Want Trust in Media to Improve? Do Basic Fact Checking.

You would think we would learn. Too often, when a scandalous accusations suitable for free media reporting appears, it’s tweet first and ask questions later. Predictably, this approach has been known to backfire.

The latest example comes from Brigham Young University (BYU), where racial slurs were allegedly thrown at a Duke female volleyball player by a fan in late August.

The only problem? One of BYU Student Newspaper could not corroborate the claim, and a subsequent investigation by BYU used “all available audio and video recordings, including security footage and raw footage.” No evidence found to back up the accusation.

But for many mainstream media with huge audiences, it’s a story too good to test. The allegation was repeated as true by washington articles, Sports Illustratedand CNNamong others.

The action (and reaction) is swift.

The fan, who is said to be “shouting a racist profanity at a black volleyball player“Having been barred from BYU sports facilities — before the university launched an investigation. Wyoming Governor Spencer Cox tweeted that “As a society, we must do more to create an atmosphere where racists like this never feel comfortable attacking others” (line). this tweet has been deleted). Basketball star LeBron James tweeted his support to the alleged victim. And the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team Matches against BYU are canceled in response to the allegation.

But after BYU concluded an investigation in which more than 50 witnesses were interviewed (apart from all video and audio evidence), that could not corroborate this allegation — at all. The banned fan, described by one witness as “mentally challenged”, received an apology from the university and his ban was lifted. Sadly, and not surprisingly, news of the investigation’s conclusion has get less insurance.

Despite the embarrassing results, there is little reason to believe that anyone should be punished for not doing basic journalism.

But this is not the only example of the media running with a story in which horrendous allegations are made, without doing a minimal amount of due diligence.

One can look at The Duke Lacrosse Scandalthe Jussie Smollett hates criminal hoaxesand The story of the Covington Catholic being destroyed (to cite just a few examples) as demonstrations of the mainstream media’s tendency to believe (and progress) to match their assumptions about the good guys and the bad guys.

Despite the embarrassing results, there is little reason to believe that anyone should be punished for not doing basic journalism. Instead of thinking why these mistakes continue to be made, on Friday, washington articles wrote a paragraph explaining how BYU’s history of racism explains why the story went viral. Amazing.

What happened talking to the sources and watching the video? How about expressing a healthy skepticism about not at all source created an explosive charge? Why would a conservative student newspaper cover raw coverage that the scores of professional journalists wouldn’t pick up?

Some of this is definitely related to the rise of social media and the “snapshot” style of journalism that gets clicks and ranks today. The old newspaper adage that “If your mother says she loves you, watch it,” was bested by Ricky Bobby’s proverb, “If you’re not the first, you’re the last.” Some stories are too good to verify, and this is especially true of stories that confirm a popular media story. Rinse and repeat.

It should be noted that this phenomenon is not exclusive to liberals in the mainstream media. Conservative media are also likely to fall prey to confirmation bias.

A fairly recent example is The NYPD Shake Shack. In case you missed it, during the George Floyd protests of the summer of 2020, police unions pushed a story that police officers were intentionally poisoned by Shake Shack workers, and arrested head up. On closer inspection, the staff were never sick, the shakers were ordered on an app (so no one could tell they were ordered by the police) and the shakers had just been cleaned (but apparently they were ordered by the police). as unwashed).

In the end, a police investigation found that there was “no crime“But not before the mainstream media (and yes, Fox News is a mainstream media outlet) covered the allegation reliably.

Fox and friends run a piece claimed the officers had been “poisoned” and called it a “terrible attack. “Outstanding right winger tweeted that the police to be “deliberately poisoned with bleach. And another prominent (but not much) right-wing blog write that “The left is killing our police officers.”

Other examples of conservative confirmation bias include some Fox News personality ‘ baseless assertion that former DNC employee Seth Rich leaked thousands of emails to WikiLeaks before being shot down on the streets of Washington, DC, stories about Police officer enters coma after exposure to fentanyland accused of murdering Kate Steinjle by an undocumented immigrant. (And it goes without saying that the “stolen” 2020 election reports, to the extent they are reliably enhanced, are the product of a similar “too good to check” ethos. on one’s own.)

It’s human nature to want to believe that bad people do bad things, and in today’s polarized world, someone from another “tribe” is automatically labeled a “bad person.” Conversely, someone from your tribe will be trusted reflexively, without discussion. As a result, too many journalists often fail to fundamentally check stories before putting them on ether.

This has a negative impact on trust in the media — which you may have heard about, is at an all-time low (and further decrease every day). Furthermore, by delivering stories that later blow in their faces, ideologically motivated journalists are undermining their cause.

The point of professionalism and organizations such as the media is beyond this essence. We, fourth estate, are failing spectacularly.

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