Published On: Tue, Aug 23rd, 2016

EDITORIAL: It has to be true.  I saw it on the Internet.    





Media bias…in national and regional media, the practice of providing commentary as news has become an everyday occurrence. The “liberal” press will accuse the “conservative” media of slanting or spinning stories toward a conservative position and vice versa. Fact-based journalism is taking a back seat to pundits who primarily, if not singularly, only care about making your mind up for you.

Especially since the rise of social media, opinion has begun to take the place of fact. We were discussing this in the office today, and the truth is that rumor sometimes creates reality.

We live in a very tightly knit society as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. We share a common bond with approximately 17,000 members with a native lineage. Of the 17,000, roughly half that number are living on our trust lands. Many of those people are very active in social media or just socially active in general. It is in these social situations that we are most susceptible to being led by rumor and speculation.

We got to see an example of that during a recent Cherokee One Feather poll. We asked a question about how you would vote if a referendum was held on alcohol. That was misconstrued by some of the readership to read that there was a vote pending on the alcohol issue. The ensuing discussion that followed centered on why we were having another vote on alcohol instead of the true focus of the hypothetical question.

One of my colleagues talked about how amazing it is that some people will spread questionable information only to come to believe their own story, even though they are basically aware that the information is based on speculation and not fact. Rumor is usually a negative story against someone or something. It stands to reason that those who spread rumor and gossip think at least the person has a propensity to commit the rumored act. From that line of thinking, it is an easy step to believing the rumor itself.

So, it is not unusual to encounter materials on the internet and within social circles that “stretch the truth”. It is also not unusual to find those who will share that elongated truth as fact without checking the validity of it. I am sure we have all watched the insurance commercial that recently aired that shows two people on a sidewalk sharing information that they read or saw on the internet with the caption “It has to be true.  I saw it on the internet”. But, as you see what they are discussing, it is obvious that there is very little truth to what they are seeing.

Back to media bias…there are many examples of how the news media takes liberties with people, actions, product and issues. Many times, they skew their reporting to their own or a corporate agenda. Pick two or three news programs on different channels or pick up two or three different newspapers and locate a story on a particular subject or happening. It is almost assured that you will find the story tainted with some form of bias from the writer, editor or publisher.

This practice in professional news media has gotten so bad that many news organizations either have become desensitized or simply don’t feel a moral, ethical obligation to control it. I was watching a national television newscast and was astonished at the number of times that the anchor of the program used their on-air journalists as analysts or experts on the subjects they were reporting on.

Anytime the anchor asked the journalist, “Do you think…” or “in your opinion…” during a report and the journalist gave an answer, he or she was violating the code of conduct that requires journalists to clearly separate opinion from fact, to report honestly and accurately without bias. Certainly a journalist may express their opinion publicly, but in a forum specifically communicated to the public that it is opinion and not documentable truth.

In a world where we are being bombarded with information, it more important than ever to be diligent in vetting what we hear and see. News organizations can no longer be taken at face value or reporters taken at their word. Make sure that those you put your trust in are adhering to an ethical code and challenge them to back their words up with facts. Sadly, just because you heard or saw it on the internet or from your BFF, doesn’t mean it will hold up to the truth test.