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Check Your Sources: Why should we be media skeptics?

By: Barry Switay

How time consuming staying current on world events can be is hardly a secret. As busy college students, this may take a back seat to school, family and work, leading us to catch only sound bites and headlines when we can.

We commit a dangerous mistake, however, if we shortcut the real work of staying informed and settle for quick bits of media.

We have a responsibility as citizens to learn about world events and to think critically about our sources. With a little digging, we can find out some important information that media outlets like Fox News and CNN leave out.

A recent article in the Nation by Lee Fang entitled “Who’s Paying the Pro-War Pundits?” reveals potential conflicts of interest among some corporate media pundits.

According to Fang, Francis Townsend, a CNN pundit and former Bush official, has recently called for more action against the Islamic State.

Left out from her introduction are Townsend’s positions in investment firms and as an advisor to a defense contractor, all of which have a financial stake in military action.

According to Fang, retired Gen- eral Jack Keane “has appeared on Fox News at least nine times over the last two months to promote the idea that the best way to stop IS is through military action— in particular through air strikes.”

Fang notes that Keane’s current positions include advisor to a military contractor, board member of weapons manufacturer General dynamics, and “venture partner” to an investment firm that partners with defense contractors.

Fang says these positions were left out of Fox’s introduction of Keane.

Why would these ties be left out?

Fang’s article undermines the credibility of these news outlets.

This lack of credentials is reflected in a Gallup poll conducted on Sept. 17, which found that American’s confidence in the media’s ability “to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly” has returned to its previous all time low of 40 percent.

A July 2014 study by the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) surveyed six

primetime programs on CNN, Fox and MSNBC over a period of five weeks and found that 84 percent of the 1,015 guests were white, and 72 percent were white men.

According to the 2010 Census report, 72.4 percent of the total US population is white.

It does not take mathematical talent to see the inconsistency here: every segment of the population was underrepresented except white men who were overrepresented anywhere from 162 to 213 percent more than they appear in the general public.

Conflicts of interest and lack of diversity should lead a reasonable person to be skeptical.

These are good reasons to look for multiple sources of news. A small slant in information can make a big difference when we weigh issues and vote.

World events are much too complex to be understood in 1-minute segments.

On a deeper level, what we know about world events directly affects how we respond to them.

This problem of acquiring “correct” or “true” knowledge goes back more than 2,000 years to Plato.

Conclusions we draw should be based on reliable sources, and if the reliability of a source is questionable we should be skeptical and seek more information.

Exploring various independent and non-US sources can help us balance what we hear from corporate outlets like Fox and CNN.

The point here is to question what the media broadcasts, not passively accept it. The latter may be the easy route, but if we are lazy in this arena, we are allowing someone else to think for us.

About Farhin Lilywala

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