It was a few years ago; I remember the commotion and stress. People were glued to their screens and social media, scanning CNN and NPR’s Twitter feeds for any insight or information on her current status. Several news outlets quickly jumped to be the first to say that she had been killed; a few minutes later, they revealed instead that there were conflicting reports on her condition. Eventually, they all issued corrections stating that Representative Giffords was in critical condition; she was, however, alive. News sources rushed to be the first to write these headlines, knowing we would be hungry to consume it, but not question it.
On Dec. 1, the Editor-In-Chief of “the Jerusalem Post,” Yaakov Katz, came to speak to students about media accuracy — and not even just in the context of Israeli-Palestinian affairs. He laid out example after example of cases where the media sacrificed the accuracy and validity of a story in order to be the first to print it. Naturally, in each case, the media issued a correction, as in the case of Rep. Giffords, but the media hasn’t changed its habits since.
When we scan our Facebook feeds for news, we rarely check the content of an article; instead, we scan the (probably sensationalist, clickbait-y) headline. In order to get the most views, it is in the best interest of a news outlet to be the first to break the news, and thus attract the attention of readers who are interested in the news, but have neither the time nor the resources to check the facts behind the article.
Take Obamacare, for example; multiple news sources tweeted that the Supreme Court had repealed it, but soon thereafter they issued corrections to say that, in fact, it hadn’t been repealed. Take the murder of U.S. army veteran Taylor Force earlier this year. He had come with a Vanderbilt University tour group, but was tragically stabbed to death in a terror attack (that wounded ten others) while in Tel Aviv. USA Today reported his death as “American dies in Israel stabbing attack.” This headline belies the potential political motive behind Force’s murder, changes murder to “death,” and gives the reader little background on the full story.
Take any news story that’s been corrected after a misleading version has already been written. Katz put it best when he said, “The narrative has already been set, and the audience has already consumed it.”
Thus, it is our duty as the audience to question the news. I’m not arguing that we should disregard everything that the “mainstream media” writes — not at all. I’m also not saying that we should only read articles from smaller news outlets. I am suggesting, rather, that we take our articles with a grain of salt and ask ourselves when an article was written, what its sources are, and whether we are reading it for the headline or its content.
We naturally remember few of the corrections and retractions. That doesn’t mean that what they represent is unimportant. They represent accountability and accuracy in the media. There are organizations, like the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, for example, that regularly call out misinformation and bring people’s attention to the facts. But we can’t rely just on them. If we, like the media, strive for accuracy, we should ask for fewer corrections and, instead, for more truth in the articles themselves.
Originally published in The Daily Princetonian, the student newspaper of Princeton University.
Contributed by Leora Eisenberg, CAMERA Fellow at Princeton University.