OPINION: It’s getting harder to know who to trust

By Marty Russell/NEMS Daily Journal

I like to tell my journalism students that news is two things. First, it’s what people want to know, which is why we have so much coverage of celebrities, athletes and the infidelity/rehab/divorce du jour. But, more importantly, news is what people need to know. It’s why we have the First Amendment. The Founding Fathers realized that, for democracy to work, people had to stay informed about their elected officials and government policies in order to make wise decisions in the voting booth.
Unfortunately, in this age of media proliferation thanks to digital technology where anyone can set themselves up as “journalist,” more and more people are gravitating toward the news they want to know rather the news they need to know. This cafeteria-style shopping for news they want with a bent that reinforces their own biases is, in my opinion, one of biggest driving forces behind the increasing polarization of voters in this country, whether they consider themselves left, right or center.
But it’s not just the readers, listeners and viewers who are filtering out the news they don’t want to hear in favor of the news that suits them. The media outlets and those with an agenda to push are also catering to and manipulating this new audience of information shoppers.
Take two events taking place within the next week, for example. First, CBS rejected a Super Bowl ad for a gay dating service but accepted a pro-life, pro-family ad from Focus on the Family featuring Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. It also initially rejected an ad from Electronic Arts for its new video game based on the 14th century Christian poem “Dante’s Inferno,” because the ad’s tagline said, ‘Go to hell.’ Reportedly, EA reworked the ad so the tagline now says, ‘Hell awaits.’
Trivia-answering service KGB also had an ad rejected for the big game that showed golfers with their heads up their rear ends. Speculation is that KGB knew the ad would be rejected but figured there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Clearly a case of the manipulators being manipulated.
Then there’s this weekend’s national TEA Party convention in Nashville which only media outlets favorable to the party’s agenda, like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, were given press passes.
Couple all of this with the recent Supreme Court decision to reopen election campaigns to corporate contributors and advertising and we might as well call elections what they have become, competing propaganda. May the biggest pocketbook win.
The solution to all this manipulation, of course, is to keep an open mind, question everything and don’t take anything at face value, no matter which end of the political spectrum you’re on. Either that or bring back the equal time rules.

Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at marusse1@olemiss.edu.