Despite slogans like “The Most Trusted Name in News,” “Fair and Balanced,” and “We Report, You Decide,” fewer and fewer people trust so-called mainstream media. According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, over 58% of respondents agreed with the statement, “Most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than with informing the public.” That’s a pretty high rate of skepticism (if we can trust the Trust Barometer…).
Here are just a few reasons people are turning to alternative information sources instead of mainstream news outlets:
Manipulative or Fake Footage
In 2019, talk of withdrawing some of our U.S. troops from Syria was met with dire media warnings that doing so would leave Syria vulnerable to attacks from neighboring Turkey. Sure enough, as soon as troops were withdrawn, ABC immediately ran a story about a Turkish attack in Syria, complete with footage “appearing to show Turkey’s military bombing Kurd civilians in a Syrian border town…”:
Except that footage of Syria was actually…a Kentucky gun show, as James Corbett explains:
Why would a major news network do something this blatantly fraudulent? In a “Beat the Press” discussion on the fake footage, one panelist points out that part of the problem, ironically, is news stations’ desire to appear credible:
“They don’t have foreign correspondents or people they can contract with everywhere to be on the scene, and yet there’s this desire to still pretend that you’re on the scene…”
Another panelist expressed the hope that transparency would prevail at some point:
“I hope what’s going on is they’re still genuinely trying to get to the bottom of what happened and that at some point they [ABC] will present a decent report explaining exactly what happened and put it on the evening news and put it on the morning news. I think they owe that to us.”
Unfortunately, that never happened.
The Syria-Kentucky scandal is only one of numerous instances the media has presented unrelated or fake images in an attempt to sway public opinion. Researcher extraordinaire James Corbett has compiled many examples of this type of fraudulent reporting, several of which are detailed in his short podcast entitled, “Kentucky is in Syria (and other anomalies of MSM geography)“:
Alarmingly, such “mistakes” are starting to seem more common than rare. Here is a BBC report on alleged Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, in which, incredibly, the evidence for the supposed attacks includes footage from a nighttime Airsoft game – literally, some kids shooting BB guns right here in the states – which was filmed by a friend of my own family:
And here is the original airsoft footage (the short clip included in the BBC report is found at the 3:25 mark):
This is so ridiculous that it might even be funny – if it weren’t for the massive influence these corporate news stories have on public opinion and the power they wield to rally support for national policies that may not deserve it.
Many people understandably assume that each media outlet employs its own independent, fact-finding journalists, tirelessly digging up novel information to report to the public. Unfortunately, this may be very far from the truth.
When Conan O’Brien announced that he would be officiating at the first same-sex wedding ever performed on late-night television, news stations all over the country covered the story. While this segment from Late Night with Conan O’Brien highlighting that coverage is presented comedically, the deeper implications of individual news stations marching in such lockstep should raise some concerns:
The following compilation is a little more chilling, especially since the very subject of this scripted warbling is, ironically, a warning against taking news stories at face value without any thought or scrutiny:
The mystery behind this puzzling harmony among what many of us thought were independently run news outlets becomes a little clearer when we learn that just about every major media outlet is owned by a shockingly small number of mega-conglomerates. Although a couple of CEOs have been replaced, and a few companies have merged or changed hands, this dizzying infographic from 2017 is still a very good illustration of how the bulk of media influence is concentrated in the hands of a very small few:
Self-proclaimed “fact-checking” websites can also be very misleading, particularly if we only read the brief, one-line summary or cast a superficial glance at the “TRUE/FALSE” badge at the top of the article.
Very often, simply reading through the article will reveal bias on the part of the fact checker or discrepancies within the article itself. Here are a couple quick examples of “fact check fails” that illustrate how important it is to carefully read the whole article to see if the rating is justified:
>>Did Dr. Hodkinson call the pandemic a hoax?
This Snopes article purports to address the claim that Dr. Roger Hodkinson, a highly credentialed, Cambridge-trained medical specialist in pathology (including virology) and current chairman of a biotechnology company that actually sells the Covid-19 test, called Covid-19 a hoax.
The headline question is, “Did Dr. Roger Hodkinson Call COVID-19 a Hoax?” and below that is a large picture of Dr. Hodkinson stamped with the word “MISLEADING.” A quick scroll to the “Rating” section shows a half-green/half-red icon labeled, “Mixture.”
If you didn’t give the article a more thorough reading, you might assume that Dr. Hodkinson didn’t actually call Covid-19 a hoax after all. But here are his words:
“The bottom line is simply this: there is utterly unfounded public hysteria driven by the media and politicians. It’s outrageous. This is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting public. There is absolutely nothing that can be done to contain this virus, other than protecting older more vulnerable people. It should be thought of nothing more than a bad flu season.”
Why did Snopes call this claim a “mixture”? The explanation for the rating was that “Dr. Hodkinson is not the Chairman of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada [something he didn’t claim], and his public comments do not align with the consensus of the medical community” [which is the reason he spoke up in the first place].
