What happens when a media story is wrong? – February 2023

Several years ago, there was a resolution which came through the policy development process advocating that a “truth in media” type of an agency should be established to police, or regulate, or do something with, the media.  One of our members who does media work reached out to the Wyoming Press Association and let them know about this resolution and during the committee process both the member and the representative from the Press Association advocated for the defeat of the policy.  Their efforts were successful in part because the cure in this case was worse than the disease.  We all recognize that a regulatory agency, however it is designed by Congress, will ultimately run into problems. Many of these problems would most likely be ones we in agriculture have experienced when we must deal with regulators who have a rule book and know how to use it to fit their agenda.

The press continually reminds us they are the “fourth estate” and they are guaranteed, by the U.S. Constitution, to be protected from government interference.  The benefits of free speech were recognized by the framers of the Constitution. Prior to our break from England if you were to stand up and criticize the government, in this case the king or queen, the consequences were severe.  A colonist who spoke out against the king could very easily find themselves arrested.  With that arrest, the authorities could subject you to significant enhanced interrogation techniques (see the 5th, 6th and 8th Amendments).  With this background, it is no surprise that the framers would reject efforts to put government in charge of speech.

Just because we don’t want the government to regulate the press, doesn’t mean that people don’t feel the press doesn’t abuse their power.

Many people probably don’t remember when there were two wire services.  There was United Press International or UPI and Associated Press or AP.  UPI went out of business leaving AP as the only wire service provider to the news media.  At the time, I remember some in the news media raising concerns about how this would affect the quality of reporting from the news media.  This concern was valid.  If anyone reads an AP article anymore, it seems more like an editorial rather than a reporting of events.  And they are tame compared to articles in the New York or LA Times.

If there is an article about former President Trump’s challenges to the recent election the AP will even add that any claims of an unfair election are “false claims.”  In AP’s rule book, it is now OK for the reporter or editor to add that statement instead of presenting the information and letting the reader decide.  Prior to AP doing this the news agency was more subtle.  They would approach a person the reporter agreed with and get their viewpoint, but oddly enough, they never approached a person whom with they disagreed.  Or if they did, you could bet the information would be in the last few paragraphs.  Influencing by omission, if you will.

Since AP has decided they should inform their readers that something is false, I was looking forward to seeing a report from AP about how the recent flooding in Yellowstone was not the result of climate change as they asserted in a number of articles.  Many climatologists pointed out the flooding wasn’t caused by climate change, so I expected AP to provide an article announcing that the previous claims were “false.” Fortunately, I’m not holding my breath, otherwise I would have passed out.

AP and other news organizations have decided their readers and listeners aren’t bright enough to figure things out when presented with the facts. I think it is only a matter of time before those entities will succumb to economics as future readers and listeners stop reading and listening to those news outlets.

We are already seeing this happen in newsprint as people seek their information from other sources.  This also has resulted in a lot of misinformation being put out there as people have to learn who they can trust and who they can’t trust.  So, what do we do?

We keep doing what we’ve been doing.  Looking for those information sources which are still trying to be unbiased.  Supporting those sources over the ones who blatantly try to manipulate your opinion.  Talking to people who are at meetings or participate in the meetings yourself to see what really happened. Filtering the news has never been easy and the time needed to do all this limits our ability to do the necessary work.  However, we can’t rely on a government agency to do this for us; judge what you hear or read against reality.

For myself, the easy part of this is to objectively analyze an article when I already have some skepticism about the subject matter.  When I read an article criticizing agriculture, my skepticism naturally increases.  The harder part is when I read an article with which I agree.  I must continually remind myself I must apply that same amount of skepticism to an article when I tend to agree with the subject matter.

The saying “perception is reality” isn’t the case.  If it was, we would not have had to deal with the reality of inflation.

By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President

 

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