The knee-jerk answer to my above question might be, "Of course not! I don't believe anything they say!"
But that's not entirely true, is it? I deal with news all the time. Most of my day revolves writing about current events or working to stay on top of news stories. Because of that, I read a lot of what people are saying in response to a particular news story.
I've found that people are very willing to believe the news, just the "right" kind of news. What do we call it, confirmation bias? That is a particular quirk where we interpret any news to fit our existing beliefs. So if you're a conservative, you'll look at a particularly damning piece about Trump from the New York Times, but still support him.
In that case, you'll either outright reject what the Times had to say, or interpret it differently than the writer had intended.
In most cases, you'll seek out news that already verifies your point of view. Rarely do people seek out information that challenges or contradicts their pre-established opinions. It makes sense. It's not comfortable to be told something you don't believe. You'll end up becoming defensive, feeling that the story is attacking you directly.
So we end up consuming only stories and news sources that confirm what we already know to be true (or think to be true). Which might not exactly represent TrigTent entirely, seeing as how we strive to present differing views in order to stimulate a dialogue.
The real danger in exposing yourself to one side of an argument is the creation of an atmosphere that you've probably heard about lately, called the "echo chamber." This is especially true on social media platforms like Twitter, where complex issues are oversimplified to fit their measly character count.
Issues that deserve longer discussion and a back and forth are reduced to "if you don't agree with me, you're a Nazi/racist/fascist." But I've been over all that.
Echo chambers reverberate the same ideas over and over again, until rational thought and logical arguments are all but drowned out. It's not healthy, no matter what your views are.
With that all in mind I go back to my original question: do you believe the media? Of course you do! At least the media that you like.
But if you really strive to form your own opinion about things, you will- mark that will- encounter times when even news sources you like will betray you. News organizations, websites, even personalities you normally trust will try to abuse your relationship to put thoughts in your head that might not be entirely factual.
It's like a very boring version of Inception.
Recently the founder of Wikileaks described the news media very aptly when he called what they did "weaponized text."
“When you read a newspaper article, you are reading weaponised text that is designed to affect a person just like you… I think that is the real beauty of WikiLeaks… it is that sea of information, that treasure, that intellectual treasure, that rebel library of Alexandria you can go into.” (via Breitbart)
Now you can form your own opinion about Assange and Wikileaks. You might love them for what they did in exposing Hillary Clinton via the Podesta emails. You may claim they are a front for Russian spies and undermine our democracy. You might question the validity of his claims about his website being 100% accurate; nobody has that kind of record.
But his assertion about the media is very true. Even websites you like have an agenda. Writers and reporters want to "weaponize" text to color your opinion about a story. And the more you trust the news outlet, the greater risk.
This week a veritable crap-storm hit one of my favorite pundits, Milo Yiannopoulos, as video footage was released that suggested he defended pedophilia. Although he has an established recorded of confronting actual child molesters, the video footage- edited and taken out of context- looked pretty bad.
The fallout came fast and fierce, with conservative event CPAC withdrawing their invitation and even his book deal- which racked up significant pre-orders- falling through.
You can form your own opinions on the matter, but what I wanted to focus on was the way "conservative" news sources covered the breaking news. It was very obvious that many of them were looking for an angle to attack the man, regardless of whether or not the allegations were true.
Take for instance the front page of the Drudge Report:
If you based your opinion on just the headlines, you'd think it was a done deal. Milo was a monster, and his whole career is over. Even "conservative" Fox Business was spinning the story, making up statements with little to verify them.
Milo Yiannopoulos, the provocative conservative journalist who is often portrayed as a champion of the far right, is facing possible dismissal from his employer, Breitbart News, over comments he once made about underage sex, FOX Business has learned.
His possible dismissal could come by the end of the day, sources from the conservative website told FOX Business. (via Fox Business)
Yes "sources" within a rival news website to Fox. There is clear motivate for why Fox News, whose websites don't receive the same kind of traffic as Breitbart, would want to publish a hit piece on the company and one of its editors. Never mind the fact they that can't say who within Breitbart made that claim. Was it the editor in chief? Was it an intern? Or maybe it was Casper the Friendly Ghost!
Now it remains to be seen what will come of this controversy, but you can see how opportunists can abuse events for their own ends. Media sites you trust can exploit a story, in order to manipulate you, or even force things to happen.
Breitbart isn't free from this kind of bias, either. Last year when the government handed over domain registration to ICANN, a non-profit that already handles much of the regulation of websites, Breitbart cried that Obama was handing over the Internet to the U.N!
I looked into the matter and found that only a small task was being relinquished by the U.S. government and handed over to a group that is more capable of doing it. From one point of view, it was actually a case of reducing the power that our government has over the Internet, giving that power to the people.
Had a conservative president done it, perhaps it would have been hailed as a victory for small government. Instead, it was Obama, so conservative outlets betrayed their own values and claimed it would allow tyrants to control the Internet.
Nothing could have been farther from the truth.
As a conservative I seek our right-leaning stories and outlets, simply to counter the overwhelmingly liberal bias that is evident in mainstream media. But when even they distort the facts for their own agenda, the climate looks pretty grim.
So, do you trust the media? You'd probably answer yes and no. But in the end, it should be no. There is no single source of news that is completely truthful, that won't twist a narrative to fit their own- sometimes vile- agenda.
What do we do, then? Well, it's not an easy answer, but we have two choices. Either we shove our heads into the figurative sand and ignore everything that is going on in the world- a bad choice. Or we wade into the swamp that is our news and media and fight to find the truth.
We need to recognize clear biases when they try to masquerade as "the facts." We need to learn how to separate a real story from a distortion of reality. We need to be honest with ourselves when we realize we are believing hype and hysteria, not truth.
It will require the use of our brains. Yeah, I know, that's hard to do. But what other choice do we have?