Wag the Dog

I’ve yet to see this movie yet, despite thinking about it over the years.  I remember thinking at the time it came out that it was a brilliant concept, and a frighteningly realistic one.  Fast forward 20+ years and our technical know-how and digital wizardry is leagues ahead of 1997.

President Trump has taken a lot of flack for his skepticism, let’s say, about the press.  His insistence that the press is not unbiased and sometimes outright untrustworthy has raised the cry of many, not the least of which the press itself.  And yet we repeatedly find out that the press is a) not unbiased and b) often untrustworthy.  How related these two are falls into an area of personal opinion that I’d rather not get into but leave for you to come to grips with.  Not everyone with a press badge is unbiased or trustworthy.  The press badge does not confer these qualities upon them.  Nor does owning a media outlet, nor does being the editor-in-chief or any other title confer these qualities magically.

Add to this mix the ability for people holding a phone to put together footage that looks and sounds a certain way and then farm it out to the media for coverage, and you have a perfect storm.  There may not always  be a need to wholesale fabricate events (though I wouldn’t put it past most people/politicians), but there is a very real possibility that something presented in a certain way is not the whole story at the very least.

So we have the latest outrage over alleged mockery of native Americans by a group of teenagers on the National Mall in Washington DC.  Media – social and otherwise – was apoplectic over the jittery footage displaying a confrontation between an older Native American and a crowd of Anglo high schoolers, allegedly mocking him.  After the traditional screaming matches of the past few days, new footage and testimony apparently contradict the initial reports.  Rather than the teenagers surrounding the man and mocking him, he and his group approached their group, apparently intent on some sort of confrontation, possibly spurred on by the fact that some of the youth were wearing Make America Great Again hats.

These clarified reports of the event are bolstered further by reports that this same man – Nathan Phillips – attempted to disrupt Catholic mass this past Saturday evening at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception also in Washington DC.  What  was – and continues to be – interpreted as another tragic instance of white oppression against minorities, and more importantly as further evidence of the degradation of America under President Trump, may in fact be the exact opposite of this.

An unbiased press might have thought twice before rushing in to condemn the alleged perpetrators.  A more trustworthy press would have sought out possible alternative narratives before passing judgment and leading a firestorm of threats against the youth and their school and families.  That’s the sort of press we need, in a day and age where footage can not only be fabricated, but certainly can be recorded in such a way as to obscure what is actually happening, or to exclude details that might put interpretation into a better perspective.  When every person has a smart phone with a video camera in it, the assumption that any such footage must by definition be fully accurate in what it appears to portray is foolish at best, dishonest at worst.

But since I do believe that much of our press is both biased and untrustworthy, here is a basic tip for y’all at home about how to handle this stuff.

Don’t assume that just because you read it online or see it on a TV news report or read it in your newspaper that it’s true.  Certainly not immediately, and when it relates to alleged footage obtained from unidentified sources.  Journalists should be taking care of this sort of filtering for you but they aren’t.  So do it yourself.  Before you react violently on social media, give things a few days to settle out.  Recognize that media outlets are commercial ventures, not non-profit organizations.   They depend on advertising revenues linked to the number of viewers or subscribers they have.  In which case, the pressure to be the first to report a breaking news event is incredible.  Shortcuts are undoubtedly taken in terms of verifying sources, looking for alternative points of view, and other basic unbiased and trustworthy reporting actions.  Therefore the possibility that breaking news isn’t all that it seems is only going to increase.

And for goodness’ sake, before you start screaming derogatory comments about entire groups of people (which is what this story was all about in the first place, remember?), remember your basic human decency.  Even if it turns out that someone is caught doing something abhorrent on video, it does not mean that:

  • Everyone who wears the same clothing brands as that person supports their actions
  • Everyone who voted for the same candidates that person did supports their actions
  • Everyone of the same race or ethnicity as that person supports their actions
  • Everyone with the same accent supports their actions

Take a few deep breaths people.  We live in complicated times where things aren’t always what they seem.  Don’t be the dog wagged by the tail.

 

 

 

 

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