When to Trust Media

The line dividing trustworthy from sketchy media is when weighing the potential impacts of a decision transitions into describing a potential ramification as though it’s already set in the timeline. Even generally trustworthy sources face issues toeing the line, such as The Atlantic’s article, “Is It Time to Reassess the U.S.-South Korea Alliance.” The piece begins with some background information into the present-day situation and the history of U.S.-South Korea relations- pretty vanilla. A large topic of discussion during 2017 was U.S. deployment of anti-missile systems, specifically Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (or THAAD), in South Korea. THAAD was designed to shoot down ballistic missiles, protecting U.S. troops and South Korean citizens and deterring any North Korean interference. The topic of North Korea arises, how does North Korea react to increased U.S. territorial influence? This is where the author drives over the line and all the way to Saskatoon all by using one little word: “would.” If the U.S. decided to scale back the alliance, it “would hand the Kim regime a major victory…Pyongyang would be emboldened to continue trying to blackmail the U.S., South Korea, and Japan…Japan would worry that it may be next to be abandoned by America…Seoul and Tokyo would immediately begin considering developing their own nuclear and missile programs, instigating a nuclear-arms race that would spill over.” Just take a minute to digest all of that. That all came from only one paragraph in the entire article. There weren’t any qualifications made, so an unseasoned reader’s only option is to accept these predictions as truth. The author doesn’t offer any alternatives, which circles back to the dilemma of the public believing speculation. There’s no problem with theorizing in the news as long as the theories aren’t stated as fact; one can’t be expected to trust the conjecture of one author- especially one without any sources.

On the opposition, The Naval Institute published a passage, covering the same topic; however, the author veers away from predictive material instead surrounding the possible outcomes with safer language such as “might” and “may.” Also, the writer defends each statement. Compared to The Atlantic piece, The Naval Institute does not try to predict the future by escalating a topic so far into the future that the outcome is an arms race because anything can lead to an arms race; I could link security systems to a global arms race, but the possibility is daunting to most. The Naval Institute doesn’t use commanding vocabulary to incite a reader; it lays out the facts, the potential outcomes, and why each could occur.

The issue is even when analyzing trusted sources such as The Atlantic, media has a nasty habit of being predictive as opposed to simply stating facts, and some people don’t catch on. This isn’t necessarily an issue because it can aid in educating a reader without an all-encompassing background in the subject on the impact and scope of said subject. But unless the writers have developed the ability to see into the future or read minds…The writer could be right, or they could be wrong; they could say the sky was going to fall tomorrow, and they are either right or wrong. It isn’t that all media shouldn’t be trusted, it’s just that language can manipulate assumptions into posing as reality, and a reader can’t be expected to trust the conjecture of one author.

References:

Auslin, Michael. “Is It Time to Reassess the U.S.-South Korea Alliance?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 29 June 2017

“USN Aegis Anti-Missile Capability and the Deterrence of North Korea.” The Australian Naval Institute, navalinstitute.com.au/usn-aegis-anti-missile-capability-and-the-deterrence-of-north-korea/