Be a wise news consumer

Let’s start with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: "If I had to
choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without
government, I wouldn't hesitate to choose the latter."

The third president of the United Sates was no anarchist. He believed in
government, albeit, one with a limited role in the affairs of men. He also
believed in a free press, a press that was not controlled by the government.

Did he ever envision a press that sucked up to the government? Actually,
yes. There has been bias in the press ever since there’s been a press.
Political cartoons and editorials are ancient examples. Biased reporting is as
old as ink, possibly as old as stone carving.

So it’s no wonder that MSNBC and Fox news jumped ugly over the Shirley
Sherrod story last week. They’ve been pointing fingers at each other for years.

But they both fell into the same trap last week when they aired the
edited version of a speech Ms. Sherrod gave to an NAACP audience in March.

That edited version made her out to be a racist, a black woman who
deliberately failed to do her best to help a white farmer. But the full,
unedited version told a different story. It told of a woman who learned that
it’s not about black or white. Rather, life is about people regardless of their
race. And the story she related was one that happened 24 years earlier.

The rest of the story tells how some members of the Obama administration
and of Fox News and MSNBC jumped to conclusions before knowing all the facts,
and how the NAACP denounced her even though that organization had the original

Had Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack done due diligence after
learning of the edited speech being on the Internet, there would have been no
firing. Had the cable stations done their jobs, there would have been no story.

There are some obvious lessons to be learned here. Newsmakers and news
disseminators must learn the facts before they act. But there’s another lesson,

Wise news consumers will treat the media as a smorgasbord, sampling from
all sides of the table. CNN actually had all the facts Tuesday afternoon and
broke the rest of the story.

Compare and contrast the same story on different shows on different
stations. Separate the message from the messengers, or at least try to do so.

And remember, commentary shows are not news shows. Olbermann, Maddow,
O’Reilly and Hannity are commentators dealing with opinions on selected aspects
of news stories. They present opinions, not news and they are biased.

It won’t hurt to be a little skeptical.

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