STAFF: News as we know it amounts to little more than political commentary

Two articles published in response to party conventions leading up to the 2016 presidential election by Elizabeth Wellington for ThePhiladelphia Inquirer.

“Melania Trump wears white dress, captures ‘white is right’ essence of the GOP.” 

“Hillary Clinton wears white pantsuit, captures hope & democratic essence of America.”

Published by the same journalist just 9 days apart in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, these two articles present a blatant hypocrisy. Can the color white’s symbolism — if such even exists — change so dramatically within a week? Or perhaps, is it truly the color that these articles are really getting at?

Unfortunately, both of these articles’ fatal flaws — sensationalizing a clear non issue and presenting politically-charged contradictions — have become all too commonplace in modern news. The sources relied on for factual information now often present some ambiguous combination of political bias, misrepresented facts, and sensationalized headlines masquerading as unbiased reporting.  

In light of the rise of the digital age and the fall of traditional print journalism, headlines have borne the brunt of changes in the media. When highly contested topics such as the COVID-19 pandemic or President Biden’s latest executive order arise, it becomes increasingly tempting for news outlets to pick a “side.”Why bother with the monotony of stricts facts when instead, you can plaster a bold, eye-catching headline on your front page? 

Perhaps both out of necessity and nature, these headlines which exaggerate and misrepresent information are becoming the media’s way of garnering attention. From clicks to shares, the underlying reason isn’t always political — sensationalism just sells.

Regardless, as consumers’ habits change to involve more scrolling and skimming, these headlines are primarily what contribute to “fake news.” Few are willing to read beyond the flashy titles or corroborate the information with other sources, leaving readers to fill in the gaps with opinions formed based on a one-sentence glimpse into an article.  Expectedly, often multiple interpretations or versions of the same news story begin to circulate, many inaccurate.

For example, during a 2018 shooting where a Dallas police officer entered the wrong apartment and mistakenly shot her unarmed neighbor, the media presented the story in different ways. Fox News published “Amber Guyger says she entered victim’s apartment by mistake at end of her shift, thought it was hers.” CNN, on the other hand, reported “Amber Guyger, who is white, was off-duty when she shot Jean, a black man, after mistakenly entering his apartment.” At its core, both outlets simply tailored the story to their readership. Fox emphasized how the officer didn’t intend to shoot, while CNN highlighted the innocence of the black neighbor and criminality of the white officer. 

In terms of actual substantive content, selective reporting — cherry-picking facts or circumstances to include in an article — is another form of bias the news media is notorious for. Journalists compromise their integrity, or at least bend it, when purposely omitting or minimizing information that would contextualize their reporting. If an outlet is reporting on how scholars at a congressional hearing voiced support for a certain cause, it would be critical to include who invited them and under what circumstances.

Another notable example of selective reporting arises with scientific studies or reports. A report from the University of California notes that the media often amplifies studies undermining climate change, presenting a false sense of balance. Despite the studies lacking proper scientific inquiry or credibility, they are blasted on all fronts to reinforce climate change skeptics. This also leads to disproportionate visibility with some stories occupying front-page slots in an attempt to fit a political agenda. 

Even when consumers have complete freedom over the news sources they frequent, they must further navigate a minefield of inaccurate, biased reporting. When misinformation is so democratized by even our trusted news sources, do they even warrant the title of being news?

Probably not. 

Poll based on a cross-section of 600 students

Even when consumers have complete freedom over the news sources they frequent, they must further navigate a minefield of inaccurate, biased reporting. When misinformation is so democratized by even our trusted news sources, do they even warrant the title of being news?

Probably not. 

A newsstand displays a variety of news magazines for purchase in Germany. Photo courtesy of Markus Spiske & Unsplash.

A poll conducted on a cross-section of 600 East students found that 23.7% of respondents said that CNN was the most reliable news source, with 22% reporting ABC and another 20% in support of Fox News. 

Based on a scientific analysis conducted by All Sides, all three of the news outlets East students said are most reliable lean into political bias. CNN and Fox News, in fact, were found to be in the most extreme category of political lean — though on opposite ends of the spectrum. 

While these news sources fall among the most viewed news outlets nationwide, even beyond East, it’s important to recognize that they aren’t devoid of factual information. Often, it’s the context and presentation of otherwise accurate news that leads to bias and eventually develops a politically-leaning readership. In an attempt to keep ratings up and simply stay in business, news sources play into their readers’ inclinations—that’s what makes them “trustworthy” to begin with. 

In the end, news sources understand that it’s human nature to gravitate towards those with similar beliefs. For some outlets, that expectation will not supersede the responsibility to provide factual information. And yet for many others, they’ve perfected their recipe: news but with a few missing ingredients and unconventional cooking methods. 

And it’s a recipe that will sell — time and time again.

While Aryav Bothra wrote this staff editorial, its contents represent the opinions & viewpoints of the staff as a whole.

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