Media Manipulation Mash   Leave a comment

Media manipulation currently shapes almost everything you read, hear and watch online.

When I was working on my degrees, we feared the government propagandist and the hustling publicist. They were serious, but known threats. Vigilance kept them in check and they were the exception rather than the rule. They exploited that the media was trusted and reliable. Today, with our blog and Internet-drive media cycle, nothing escapes exaggeration, distortion, fabrication or simplification.

 

 

And, no, the European press is not immune to this syndrome, nor is PBS, the Blaze, or Huffington Post.

Every media outlet can manipulate you and most do.

Today news is selected by what readers are clicking rather than the importance of the topic or event. The news cycle is so fast the coverage is never complete. Dubious scandals scuttle election bids and knock billions from the market share of publicly traded companies. News organizations frequently report on their own reporting in “unfolding stories.” Media manipulation is the status quo.

A couple of nights ago, a reporter told us breathlessly about what was going on in the White House as the president decided what to do about Yemen. As she stood there in in blue coat and white gloves before the lit-up White House, my son (16) wandered in and said “If it’s so cold she has to be that bundled up, why is there no fog coming out of her mouth?”

Smart kid! Observant! And, Alaskan! We know aboutt talking outside in the cold. My point is, if the media are playing that sort of game with the setting of news-coverage, just imagine what they could be doing with the content.

I could spin the bottle on media manipulators and hit many familiar names and faces, but let’s start with Michael Arrington, the former editor and founder of the popular blog Tech Crunch.

“Getting it right is expensive; getting it first is cheap.”

Arrington made $25 million from that fact, but others do it too. Ever wonder why Gawker headlines have just enough of the story to grab your attention, but not enough to satisfy your curiosity, so you click on the headlines? Did you know they are partially funded by those clicks?

The Bush administration knew how to use the media. The Obama administration is even better at it. While newspapers and traditional broadcast must worry about libel laws, so will not touch some stories, campaigns understand that blogs don’t have the same concerns. While some bloggers strive to present news from perspectives never covered by traditional media, the courts consider them opinion … hence libel laws are not in force (yet).

Media manipulation exploits the different between perception and reality. When my parents were heads of the household, they trusted Uncle Walter to give them the straight scoop. Walter Cronkite lied regularly about the Vietnam War — so regularly that my parents (on opposite ends of the war debate, btw) caught onto him. Today, we get our news individually, which removes the checks-and-balances of your spouse or kids calling “crap” on the broadcast you’re watching together. That individual consumption and opinion-based news means all the barriers that made the traditional media somewhat reliable have broken down. Yet, the old perception remains. If a random blog is half as reliable as a New York Times article that was fact-checked, edited and reviewed by multiple editors (who each have a political agenda, btw), it is twice as easy to get coverage on. So manipulators play the volume game. If they can generate enough online buzz, people will assume that where there is smoke there is fire and the unreal becomes real.

There’s no consequence for burning someone. Facebook and Twitter will help destroy a reputation (or make one), and there’s nobody to blame. There’s no cost to the media organization so long as they have advertising dollars to keep the doors open. The politicians and corporations who pay them to manipulate you (or provide the content) can point their finger at the media, but nobody really gets blamed. It’s all hidden in smoke and mirrors and perception is accepted as reality.

And, the solution to that?

I don’t know that there is an easy one. One pundit I read said he believes it would be solved by readers paying for the news, but I don’t think so. I get some good things from the Blaze, but it’s one organization’s view of the news, which doesn’t necessarily mean it is wholly true.

I think the solution lies with us — the readers/consumers — but saying that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

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