What the media tells us

By Jonathon Van Maren

Nearly half a dozen times in the last month, I have seen media stories say precisely the opposite thing, about precisely the same event. This time around, it was a reporter from TIME magazine getting choke-slammed by a member of Donald Trump’s Secret Service detail, which most of the media is decrying as proof of Trump’s fascist leanings—the Brownshirts are out already! Others are claiming that the reporter grabbed the agent first. Either way, it confirms something I’ve been writing about frequently: It is increasingly impossible to trust those reporting the facts on the ground. Media outlets are too ideologically driven to see past the story they want to tell—it’s one of the reasons Donald Trump has been so successful in the first place.

I’ll give you a quick example from this past summer, one I saw myself. I attended a political rally featuring Thomas Mulcair, leader of the New Democrat Party and a man hoping to be the next prime minister of Canada. The rally was in Brantford, Ontario, and when I arrived, the first thing I saw was a man with a large photo of an aborted baby, there to protest. A number of my colleagues from the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform soon joined him, raising an enormous banner over the heads of the crowd. NDP staffers were sent skittering about for twenty minutes, trying to find people willing to raise signs over their heads and unsuccessfully block the banner. A couple hundred people showed up, Mulcair read a speech off a teleprompter, and the event broke up.

As I weaved through the crowd taking notes, I bumped into Maclean’s editor Paul Wells. Wells is a brilliantly readable political writer and the author of two great books on Stephen Harper. He was actually kind enough to join me on my radio show when his book The Longer I’m Prime Minister was first released. I chatted with him for a moment and moved on.

A few days later, I was somewhat taken aback when I read Wells’ column in Maclean’s. He reviewed the race, he interviewed Mulcair, he mentioned the Brantford rally—but he didn’t mention the protestors, he didn’t mention stiff, teleprompter speech, he didn’t mention the fact that the NDP claims of there being six or seven hundred people present had a tenuous basis in fact. The insightful and witty political analysis Wells is known for was there, but the on-the-ground reporting was not.

That may have been the intention. Perhaps on-the-ground reporting is not particularly important to political analysis for the most part. But having attended many political rallies, functions, and conferences myself, I notice that consistently, there is a distinct difference between what I see at the event and what I read later on. I had always been under the impression that the task of a reporter was to report to his or her readers what was happening on the ground—to inform them what had gone on. But from the rallies I attended, the TV reporters kept the cameras glued to the politician’s face, and the columnists discarded those incidents or aberrations that didn’t fit with the narrative.

This is all to say: Be careful which version of reality you consume. And if at all possible, use the utmost discretion in believing what media sources tell you. With the fragile state of our democracy and the tenuous nature of our rights, it would be unwise not to.



4 thoughts on “What the media tells us

  1. Kim Hanson says:

    I have been saying much the same thing for at least 30 years. The way I put it, “The media wouldn’t know news if it barked in their face.” I’ve become quite good at spotting inconsistencies that effectively say, “I’m not telling the whole story.” This is true even if I am in agreement with the spin. People seem to think this is a new phenomenom. It is not! In fact it probably started before the invention of the printing press. I think everyone has seen a story and said, “That’s not right!” And they say this because they are in the know on that subject, it is their own area of expertise. It takes no imagination at all to believe other stories could be suspect too.

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