Why We Shouldn’t Trust The News

In December 2014 the US

government released a report on interrogation techniques employed by the CIA since 9/11 It caused great controversy over its revelations of torture methods used against suspected terrorists But in the media, another trend was developing A quick search on Google will show that CNN was reporting the news with headlines like these: Meanwhile, Fox News headlines read slightly differently: Most controversially, Fox News analyst KT

McFarland dismissed the Senate report on CIA torture as one last shot by the Democrats at former President Bush Even though all news broadcasters present themselves as positioned in the political centre, these headlines suggest that there is some degree of political bias and spin in the way they report the news In this case, CNN adopted a more culpable and arguably pro-Democrat response; while Fox News emphasised Republican spokespersons who defended the CIA's methods The worrying thing is that mainstream media are our chief source of information on current affairs and politics – 55% of Americans get their news from TV But can we really trust the news? The danger of untrustworthy news is that the public may become misinformed and act upon that misinformation accordingly

On the one hand, misinformation might inspire people to foster unhealthy social attitudes based on race, gender or class On the other hand, they might use that misinformation to make important decisions, such as whom to vote for in elections, which in turn affects the future course of the country's wellbeing This is why political bias in the media is such a hot topic A Gallup poll in 2011 found that 47% of Americans think the media is too liberal This even split in the public perception of the media may explain why, in 2013, Fox News was rated as both the most trusted and the least trusted news network in the USA

The question is: which half of the population is correct? Should Fox News be trusted or not? A 2007 review of general political knowledge among audiences found that Fox News scored 35%, the same as the national average However, when it came to specific issues, Fox News viewers showed a statistically significant tendency to be misinformed For example, a 2010 study by Stanford University found that viewers who relied on Fox News were 66% more likely than all others to hold misperceptions about climate change, and to reject scientific evidence for climate change Over 12,000 scientific papers agree that climate change is happening, and 97% of them conclude that humans are the primary cause In 2003, a study found that Fox viewers were significantly more likely to be misinformed regarding the USA's foreign policy, specifically regarding Iraq

In 2011, a Fairleigh Dickinson University study found that New jersey Fox News viewers were less well informed than people who watched no news at all However, these studies only prove a correlation between Fox viewers and ignorance: they do not prove that Fox News is the direct cause And Fox News is far from alone in its bias and influence A 2005 study by UCLA showed that 18 of the 20 major news networks leaned further to the political left than the average member of Congress In the 2006 elections, Rasmussen Reports found that ABC, CBS and NBC were more favourable towards Democrat John Kerry, while Fox was supportive of George Bush

CNN is usually found to be the most fair and balanced in its reporting, but it has a tendency to support the government's position on any matter or consider government sources to be the most reliable Misreporting the news happens more often than you might think In 2013 CNN, the Associated Press and Fox News mistakenly reported that a 'dark-skinned' suspect had been arrested on the day of the Boston Marathon bombing when no arrest had been made A year earlier, they misidentified the killer in the Sandy Hook shootings ABC News carelessly linked the Aurora Colorado killer to the Tea Party

And in 2012 CNN and Fox News wrongly reported that Obamacare had been struck down by the Supreme Court Such mistakes are usually the result of the race to report the news first – but how can we trust the instant updates on the news when they might not have been properly checked? News networks not checking their sources is a real problem A branch of independent project Politifact regularly checks the facts reported by the major news networks Currently, they've found that, of the news items they've studied, just 55% of the facts reported by CNN are true, only 42% of ABC's reporting is true and merely 34% of NBC's facts studied are true According to this study, at least one fifth of the facts reported by all networks are false

Studies suggest that by far the most informative network is NPR/PBS PBS is also the only network to garner more trust that distrust: 52% of people trust it, while only 29% do not The extreme divisions between those who trust news networks and those who don't might be a reflection of the increasingly polarised politics of the USA: but the relationship between biased news reporting and polarised viewers has yet to be revealed Should all news be unbiased and neutral, or should we allow some networks to cater to existing biases in the population? It is therefore reassuring that, according to Gallup polls, less than a quarter of Americans trust TV news Overall, only 40% of Americans trust mass media

This is very different to the 68% of Americans who trusted mass media back in 1972 Gallup suggests that one of the chief reasons for this growing distrust of the media and major news outlets is the growth of the Internet and its increasing number of independent news providers, as well as the increased ability of consumers to verify information presented by the news Should we trust the news? Perhaps not without a pinch of salt As long as we remember to think intelligently about the biases of our sources, and to recognise that information can be selectively presented, we shouldn't worry about the potential for the news to mislead us "

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