mastered by the media, then—mastered as the media might be by the parties—it has no power whatsoever. Big money and politics are completely powerless if they are unable to sway your thoughts or your vote.
So: democracy dies in darkness. What happens when the self-proclaimed guardian of that democracy becomes the darkness itself?
That’s where we step in. The jumbotrons in New York City, the millions of computer screens flashing news sites, and the giant lighted signs in front of media headquarters all give off a lot of light. But it is a light that is self-extinguishing. We, on the other hand, can be little lightbulbs, lightbulbs that click on and say “Aha!” and learn to think for ourselves. If we do that, then democracy will never die.
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Ryan Ford '23,