The News Media's Culture of Confusion

Tuesday, 09 Jul 2013 09:02 AM

By Jon Friedman

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The Boston Marathon bombings. The Oklahoma tragedy. The IRS fiasco. The NSA debacle. The Egyptian uprising. The George Zimmerman trial. Football star Aaron Hernandez mixed up in stories about murders.
Through all of these major news explosions, one fact of life has remained constant.
The media have covered these stories at a fever pitch. 
It is as if the great proliferation of cable TV channels, 24/7 Internet cycles, real-time talk radio channels, and other forms of media have driven up the stakes to unreal proportions — because to today's journalists, what matters is grinding a story into dust, with continuous, mindless coverage, and not analyzing what it will mean for the present and in the future.
There is a noticeable lack of useful analysis. If anything, the journalists' overzealous nature has caused more problems for the public than anything else and contributed to the culture of confusion.
During the Boston chaos, CNN misreported that the law-enforcement authorities had apprehended the criminal and subsequently issued a public apology. This — and other errors — contributed mightily to the atmosphere of fear surrounding the heartbreaking Boston Marathon story.
Initially, the media made it seem like this was the handiwork of a major international terrorist network, much like we witnessed during the 9/11 terror bombings on the U.S. Of course, as the police informed us before long, it was the inspiration of two brothers who had no connection to global terror networks. 
Their scheme proved ultimately so amateurish that they committed a car-jacking to stage their getaway and decided, on the spur of the moment, to high-tail it down to New York City. This backward plotting is hardly the stuff of an Interpol investigation.
Is there a solution? Yes. Journalists should take a step back when they are confronted with an adrenaline-charged story, like the ones I included above. Of course, a reporter's first instinct is to break news and take credit for an exclusive. That shouldn't (and won't) ever change. But at the same time, the media profession should spend more time trying to analyze the news and not merely promote controversy — and fear.
If the media don't know all the facts, then don't offer up semi-hysterical theories or half-baked conclusions about what had happened or what it all might mean. 
What was it that the legendary TV cop Joe Friday of "Dragnet" used to say? Just the facts. Just the facts.
Jon Friedman writes the Media Matrix blog for He is also the author of "Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)Invention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution." Read more reports from Jon Friedman — Click Here Now.

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