Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Sinclair Broadcast Group’s message is covertly deceptive

I want proof that news sources are making an effort to be accountable to their audience
(Sinclair Broadcast Group/ Official Facebook)

Fake news is bad. Duh.

It’s a common assertion, and indeed, it is incumbent on all who believe in open discourse and progress to challenge toxic misinformation.

But going no further than denouncing fake news can become a problem too, particularly for journalists and other people in power who have great influence over the distribution of information. Anyone with a camera or microphone can proclaim they’re on the side of capital-T Truth. But as a consumer of the news, I want more than that: I want proof that news sources are making an effort to be accountable to their audience.

Sinclair Broadcast Group—a media conglomerate, which, according to the Washington Post, owns 173 stations in 81 broadcast markets—failed to give me that proof when the organization sent dozens of news organizations a speech condemning fake news. The script was laid out word-for-word for several broadcast networks, allowing observers to stitch together several of these moments into one unified chant in a viral video.

The issue with the broadcast isn’t that it’s inaccurate—after all, “fake news” is, in fact, “dangerous for our democracy,” as the diatribe asserts—but that the script fails to illuminate the issue. In fact, I would argue that rather than urging viewers to think critically about what they are reading, this message reinforces the viewer’s bias by leaving the definition of fake news to the viewer’s interpretation. Let’s break it down.

The script says, “The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media… some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think.’”

This is where the speech hooks viewers by stating a popular belief. We encounter what we believe to be false articles throughout social media regardless of our political orientation, and we all witness incorrect claims on the daily. But a liberal might think of Infowars, Fox News and Breitbart, while a conservative might think of CNN, Occupy Democrats and clever memes shared on the Internet. There’s no reason here for either side to question their own interpretation.

“We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left nor right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever,” the script continues.

At first read, this sounds like a positive note: Reporting should be objective and fair to both sides. But fairness—and pursuing truth—is a complicated topic. It first requires an agreement not only on factual reporting, but also how that is defined. When we’re talking about fake news, we are talking about specificviolations of journalistic protocol: not judging reliability of sources, improper data analysis, loaded language, nondisclosure of opinion and more.

So, when you have dozens of newscasters spewing out the same line about “biased and false news” without defining those things, what you’re really doing is reinforcing the preconceived notion viewers already have about what “fake news” means. Avoiding the difficult matter of encouraging viewers to think critically about the sorts of news they might be reading, Sinclair positions itself as a reputable source standing against the elusive fake news.

And it’s not that the Truth is “neither left nor right”—that notion dismisses the real possibility one side or the other may actually be on the side of truth on a given issue. The Truth lies beneath a multitude of sources, subtly and sporadically interlocked between lines of manipulation, misinformation and noisy bot code. Finding the truth means extracting important takeaways from the noise.

“If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to [local news site].com and clicking on Content Concerns,” the script concludes.

To tie it nicely, the broadcast ends with you. After declaring a threat and striking fear about a real issue in viewer’s hearts and abstaining from giving us tools with which to combat it, Sinclair is asking you to tell them when they are being unfair. But again, since we have no agreement on how fair works, it’s really up to each viewer’s point of view.

Connecting with consumers on a local level sounds good, especially since the station wants to perform on covering events that matter to the people. But leaving viewers who may be subject to manipulation in charge of establishing a moral compass does little more than to satisfy the locality’s own confirmation bias.

It’s quite ironic, actually: we have newscasters telling people to be vigilant about news stories that produce misinformation, but through either manipulation or a lack of self-awareness, the broadcast does not clearly inform what that misinformation looks like. Coupling this with the fact the local journalists had no say in the details of this broadcast shows that this script is indicative of top-level messaging that echoes the same “fake news” we should all be fighting against.

Many news organizations make this mistake, though, so the problem is not limited to Sinclair—however, its reach is disconcerting when you account for how sprawling the organization has become. So, to fight fake news, we don’t need unfalsifiable promises. We need education and a media that preaches critical thinking. That is what we, as news consumers, need to demand in the market of ideas.

James Mazarakis is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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  • N

    NITZAKHONApr 25, 2018 at 9:34 am

    There’s a reason – backed by data – why I refer to “mainstream” media as the ENEMEDIA or MISLEADIA.

    There’s a reason – backed by data – why I have renamed places:

    The New York Times-Traitor
    Washington Post Fabricator
    Communist (or Clinton) News Network
    National Progressive Radio
    Boston Globalist

  • J

    John aimoApr 19, 2018 at 1:10 am

    A fake news article about fake news outlet that was warning of fake news.

    This is why nobody takes the news serious, this article and other reporting by liberal media towards Sinclair is obvious it’s just an attempt to discredit the competition.

    There is no ‘truth’ reported in any news, the news is reported sensationally and at about a level any eigth grader could comprehend. The sad thing is that colleges are peddling news as an ‘informative source’, it just shows you how much of a joke contemporary education is.

    Why even bother trying to teach people anything. Just draw them stick figures with yes and no and tell them what is right and wrong, no thinking required.

    This is basically what colleges want students to take away from an education today.