Clearly, someone turning to Snopes to see if the highly credentialed Dr. Hodkinson really referred to the Covid-19 pandemic as a “hoax” should have been greeted with a big, green “TRUE” badge. But because the Snopes authors did not agree with the doctor’s opinion, they labeled the completely true claim “misleading.”
>>Does Medicare pay out more for Covid-19 patients?
The question at the top of this Snopes article asks, “Are Doctors and Hospitals Paid More for COVID-19 Patients?“
The answer to this is extremely easy to find. A quick visit to either the American Hospital Association website or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website yields a simple and straightforward, “Yes.” The first page of each of those sites indicates that, because of provisions in the CARES Act, Medicare will reimburse an extra 20% for Covid-19 inpatients.
Snopes’s rating? “Mixture.”
Why? Well, in lieu of addressing the actual claim, Snopes instead chose to focus their attention on a Fox News interview where a guest explained that Medicare was paying $13,000 for a Covid-19 admission and $39,000 if the patient was put on a ventilator. Snopes argued that Medicare doesn’t necessarily pay that exact amount every time and somehow gave the original question a “Mixture” rating – even though the original claim that hospitals are paid more for Covid-19 patients is completely TRUE.
(Incidentally, if you read to the end of the “fact check,” you will notice that Snopes quotes an article from the Kaiser Foundation saying that average Medicare payments for Covid-19 patients who are hospitalized and ventilated are $13,297 and $40,218, respectively. Both of those figures are even higher than the ones mentioned by the Fox News guest.)
>>Hank Aaron and Marvelous Marvin Hagler died “after taking the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Here is a case where a “Mixture” rating would have been called for, since Hank Aaron did die two and a half weeks after taking the vaccine, and Hagler did not.
Instead, Politifact rated this “FALSE” with its accompanying visual of a big, red “Truth-o-meter.” Yet, in this very article, they acknowledge, “Aaron died at age 86 on Jan. 22, 17 days after he chose to receive the COVID-19 vaccination…” They note that the medical examiner’s office did not link his death to the vaccine. (Importantly, the original claim did not make that assertion, either.)
If Politifact had addressed each claim separately and simply asked, “Did Hank Aaron die after taking the Covid-19 vaccine?“, a big green truth-o-meter with the word “TRUE” should have been emblazoned across the top of the article. Instead, grouping the Aaron and Hagler claims together makes the combined assertion only partially true (since there is no evidence that “Marvelous Marvin” had the vaccine). Yet even then, Politifact shamelessly labels the entire claim “FALSE” while burying the admission that half of it is COMPLETELY TRUE deeper down in the article.
Discouraging You from Doing Your Own Research
The headline “You Must Not ‘Do Your Own Research’ When It Comes To Science” may sound like a joke, but it is a genuine Forbes article from July 2020 earnestly encouraging people to rely on “legitimate experts” and avoid looking into important subjects on their own.
“[G]athering information, evaluating it based on what we know, and choosing a course of action…,” they warn, “can be dangerous, destructive, and even deadly.” Furthermore, “‘doing our own research’ could lead to immeasurable, unnecessary suffering.”
And what about when it turns out the “experts” change their minds or contradict themselves? Incredibly, the article finishes by explaining that “we should base our policies on the scientific consensus…. When that consensus changes…we should correct course to follow that novel path instead.”
Focusing on Ratings
The following admissions by CNN’s technical director, Charlie Chester, on the real purpose of mainstream news are extraordinarily frank and extremely valuable:
In the video, Chester candidly explains the mainstream news agenda: “[F]ear really drives numbers… Fear is the thing that keeps you tuned in… What’s the scariest thing next, you know?”
He continues, “Covid? Gangbusters with ratings, right? Which is why we constantly have the death toll on the side [of the screen], which I have a major problem with – that we’re tallying how many people die every day. Because I’ve even looked at it and been like, ‘Let’s make it higher! …Why isn’t it high enough… It would make our point better if it was higher!’ and I’m like, ‘What am I *** rallying for?‘ That’s a problem that we’re doing that, you know? Of course [it helps with ratings], but at what expense?“
When questioned about who makes the decision to focus on the death toll, Chester explains that it’s the network head:
“I’ve been in the room many a time where my director tells me, ‘Take it [the death toll] down,’ and I take it down, and then we get a phone call…literally a red phone – like, the special red phone – rings, and…this producer picks it up, and every so often they put it on speaker, and it’s like the head of the network being like, ‘There’s nothing that you’re doing right now that makes me want to stick [to the show]. Put the numbers back up, because that’s the most enticing thing that we had. So put it back up.'”
As to why the station doesn’t include things like recovery rates along with the death tallies, he says, “Because that’s not scary. I would imagine that’s why they don’t do it.”
