The dictionary defines “news” as “a report of recent events.” Based on that definition most of what is reported on television, radio, cable and internet doesn’t qualify as “news.” This is especially true of political reporting, but is also true of almost every other topic. The short answer to this question is that “predictions” are not news, and “commentaries” are not news.
About a week ago I visited my brother on Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. We were shocked to find extensive damage that resulted from Hurricane Matthew. As that hurricane developed we followed the news reports because of concern for loved ones. That “news” reports would spend a brief time telling us where the hurricane had hit, and where it was located. Much more time was spent predicting where it was likely to go next, how severe it was likely to be, and what potential damage was expected. Most of those predictions turned out to be wrong. Hurricane Matthew ultimately veered to the east, and the “eye” of the hurricane missed Cape Hatteras. The media reported that the crisis had been averted, and moved on to the next crisis. In reality there was extensive damage to thousands of houses and businesses resulting from the “storm surge.” Two weeks after the storm debris from thousands of houses and business was piled along the roads. Local residents said it was the worst hurricane damage in more than 20 years. Those residents also complained that the national media ignored this catastrophe.
We had some lengthy discussions with local residents about why there was so little “news” coverage. Some said that it was because the media is obsessed with the election campaign. Others thought that it was because the damage was caused by flooding, and not by the hurricane itself. Still others thought it was because they are located in a remote area, and not in a high population area. Others said it was because storm surge damage isn’t as “video-friendly” as hurricane winds. The bottom line is that there was extensive coverage about what “might happen” and no coverage about what actually “did happen.” Unfortunately, this is fairly typical of most newsworthy incidents.
This is most evident when dealing with political campaigns. What has actually happened? There have been speeches, allegations, leaked e-mails, and debates. It wouldn’t take very long to report on those matters. However, there has been “wall-to-wall coverage” with lots of predictions, commentaries, and polls. None of that is actually “news” under the traditional definition. My own analysis is that less than 20% of what is reported actually qualifies as factual reporting. It is mostly prediction and commentary.
This is very troubling and has several significant impacts. First, it has enabled the mainstream news outlets to insert their own bias into the reports. Second, it allows them to avoid dealing with “facts” they don’t want to report, or that doesn’t fit with that outlet’s perspectives. Thirdly, it diverts our attention from what is “fact” to what is “opinion.” Finally, it has brought us to a point where there is little
attention to, or discussion of, the real issues that should be the focus of the campaigns.
I am very disappointed that there has been so little discussion about the major problems and issues facing our nation. We have focused on beauty pageants and e-mail leaks, rather than on national security and fundamental economic policy. We would have been better served if we had engaged in serious debate about policies and issues. Instead the media has focused on personalities. Much of this is the result of something that is frequently overlooked or forgotten. The news media is a “for-profit” business, and those engaged in it are celebrities. They get big money primarily for being popular. These businesses are accountable to owners and shareholders to keep ratings, and profits, high. The media has its own agenda, which apparently has little to do with what is good for the country. Keep this in mind the next time you watch the “news.”