I think we would all agree that when it comes to watching, listening or reading information thrown at us from the news media, we are often misled or told only partial truths. Unless we are experts in a subject or an event being covered by the news, we usually suffer from "credulity" (meaning: willingness to believe or trust too readily, esp. without proper or adequate evidence). "After all," we think, "such a respectable institution surely would tell us everything or certainly would not mislead us." What is amazing to me is how often I still find myself falling victim to my own delusions when I know good and well I'm never getting the whole story from the media. For some reason, it seems to be human nature to want to believe that the media is telling us what we need to know, because we want the truth so badly. I am reminded of my weakness to succumb to the media's prevarication techniques when a news item flashes up, but I happen to know everything about the subject. Sure enough, they don't get it right and I become furious with them. Do I really think it only happened that one time? That would be foolish for me to think that way. But, it doesn't take long, and I'm back to believing-even if cautiously-I believe, because I want to believe. Since I'm not usually gullible person, I would have to say the press is really that good.
Oh...What is prevarication you ask? The dictionary says it means to speak falsely or misleadingly; deliberately misstate or create an incorrect impression; even to lie. Interestingly, the word's roots carry the meaning of straddling something, implying the colloquial phrase of which we all know the meaning, "riding both sides of the fence." Prevarication is related to the word equivocate or equivocation, which means to stray from or evade the truth, usually through being deliberately ambiguous or use of words that can provoke multiple interpretations. Humm...sound like anything you have heard before, besides politicians? You might say, "That's just spin and we are used to it and can tell when it's happening." I will grant you that the art of spin fits into the definition of prevarication. But, prevarication is much more insidious because we really can't tell when it's happening until it's too late. We all have prevaricated at one time or another and the world is full of people who have made an art of the technique. I submit the news media has crafted the technique to an art form and they will even openly admit at times, plus defend it as necessary for the public good. I think "they" even believe their own spin, if you insist on using that term. Now, if believing your own deceptions is not the epitome of prevarication, I don't know what else is. (If you are a media mogul, I'm sorry. Well, not really.)
Let's talk about an example. There is one particular area, of many, where the media has done a fine job (using the term "fine" as loosely as you can imagine) reporting what they think the public wants to hear instead of the objective truth. This is in the matter of reporting criminal proceedings and the supposed sentences the victims or the public wants to see as a result. The media loves to sensationalize on the worst parts of crimes, to the point of getting so overly zealous about speculation that the hypothetical scenarios they present start becoming reality in the minds of the public. If the truth that finally comes out happens to be less sensational, you will usually find it on the back page or a 10 second TV spot near the end of the news program. OK, I will be charged with that being an unfair exaggeration. But, it happens more often than not and you know it, don't you?
So, do people really want "blood" every time they hear about a crime where the victims happen to be their neighbors or fellow citizens? Sometimes, yes, but, not as many times as you might think. For example, what is your feeling when you witness media frenzy promoting merciless punishment? Maybe there are certain cases where you would feel that way without the assistance of the media. Yet, is that how you would often feel? Ask yourself this question, "if everyone else thought or felt the way I do about crimes and the people who have committed them, would I write the media dialog or cover the stories the way I see it being done today?" The "lock that horrible person up and throw away the key" syndrome is promoted by the media under the usual "we are merely reporting what the public wants to hear" copout rhetoric. That's hogwash. Are you with me on this or do I need to give you proof? OK, proof it is.
Allow me to remind you of a recent crime that took such an unusual turn towards mercy that the media dropped it like a hot rock. Do you recall the mass murder of the children in a school classroom in the little town of Paradise, Pennsylvania less than a year ago? If not, you're not alone. If I said it was the killing of the little Amish girls, then you remember, don't you? Is there any crime more egregious than a man shooting eleven little girls, execution style, killing five and leaving six others for dead? It was so terrible that the man's suicide left many feeling like he should be resurrected, tried and given a proper execution. That's a pretty natural reaction if I say so myself. This story took off in the news like the other stories of school shootings and killings. What horrible crimes these are! Our nation's children are being murdered by the dozens at places we use to feel were the safest places on earth. Why is it then, the other school killings have taken up more press time than the Amish school shooting?
Within a few days of the Amish school children killings, we were told that the parents of these children and the Amish community were forgiving the now dead murderer of their children and held no ill-will against the killer's wife or family. In fact, it was reported that their faith dictated that they show mercy even when the crime against them is so serious as to include murder of their children. When in modern American life have you seen or heard such a newsworthy story as that? Such mercy and forgiveness is hardly seen anywhere today. When I heard it I thought for sure we would see all kinds of news programs on the subject. You know what I mean. We often see the media take one little unusual twist and go off for weeks exploring every nuance and repeating their coverage over and over. However, in this case, I heard nary a word about the matter after a week. What? How can that be I thought. I said to others, "this story is huge, these people (the Amish) are doing something considered revolutionary if not crazy by some people's standards, and we are not hearing anything more about this."
Some might claim that since the Amish didn't really want much publicity about it the media respected their wishes and left them alone and so the story died. Nonsense. When has the media ever left someone alone because they asked for it? That kind of thing usually only fuels the fire. In every other case where there are tight lips, the media finds others, like "experts" to interview. I submit that if those people were angry and wanted "blood" the media would have graciously given such a story much more attention. So am I getting off track or is this an example of the term I think I have coined, "Media Prevarication?" I'm not accusing the media of lying to us about the Amish case (although I have no evidence to support they told the truth either). I am suggesting they continue to create incorrect impressions of what the public believes is truth, untruth, right, wrong, important, unimportant, etc. by putting more emphasis on some stories or subjects and less on others. Because the media dropped such an important story as the Amish's unprecedented mercy the implication is that such a thing is bad, unimportant, mundane, routine or otherwise not that newsworthy. It then becomes, in effect, self-fulfilling. Since the lack of coverage implies unimportance, then it in fact becomes unimportant. Of course, such a thing is then thrown on the publics' back when the media later says they merely report what the public wants to hear. Oh, really?