The divisions wrought by the disinformation age

Column by Jim Rohrer
Posted 10/26/21

Disinformation certainly fuels our political divide. There is a cottage industry which creates and sends partisan emails into millions of inboxes. We open them because they were sent by a friend. Of …

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The divisions wrought by the disinformation age

Posted

Disinformation certainly fuels our political divide. There is a cottage industry which creates and sends partisan emails into millions of inboxes.

We open them because they were sent by a friend. Of course, the friend sent them because they got it from another friend. None of these friends took the time to fact check the accuracy of the information because the email matches their preconceived beliefs.

Many emails were paid for by one of the political parties. Email campaigns are inexpensive, and there are no honesty standards associated with them. The origins are hard to trace, so well-written fiction gets believed.

The only way these fictional emails could be discredited would be if fact checking were prevalent. But a recent survey shows that 42% of Americans distrust the fact-checkers, showing the strength of the disinformation.

We all remember the days when Walter Cronkite ended his news reporting with the words “and that’s the way it is,” and we all believed him. In the good old days, network news divisions believed that they were not there to make money for the network, but to bring the truth to Americans.

They had reporting standards that required that news was strenuously fact checked before it was live. We believed the news because the news process had integrity.

The good old days began to end in the ‘60s when networks recognized the profit opportunity that expanded news coverage held. Today six corporation giants own 90% of the media outlets in America, and the era of news as a profit center has come full circle.

Add that a majority of online content we consume on the internet is controlled by Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, and the illusion of independent news is gone. News exists to make a profit, not to inform Americans.

Of course, you know how it works. On average, each TV hour contains 44 minutes of programming and 16 minutes of advertising. The advertising rates charged to advertisers are the direct result of the size of the viewing audience. The more eyeballs, the higher the rates, and the more profits delivered by the outlet.

The three cable “news” stations who broadcast what they call news have increased their audiences by focusing on feeding their most loyal viewers what they want. They have learned that what really increases audience size is outrage and fear delivered with sensationalism.

Fox News dropped the “fair and balanced” motto in 2017, changing it to “most watched, most trusted.” They want to be watched, and they aim to be trusted by those who are among their loyal audience.

Fox is the audience size winner, but all three cable “news” networks are driven by the same motive … audience size. Thus, we see the critical question: What will get viewers to watch, rather than how can we get the news right?

This singular focus on audience size by the six TV and cable news operations has led to a focus on sensational coverage and more emphasis on being first rather than being the most accurate. Now add the enormous budgets the political parties employ to slant the news toward their issues, candidates and ideologies. Finally add in political party use of paid social media advertising. The result is a news environment in which repetition, not accuracy, carries the day. If we hear it over and over, it becomes the truth. Repetition causes belief.

It’s no wonder that we have two Americas, each supported by “news” to convince each side that they are the good guys. Many patriots are deeply worried about where all this is leading us. We become more and more entrenched, and our Congress falls in line by failing to work for any reasonable level of cooperation. It seems that the Information Age has turned into the Disinformation Age, and it is not serving an America that honors “truth, justice and the American way.”

Jim Rohrer of Evergreen is a business consultant and author of the books “Improve Your Bottom Line … Develop MVPs Today” and “Never Lose Your Job … Become a More Valuable Player.” Jim’s belief is that common sense is becoming less common. More about Jim at www.theloyaltypartners.com.

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