Yesterday I characterized the last decade as “The Lying Zeroes” because so much of the activity of government, business, other institutions and individuals either created lies or was based on lies.
The news media turned out to be a primary vehicle for spreading lies, and in stating this I am including the Internet, all websites, blogs and chat rooms, as part of the news media. In fact, the most obvious reason for the rapid spreading of lies during “The Lying Zeroes” is the enormous growth of Internet news media, with its currently very low entry fee for becoming a carrier of information to the public. Websites, chat rooms, blogs, social networking pages and now tweets are ways to spread lies.
But the news media’s contributions to “The Lying Zeroes” go beyond technology. Here are some other woeful media trends that helped to create or communicate lies:
- The consolidation of media so that the ownership of mass media outlets is in fewer hands, leading to fewer editorial voices, especially on talk radio, now dominated by right-wingers who lie (not all right-wingers do) and who over the past 10 years have replaced a far wider set of opinions voiced by local radio personalities.
- Getting too cozy with government sources, which led to Judith Miller’s false reports in The New York Times about weapons of mass destruction and the misleading reporting from the Iraqi war front.
- Not fact-checking government sources, which allowed Dick Cheney and others to keep spreading false reports of Iraqi involvement with Al Qaeda.
- The “Matt Drudge” technique, which involves quoting another news source on assertions that turn out to be false so that you can tell the story you want to tell without first actually checking facts.
- The use of balanced reporting to conflate the factual statements of one group with the unfactual statements of other groups, as in the recent healthcare debate or most public issues involving science.
- The shrinking of mass media. With fewer reporters out there, more are relying on government statements, the reports of others and news releases for their information.
- Continued lower standards related to the truth content in commercials, not just by politicians but by a huge range of charlatans offering hair growth, greater virility, a way out of pressing debt problems, magic cures and unbelievable investments.
There is nothing we can or should do about the proliferation of media, and therefore lying, on the Internet, except to maybe establish more organizations to serve as Internet “truth sheriffs.” But the established mass media really should clean up its act by raising the standards of its reporting and demanding that its advertisers tell the truth.