A dangerous relationship

Staff Editorial
Originally published April 20th, 1969

Simon Gibson Penrose

Simon Gibson Penrose

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Thomas Jefferson’s statement may be around 200 years old, but it is still highly relevant today.

The media is essential to the proper function of democracy. Without widely available and freely published news, it is impossible for citizens to be properly informed. In a system where the government is supposed to be run by the input of its citizens, the ability of people to inform themselves is paramount.

The power to inform requires responsible use.

The public, and by extension the nation as a whole, relies on receiving objective and unbiased news if it is to make good judgements and decisions.
This necessity for objective and truly informative news has been brought abruptly to the surface by the recent events in Ferguson, New York City and Cleveland regarding race and police violence. Our needs are not being met.

Much of the coverage of the killings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner has been skewed, biased and generally unhelpful to the national conversation about the serious issues of racial equality and police brutality that has emerged from these events.

According to Fox News, “For President Obama and his cronies, everything is political and everyone is a pawn. After a grand jury declined to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the White House and Department of Justice immediately pushed the meme that the issue in Ferguson was about racism and policing.”

Twisting an issue of police brutality into a dig at the Democrats and the Obama administration’s economic policy is a clear example of a news source taking advantage of events to advance a political agenda. Readers do not come away from articles like this more informed.

While Fox commits the most prominent of these manipulations, nearly every other news source, from NPR to CNN, is similarly at fault.

The deaths of Brown, Rice and Garner have highlighted the prominence of biased spins in modern media. The characterization of the victims of these incidents in particular has shown a lack of objectivity. Many conservatively skewed sources have focused on portraying Michael Brown as a “thug” who robbed a store and had marijuana in his system. Other more liberal sites have focused on the better aspects of his personality and highlighted his status as a prospective college student.

Both perspectives distract from the actual issues at hand. Instead of relaying important and relevant information to their audiences and letting them find their own thoughts on the issues, news sources are releasing coverage that attempts to sway readers to their side. The conversation strays from what happened and why it is important and becomes about whose opinion is right.

It is easy to understand why stories like this are published; news is a business, and human interest sells. Money is undermining the integrity of journalism.

At the end of the day, profit drives reporting. In turn, public interest decides what is profitable. A large part of fixing what is currently wrong with the news system in America involves changing the public’s attitude about news.

We can not be satisfied with a sensationalized 24 hour news cycle that regurgitates stories that enforce people’s biases as though they are facts. If we want newspapers to report what matters then we have to be willing to read that news, even if it it makes us challenge our stances on issues. Don’t be satisfied with less than the truth.