One of the most helpful disclosures in the entire video is this astute observation:
“[T]here’s no such thing as unbiased news. It just doesn’t exist… It’s impossible. The most unbiased news is grassroots, out of people’s basements with podcasts. That’s the most unbiased you could probably get.”
Thankfully, we do have that choice, and some of the most diligent researchers are exactly as Chester describes: independent podcasters working out of a room in their home, often funded only by small donations from a handful of grateful listeners. Many spend the bulk of their time digging up important information that is routinely buried by mainstream media outlets. Unfortunately, those same outlets use shaming tactics by labeling this information “fringe,” “conspiracy theory,” or “pseudo-science” to keep people from looking at alternative media sources. Pointing and laughing is a surprisingly effective technique. In addition, platforms such as YouTube routinely terminate their accounts, making them even harder to find.
Another challenge is that, since not all independent journalism is equally valuable, we have to be very discriminating as we investigate alternative media choices. Do the researchers provide sources for their reports? Do they cite facts and figures we can look up for ourselves? And if so, are we willing to take the time to actually click on the links to verify what’s been said?
Good, accurate information will not come to us without effort. I’ve provided links to some of my favorite researchers under the “Helpful Resources” tab, but there are many more out there, and I hope you’ll enjoy exploring your options as you strive to find more reliable, honest news sources.
The bottom line: mainstream media outlets and popular “fact-checking” sites are not sources of truth or unbiased journalism, and using your own critical thinking skills is essential in order to avoid being deceived, no matter where you get your information.
“Who Will Fact Check the Fact Checkers?” – excellent podcast by James Corbett; all links included.
“The Crisis of Science” – another excellent report by James Corbett detailing conflicts of interest, consensus-promoting funding incentives, and peer-review fraud among scientists. Interestingly, YouTube has removed this video, but it can be seen at TheCorbettReport.com.
Links and transcripts can be found here: https://www.corbettreport.com/sciencecrisis/
This video warning against “fake news” is a perfect example of how people are discouraged from investigating and instead encouraged to simply trust established media outlets:
We can practice our discernment skills by examining this very video in greater detail.
It begins with a very inaccurate description of fake news by showing a clip from a theatrical adaption of “War of the Worlds,” a science fiction book by H. G. Wells, that was read aloud on the radio back in 1938. A few people tuning in late to the broadcast thought it was a real news report and panicked, but that certainly doesn’t make the radio show “fake news.” (Ironically, the mainstream newspaper headlines labeling it a “radio fake” would definitely qualify as fake news. For a newspaper to call this theatrical alien invasion a “fake ‘war’” is as ridiculous as Snopes calling the openly satirical Babylon Bee “fake news.”)
Next, they point out that “[b]efore the internet, most people got their news from the paper, radio, or television,” but then they state that “[b]ecause there were fewer sources providing news, it was in the best interest of each to be as reputable as possible.” This is an extraordinary claim. Is it logical to expect that a smaller pool of competitors would lead to better quality or more accurate reporting?
Then they assert, “Studies show that 75% of people who see fake news think it’s real news.” This sounds authoritative, since they give a statistic and use the word “studies.” If we aren’t alert, we might forget to ask ourselves, “What studies? How did they find out what 75% of people think? How do they define ‘fake news’?” Unfortunately, they provide no data and no links for this dubious claim.
Finally, they warn that “it’s up to you to be critical of what you see and hear online.” Absolutely! And not only should we be very critical of corporate, online media, but – as we have seen – we should probably be doubly critical of what we see and hear on TV news. (Or, better yet, consider turning it off altogether…)
As a method of evaluating an article’s credibility, their “C.R.A.P.” test leaves much to be desired. Instead of making sure an article is Current (why should the publish date determine credibility?), trusting only “Reputable” sources (by which they mean those familiar but non-credible corporate news outlets we’ve been talking about), insisting that the Author be credentialed (if the information is verifiable, why should it matter who it comes from?), and seeing if the Purpose of the article is to change your mind (is that a bad thing?), I suggest instead this alternate C.R.A.P. list:
C – Is it Crisis reporting? Are they taking advantage of a perceived emergency in order to exploit your fears?
R – Is it Reasonable? Does it seem logical and make sense to you?
A – Do they Appeal to Authority? Does the claim begin with, “Experts say…” without naming any? Do they only allow certain experts to share their views while dismissing equally credentialed experts with different opinions?
P – Do they Provide sources? Are there links to original documents, official records, or firsthand accounts that you can look up for yourself? Or do you just have to take their word for what’s being said?
A big thumbs-up for their final thought, though: “You can always use plain old common sense. If you see something online that makes you scratch your head, then it’s time to start doing some sleuthing.”
I couldn’t agree more. And in the context of Covid-19, almost everything from mainstream news outlets seems to fly in the face of common sense and has people scratching their heads on a daily basis. It’s definitely time for us all to do some “sleuthing.”