Sophia A. McClennen on an issue near and dear to my heart. Accuracy in news. Or, rather, lack of it.
Much has been made in the last few weeks of the factual nature of the news. Amidst allegations that NBC News anchor Brian Williams was less than accurate in claims about his experiences in Iraq, we now have an emerging controversy over the repeated lies of Bill O’Reilly. But the real story here is not just the decline of truth telling in television news, it’s the way that the truth has been replaced by fear.
Fear? What do Americans fear? Poor economy? Old age? Fall from power?
Rather than offer viewers accurate information, TV news increasingly depends on developing a fearful audience. As Psychology Today notes, “Fear-based news stories prey on the anxieties we all have and then hold us hostage.” O’Reilly, for instance, tells viewers that they have much to fear, that the world is filled with evil, and then offers personal stories that suggest he has unique insights into the way that violence operates in the world. Again, to quote Psychology Today, “[t]he success of fear-based news relies on presenting dramatic anecdotes in place of scientific evidence, promoting isolated events as trends, depicting categories of people as dangerous and replacing optimism with fatalistic thinking.”
People who are fearful fell disadvantaged and seek out simple solutions to complex problems. Among others, Fox News doesn’t help set the record straight but the network is not alone is fear-mongering.