The Race to the Bottom of the News Barrel

What was the spark? A MAGA hat worn by mostly white male teens? Was this a clear case of stereotyping?

Stereotyping or Social Categorization is a cognitive process by which we put individuals into social groups and respond to them as members of a social group, instead of individuals. This can lead to negative interactions. For example, a young liberal might take issue with anyone they identify as a conservative Baby Boomer. Any number of people might be instantly offended by someone they perceive as a privileged white male. We live in angry times.

MAGA – Make America Great Again

Social Categorization is what happened in January 2019 when someone posted, on Twitter, a short video taken at the ‘March for Life’ event. The video was said to be proof that Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School Boys (some of them wore MAGA hats) had harassed a Native American and a group of Black Men at the Lincoln Memorial. The Native American, Nathan Phillips said he believed  “These young men were beastly, and these old black individuals was their prey, and I stood in between them and so they needed their pounds of flesh and they were looking at me for that.”

The video (sent out from a Twitter account that was later shut down by Twitter for fake and misleading registration) went viral. Prominent individuals and numerous news media picked up the story and ran it without verifying the accuracy. The teens were vilified. There were calls for the student’s expulsion from school; they were threatened with harm, and in a few cases, there were death threats.

Sober second thought came after a careful review of the many videos that were taken that day. These showed that the viral video did not accurately depict what had happened. It simply depicted the story that the video wanted people to believe – ‘privileged young white males’ are evil. The video clip didn’t show that the ‘Men Behaving Badly’, were the Black Hebrew Israelites who were yelling homophobic slurs and racist insults and the Native American who thrust himself at the students.

A significant number of personalities and members of the media, after looking at the full videos, retracted their stories, or apologized for what they had said about the boys.  Other people, however, would not correct their attack stories.

Enter Attorney Robert Barnes.

The threat of litigation has perhaps led to a few more apologies. ‘The Weekly’, (a news program on CBC  which is a Canadian Federal Government Crown Corporation) hosted by veteran reporter Wendy Mesley,  apologized and corrected their story, but not until March 10. They said they “regret characterizing those teens as ‘teenage bullies’” and corrected what they said was an erroneous statement.

Why would it take almost 2 months to issue an apology for running a story based on a viral video on Twitter? What does this say about investigative reporting? What does this say to the consumers and readers of just about all forms of media today?

What can you do to avoid jumping to biased conclusions?

  • Read a range of views from across the spectrum – right, left and middle.
  • Be skeptical about every story that tells you what your viewpoint should be.
  • Be willing to accept that people are not the same as the social categories you put them in.
  • Accept that opposing viewpoints might be just as valid as yours because they are likely based on bias too…

What is an example of a biased opinion you held until you read and understood the validity of a contradictory assessment?

8 thoughts on “The Race to the Bottom of the News Barrel

  1. I try not to believe everything I read – either online or in newspapers these days. Opinion has replaced fact as the underlying driver of most “news” stories. Right now I’d say the story I’m most “curious” about is the US College Admissions scandal – were the parents who participated fully aware that what they were doing was illegal / unethical or were they blinded by the desire to get their kids the best education possible using any means available (and given the opportunity to do so) and failed to consider the consequences? (Believe me, I’ve seen my share of overeager/ overanxious parents demanding “better marks” or “another chance” for their [college-aged] students and none of them think they are doing anything “wrong” by threatening, offering bribes, etc.) I also can’t see why the children are being penalized (losing jobs, etc.) because of what their parents did – were they complicit in the acts? I suppose it will take a long time to find the “truth”, but in the meantime, these people are living through h*** and being vilified for being “rich”. There doesn’t seem to be any support for the “innocent until proven guilty” theory in this 24/7 news cycle we’re forced to live in.

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