In a crisis, is the news media effective at informing the public of what they need to know, or does it actually misinform and even harm the public?
Sensationalistic television news isn’t a new phenomenon, but if you are paying close attention to what gets broadcasted, you’ll notice an alarming amount of racial or otherwise general profiling going on.
A gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, went into the Canadian Parliament Wednesday and shot a soldier, Nathan Cirillo, in the back. It’s being called “terrorism.”
The media is already finding Zehaf-Bibeau’s “ties” to Islamic extremism (apparently he liked a page on Facebook), it’s only a matter of time before he’s just called an ISIS terrorist as a resort of the propaganda machine.
Now, the overuse of the word terrorism is not the issue, but rather news organizations that feel the need to profile people, and put them into comfortable little groups in order to put the public’s minds at ease.
While reporting on the situation in Canada, CNN helpfully posted fun facts to help the public generalize the shooter.
The useful facts included: “Had a criminal record, Canadian passport was revoked, visited the U.S. at least four times, charged with drug possession in 2004, charged with robbery and uttering threats in 2011, father is a Quebec businessman, mother works in Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board, parents divorced 15 years ago, an only child.
These helpful tips make it possible for the public to put the Zehaf-Bibeau into a category to set him apart from themselves. Because, of course, if his parents hadn’t been divorced this never would have happened. It’s really a rallying cry for traditional marriage and an attack on divorce.
Also, despite the fact that CNN, and other TV outlets most likely, bothered to label all of the “important” bullet points about Zehaf-Bibeau they could get their hands on, they neglected to immortalize the most important piece of information about him. Zehaf-Bibeau is a Libra, and those guys are shady.
The truth is that these facts aren’t newsworthy at all. But CNN desperately needed to have bullet-point facts about Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, so he could become a bullet point himself.
With a complete lack of an actual reason for the attack in Ottawa, the news media felt obligated to help the viewer profile the attacker, negatively of course.
Not that there’s any added need to negatively view a killer, or alleged killer, but in a pinch the television news people are there to help you to hate others.
This isn’t the first time CNN has attempted to put suspects into categories, even if it was just as a result of negligence.
During the Boston Bombing in 2013, CNN reported that the suspect the police were looking for was a “dark-skinned” male.
Dark skinned, that’s quite descriptive. Even if they just jumped the gun with reporting the damning misinformation, it was incredibly harmful to society.
In the post-9/11 world, “dark” generally means Middle Eastern. Not only is the term incredibly prejudicial, implicating people that weren’t remotely responsible, but it wasn’t even accurate information.
The alleged bombers were Eastern European, and weren’t dark at all.
The question remains as to why news organizations do this.
Some argue that it’s out of malicious intent, with the sole purpose of positioning the public for political means. Others would say it’s pure American capitalism, with content driven by the need to make money.
The big problem is: no one calls them on it; they just accept it and file it away into their subconscious.