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The Inaccuracy Epidemic in the Media

Last December, Mollie Hemingway published an article on The Federalist entitled, “Why the Media’s Fact Problems are Way Bigger than the Rolling Stone.” Hemingway uses specific examples of publicized misinformation to explain the larger issue of inaccuracy in the media.

In her article, “Why the Media’s Fact Problems are Way Bigger than the Rolling Stone,” Hemingway discusses specific examples of misinformation in the media to demonstrate their contributions to the larger issue of the inaccuracy of published media. One of her most striking examples describes Stephen Glass, who was a journalist at The New Republic. Glass is known for fabricating portions of his stories, sometimes making them up entirely. One case was an article he wrote about a group of young Republicans at a conservative party, allegedly participating in activities revolved around sex, drugs, rock n’ roll… and gang sexual assault. It seemed that, while no one could verify this fictitious story, others could certainly attest to Glass’ tendency to lie. His accusations were not only false, but extremely harsh. Most importantly, there is a potential harm that these lies could bring to the falsely accused, who may not have the proper platform to defend themselves.

Glass is one of several fibbing journalists mentioned in the article. However, our understanding of Hemingway’s argument should go beyond the expose of these particularly unethical journalists. Rather, we must assess her examples, such as Glass, to bring light to the overarching issue of misinformation being spread by mass media.

It is important to acknowledge that not all of these inaccurate stories are completely conceived from scratch. Still, the issue of inaccuracy can actually be complicated further when some form of truth is distorted. Hemingway explains, “It’s absolutely true that we don’t have a wave of outright fabrication-out-of-whole-cloth. But what we have is much worse. We have a tsunami of inaccuracy that is generally tolerated, embraced and even celebrated so long as it serves the right political and cultural goals.” In other words, Hemingway does not necessarily fear “journalistic invention,” as she puts it, as much as she fears the “adoption of narratives at the expense of facts.” Furthermore, it is probable that the audiences of these twisted stories are more likely to take them at face value if the inaccuracies are warped, not invented.

Another point made by Hemingway is the danger of “Jackies,” politicians and causes that journalists fully trust without criticism or speculation, one hundred percent of the time. Hemingway says, “Sadly, for many journalists covering politics, it’s a regular practice to trust sources without question when the source is telling them something they want to hear.” It is important to remember that journalists are human beings, just like the rest of us. They have their own set of values, which contribute to their biases, and thus, their willingness to believe what they want to be true. In fact, Hemingway surely has biases of her own. For example, The Federalist typically provides a more conservative point of view, so it is no surprise that Hemingway was particularly upset by Glass’ article bashing a group of Republicans. Nonetheless, her potential biases are irrelevant, for biases detract from the main concern of reporting inaccuracies. In addition to recognizing the subjectivity of the journalists, and how it impacts their perspectives, it is also important to remember the individuals falsely portrayed in the media. Again, many do not have the platform to defend themselves, leaving them victims to the twisted nature of the media.

Reading the examples given by Hemingway should remind us that misinformation is everywhere in the media, no matter how supposedly reliable a source is. As Hemingway explains, her examples are not outliers. She says, “They were doing what untold numbers of other journalists and media outlets do every day. And they just didn’t cover their tracks quite as well as others do.”

Danielle Kaplan is a senior from from Westwood, MA, studying economics and dance at Connecticut College. She is the in-house designer and Instagram contributor for Her Campus Conn Coll. In addition to Her Campus, Danielle spends most of her time rehearsing for several on-campus dance performances. Following graduation, she hopes to work for a non-profit organization related to incarceration and/or at-risk youth. But most of all, Danielle's true passions lie in avocados, dark chocolate, and cereal.
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