Join Today!

The Mainstream Media Creates Outrage and Obfuscation

know your facts undo the work Oct 27, 2022
Repeating: What the %$&#? in white across a brown background. The phrase is in bold and red in the center.

The mainstream and fringe media both seem to have found a model that works for clicks and views – outrage. It seems the role of US journalism is no longer to inform, but instead to generate profits. As a for profit model, it benefits television and print media to lead with outrageous or misleading headlines.

Misleading Headlines

When so many people only read headlines without reading the articles, this is dangerous. For people with large social media followings, sharing partial information to generate outrage gets likes and retweets, regardless of which political party they support.

@JoJoFromJerz tweeted, “HOLD ON - Clarence Thomas, someone whose wife plotted to overturn the 2020 election, just blocked a Georgia grand jury subpoena seeking testimony from Lindsey Graham related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election? And this is just somehow ok?”

Even if they mean well and believe what they say, sharing partial information or misinformation to large audiences already primed to be angry is a dangerous way to operate, especially when we’re living in a “post truth” society where people believe they can make up their own facts.

Beyond the Headlines

If the media and influencers only used partial facts and misleading headlines as a way to get viewers and then presented full information, it would still be wrong. But mainstream media often follows what’s been working for fringe media:

  • continuing the outrage in the content of the story
  • using misleading information in the content of the story
  • only citing/quoting sources with a vested interest in not sharing the full story

@PalmerReport on Twitter has been fierce and no nonsense about his followers getting sidetracked by outrage in the runup to the midterms.

“Clarence Thomas has NOT “blocked” Lindsey Graham’s Fulton County testimony. Thomas is simply presenting the case to the other Justices so they can decide whether to take up up the case. Nothing will happen unless four Justices decide to rake up Graham’s case, which they won’t.”

“But hey, the media knows it can make you so outraged with headlines like “Clarence Thomas blocks Lindsey Graham’s testimony” you won’t even realize it’s not a real thing. Meanwhile many of you will waste today ranting about this non-story, instead of trying to win the midterms 🤬”

Copaganda

You may have heard me or others talk about copaganda, when media outlets take a police statement at face value and report it as fact, knowing that police departments have been proven to misrepresent the facts and outright lie to make themselves either look like heroes or look like the victims in a situation.

Alec Karakatsanis (@equityalec on twitter) consistently calls out the media for reporting state propaganda as news without question. Just a few days ago, he analyzed a New York Times article for misinformation.

“THREAD. This weekend, the New York Times published misinformation it knew to be false. Because the stakes are so high, I try my best to explain what the paper did why it is so dangerous.”

The article is about New York militarizing the subway, adding surveillance cameras to train cars as well as plainclothes and uniformed armed officers. The article states that there have been nine murders on the subway this year compared to an average of about two per year for the previous five years, and people are fearful. But then the first example of violence they give immediately after that statement is that someone was killed when they fell off the platform and onto the tracks during rush hour during a fight. While that is violence and death, it’s not murder.

The article then states that 40% of the murders were believed to be committed by people with “mental health problems.” So four out of nine murders were possibly committed by people with a mental health disorder. This reads to me like fear mongering. Studies show that people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. This framing needlessly reinforces a dangerous stigma.

Mayor Eric Adams, a former transit police officer stated, “If New Yorkers don’t feel safe, we are failing.” He said the goal of the plan is “the omnipresence of police officers and the removal of those who are dealing with mental health issues.” [emphasis mine] This is a dangerous frame of mind for someone with power over others. Why isn’t the goal to educate the public on the facts?

If more police officers and a larger police presence reduced crime, the United States would be the safest place on Earth. But it’s not. This country has proven over and over that more police does not lead to safer communities. It leads to more violence against citizens. But New York is prepared to use state public emergency funds to pay for police overtime.

The article implies that bail reform is why people with mental illness and violent criminals are on the streets, quoting Democratic City Councilman from Queens Robert F. Holden as saying, “This is welcome news, but without changing laws, these additional cops will only be rearresting the same people. Gov. Kathy Hochul must call an emergency session of the State Legislature and repeal bail reform.”

Bail for nonviolent crimes does more harm than good. Bail reform reduces or eliminates bail for nonviolent crimes, which allows those charged with a crime to live their lives while they await trial. They can go to work and take care of their families instead of throwing their lives into chaos as they waste away in a cell just because they can’t afford a random fee. Bail is supposed to guarantee that the accused shows up to court. Jailing people who can’t afford bail for nonviolent crimes like traffic violations and misdemeanors is a business enterprise that the state does not want to give up! The law says people are innocent until proven guilty. So let people live their lives instead of punishing them before they are even judged.

I was going to post a tweet from a lawyer about the success of bail reform in NYC, but Olayemi Olurin (@msolurin) explains it passionately.

“It’s time to DEBUNK all the lies, copaganda, and fearmongering around BAIL REFORM and crime in NYC!! Not only has bail reform not caused a rise in crime, felonies, or rearrest, but it’s been incredibly successful!”

The article also brings up the governor’s race twice, stating that the incumbent Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul has a slim lead and implies that subway violence is partially responsible for the Republican candidate having so much support.

Alec Karakatsanis points out in his Twitter thread that “The article is almost entirely state propaganda. There is not a single skeptical voice in the article providing a critical perspective or *actually available evidence*. Take a look at the sources in the article in chronological order by paragraph:”

How can you stay alert to outrage media and propaganda?

  1. Question headlines. It’s easy to react to a headline before you have all the facts. Follow people like @equityalec and @PalmerReport because when misinformation is trending, they will talk about what’s not being promoted by the media.
  2. Question if statements presented as fact are really facts. If the media keeps saying crime is up and doesn’t cite sources or statistics, why don’t they? It was easy for me to find this FBI report, stating that while some violent and drug crime is up, overall, crime in the United States is down, especially property crime. But the media doesn’t get into nuance.
  3. Notice when politicians, police, and other state actors push a narrative that focuses on individual behavior and ignores large-scale crime like wage theft by businesses, OSHA violations, and other large-scale corruption. Handling major crime that individuals have very little power to fight against could make a difference for hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of people. But they focus on individuals.
  4. Notice when stories don’t cite experts, research, or the people affected by the policies being promoted. Everyone cited in the New York Times story has a vested interest in locking up poor and mentally ill people (populations who don’t have the power to fight state exploitation) for profit. None of them suggested ways to address systemic issues. They promoted force.
  5. Pay attention to the things that are linked through implication. The article never says outright that Gov. Huchol is in a tight race because of subway crime. It never says outright that mentally ill people are the main cause of subway crime. It doesn’t say outright that bail reform is the cause of subway crime. But each of these things is implied with no evidence (because they aren’t true). The article mentions nine unconnected murders, (and I’m not sure every death they are counting is a murder since they described an accidental death as an example) and spends the rest of the space arguing for more power to lock people up for being poor or mentally ill.

 

Download 4 Steps to Make Equity a Habit...and join our mailing list.

(We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information for any reason.)
Gimme the Download!