The rest of the story: filtered news is as big a threat as fake news
Before you dismiss this post as political rhetoric just because of the first sentence in the next paragraph, let me point out that this is not a political post nor is it analyzing the media’s position on the political spectrum.
I had to attend the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference this past weekend, and looking at two articles produced by mainstream media outlets about the event made me realize there is something more inherently dangerous than fake news. The amount of filtered news that is arriving in our inboxes — and I suppose for some still on their doorstep — is a bigger threat to the public’s level of understanding on any given issue.
Fake news is, of course, a ridiculous blight on our society. But some of it is so over-the-top that most people who consider themselves independent or moderate in their politics and their thinking can see that right away.
But what about filtered news that is provided by what people might consider more mainstream and less-biased news outlets? It’s quite possible you’re only getting some of the story, because the whole story has been through the filtered lens of a journalist and their editor.
When I taught journalism at Michigan State University, I made sure my students understood that what they chose to put in an article was critically important — but that what they chose to leave out of an article was quite possibly just as vital.
To return to the example from this weekend, consider two articles that were produced to give people a take on whether there was a President Donald Trump vibe as statewide leaders in the Republican Party converged on Mackinac Island.
If you weren’t there and only read these two pieces, you might be confused on what really happened. Worse, if you only read one of the pieces, you would be misinformed because of the filtering that occurred.
In the first piece, posted at MLive, they ran, among other things, a photo and a cutline about Trump shirts being sold at the conference, noting that Trump support was alive and well.
Michigan News The Grand Hotel pictured Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. Lauren Gibbons | firstname.lastname@example.org Republican…www.mlive.com
Looking at one of the photos prominently featured, which I am sharing here, one would get the impression that there was not just a Trump vibe, but an angry one at that. What they left out were photos of the other shirts for sale on that same table — the ones with quotes from throughout history, including those from other presidents such as Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan. And how many shirts, ties, and hats for sale were actually purchased? I didn’t see anyone lining up to buy anything the few times I wandered past the table.
In the second piece, posted at The Detroit News, two editors wrote a commentary discussing how surprised they were that there wasn’t much Trump talk on the island all weekend. They made it seem like no one was interested in talking about him and, apparently, based some of their conclusion on the lack of Make America Great Again hats on the island.
Mackinac Island -- The elephant in the room was missing here as state Republicans gathered to discuss strategy ahead of…www.detroitnews.com
So, which is it? Was there a rabid pro-Trump undertow at the conference, or was it impossible to find any Trump loyalists? The thing is, both news reports are sort of right and sort of wrong.
It’s true there wasn’t a lot of chest-thumping about President Trump, but it’s also true that there were people who had Trump paraphernalia. The reality of what was going on lands somewhere squarely in the middle.
So the moral of this story? Make sure that, once you have dismissed the obvious fake news, you go one step further. Instead of just finding one report on an event from one news outlet, find at least one if not two or three more reports. By the time you’ve read three or four accounts of what happened, you might have about 80 percent of what occurred covered. Otherwise, you run the risk of proudly proclaiming how you can’t be duped by fake news only to be misled by filtered news.
The long-time radio host Paul Harvey had a regular segment called “The Rest of the Story.” While he’s long since left us, we should all channel a little Paul Harvey, wondering just what else might be going on that got left out of the news that day.