It’s early March. COVID-19 is beginning to feel like a reality in the United States. We’ve heard about it around the world, hoping the oceans would keep us safe… but now it appears that it’s our turn.
I watch every White House press conference, eager to share the news with my family while they are out of town. There has been talk of state lockdown and I need to let them know how soon they need to come home. I listen with intent to President Trump, Vice President Pence, Dr. Birx, and Dr. Fauci. Over the next few days, I continue to tune in to every press conference; I hear statements from the Surgeon General, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of the Treasury. I concentrate on every word, allowing the reality of the situation to find a home in my mind.
I admit, this is the first time I’ve followed White House press releases so closely. I normally obtain information through news articles, but I cannot wait for news articles in a time like this.
Later, I scroll through social media and article headlines jump out at me. My face falls with confusion as I read headlines full of drama, but devoid of facts. That’s not true, I say to myself. I watched that press conference, that’s not what Dr. Fauci said. I check the source. It’s well-known, especially to me- I read their articles all the time. Over the next few days, without even looking for news articles, I see them posted on social media; I see them posted by my friends. And I see that my friends had been lied to.
I knew the media could twist people’s words and that they thrive off a catching headline. After all, that’s how they convince others to read their articles. What I didn’t know was that even during a global pandemic, all they want is drama. Even if they have to create it themselves.
That’s when I get upset.
I am lucky to be able to watch these press conferences. I work from home, and am able to watch most of it them during my lunch break; whatever I miss, I watch after work. Many people do not have that privilege. Many people depend on the media to tell them what they missed, to provide them with the facts, to be a trusted aide in obtaining new information. The media is supposed to be an ally to the people, not a reality show producer trying to stage drama to get better ratings.
What is most shocking is the timing. In this time when new information could be the difference between thousands of people living or dying, media outlets are still more concerned about themselves, their ratings, and their political agendas. It is a disgrace.
Many people don’t trust the media anyways. When the media first started reporting on the severity of COVID-19 and initial recommendations for social distancing, many people didn’t take it seriously. Why? Because they already didn’t trust the media. They knew the media creates and propels drama, so they didn’t take the media’s COVID-19 warnings seriously. To say that the media is one of the reasons that case numbers are still rising would be a bold claim, and I have no concrete data to back that up. But if you think about it… You might start to wonder about their role too.
The American people deserve better. They deserve a media outlet that will give them the facts, a media outlet they can trust. A media outlet that understands their responsibility of sharing information - and, though it should go without stating, their responsibility of sharing correct information.
If it is too difficult for reporters to separate their own opinions with the information they have been tasked to report, then they should change jobs immediately. If a statistician played with data to make reports seem more interesting, they would be fired. Why are we allowing the media to get away with the same crimes? Is too much to ask for a non-partisan, unbiased news source where the people can receive the truth and then create their own opinion about it?
I hope that the once highly respectable field known as journalism can return to its roots and its true purpose, rather than taking advantage of the power they have. The media’s far-reaching influence was best described by Malcolm X when he explained, “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth… Because they control the minds of the people.” I hope the media understand the great responsibility they hold within society- and I hope they chose to carry it responsibly.