Since I’ve noticed media bias and the power that media outlets actually leverage, I have grown to see the shortcomings of American media. A lot of my observations began with the flipping between Egyptian or Arab news channels and American news channels and recognizing the stark contrast between the two in terms of coverage — or lack thereof — of the ongoing conflicts in Gaza. As a student that has always valued and promoted the potential for change through the media, I find that I can no longer turn to the nation’s media for the kind of information and reporting that I expect: honest, critical, and informative. Instead I find fear-mongering headlines and television banners asking the wrong questions.
Watching Canadian media coverage of the recent Ottawa shootings lent me some hope that at least “someone” was doing it right. Clip after news clip showed various stations reporting live on the status of an ongoing investigation. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) set an exemplary example of keeping calm, cool and collected while breaking the news of a then-unidentified active gunman outside of their parliament and the National War Memorial. Later identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, CBC was careful not to report any uncertainties that could only create panicked responses and lead to further confusion and conflicting reports. With over 200 mass shootings in the United States since 2006, according to USA Today, we end up seeing repeated cycles of disorganized reporting from our networks, with consistent assumptions regarding the identity of the perpetrator and the perpetuation of fear and confusion, when level-headedness and relevant information should be expected from our journalists.
I do not see how Canada is any different in its values regarding the access to information, that could make this contrast of reporting so stark. Yet American media networks view the frequent mass shootings in our country as opportunities to push an agenda, knowing that their platform grants them the ability to manipulate public opinion on issues, sway votes and support lobbies. We want to watch news, but we end up watching debates — rather, uneducated speculations — between newscasters on issues they are not experts on. As viewers, we walk away, with seemingly less information on the topics we were hoping to learn more about. MediaMatters.org so eloquently stated: “The fact that Americans have such a weak grasp on the facts doesn’t speak well for the quality of coverage to date.”
The Pew Research Center released a report last year detailing the status of American journalism and why Americans have been turning their backs on news outlets, citing less information as the reason behind the abandonment of previously trusted media sources. An approximate of 31% of those surveyed stated that “they have deserted a particular news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to, according to the survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults in early 2013.” To contrast, Vox published an extremely eye-opening and self-labeled “unscientific” ranking of what Americans should actually be concerned about, as opposed to the threats that media tells them are the most pressing. Not to my surprise, ISIS and Ebola were both at the bottom of the list, with the very realistic claims that Ebola and ISIS “attacking” on our soil were very far-fetched and hysterical assumptions that were promoted by news stations. Ironically, there seems to be silence on the issue of Ebola since the passing of midterm elections — simply something to consider.
That fact is that rather than contributing to the conversations that need to be had, American media distracts from them. The level of disproportionate and inaccurate reporting on important issues has been called out by the public consistently, yet the media seems obstinate in its desire to provide fodder for public panic and continue to spread misinformation as fact. What if we refused to respond as they expect us to, just as they continue to ignore the role we clearly expect them to act in? What if we simply stopped reacting and instead turned to international media channels like France 24 and Al Jazeera that report more credible stories? The media wants our viewership for their ratings, and we need to show them that the moment they act like news channels, and less like reality television shows selling the shock-factor, we will gladly return to them.