The Thin Blurry Line

News or Commentary

The news used to be straight news. Facts and only the facts. No speculation. The news consisted of true information reported as it happened without a political twist or an editorial agenda.

Not any more.

The line between news and editorial commentary has blurred and disappeared entirely. The news is laced with opinion, editorializing, and commentary.

The issue exists because you—the consumer of the news—is no longer warned ahead of time when the line is being crossed.

Back when only three broadcast television sources for news existed—the networks ABC, CBS, and NBC—the news reported was true and actual news. Stories detailed what happened. The when, why, what, where, and how was reported.

Segments that went beyond pure news were labeled as such. The words “Editorial Opinion” or “Station Manager’s Editorial Comment” would appear on the screen to inform the viewer that the content presented involved commentary, not news or facts.

Networks warned viewers that what they were listening to included the views of the person speaking or the views of the network or station.

That practice dissolved with the invention of cable television and the birth of the twenty-four hour Cable News Network (CNN.) Other similar all news/all the time networks followed.

Newspapers once remanded commentary to the Opinion-Editorial (OP-ED) page. Printed news articles contained only the facts as they actually occurred without a political angle or twist.

Not any more.

Commentary runs amok and is not suitably labeled. The news consumer has a tough time identifying what is opinion or agenda and what is true factual news.

The line between news and commentary gets blurrier and blurrier.

Today news is presented using methodology to persuade and influence a person’s thinking and opinions.

This applies to all levels of news reporting from local to national, cable to broadcast stations, print, and the biggest offender—the world wide web.

Truth-based, ethical journalism has gone by the wayside.

What is promoted as news is really a company advocating their political and social opinions.

The political views of the news media’s parent companies and advertisers determine the content of the news. Advertising dollars are invested in news channels and newspapers that adhere to the same political views as the advertiser. In the end, what the viewer sees and digests, what is misleading labeled as the news, is actually viewpoints that are bought and paid for by big companies with huge advertising and political action budgets.

More and more news outlets, including many newspapers, are being bought by conglomerates. More and more news sources are being overseen by the same parent company and reflect the owner’s or board of directors’ political views and agenda.

The subtly of what gets presented to your eye and ear can be as simple as one well placed word or headline that states an underlying opinion.

For example, on inauguration day, January 20, 2021, CBS News anchor Norah O’Donnell reported that President Trump had “skipped town” that morning.

Yes, she said “skipped town.”

A connotation used to describe when a person has left town under questionable circumstances or to evade arrest.

O’Donnell could have used other words such as “left” or “departed.” Words that would have accurately reported the event without editorial underpinnings. O’Donnell chose “skipped town” to make a statement. The words were chosen to instill a thought and feeling in the viewer’s subconscious that Trump left Washington under scrutiny. The word choice had definite connotation.

O’Donnell’s word choice equated to unethical journalism that should never have been used by a network TV anchor when reporting on the facts of the day.

Legendary CBS news anchor, Walter Cronkite, probably spun in his grave.

Newspapers aren’t immune from blurring the line and attempting to influence and persuade while reporting what is supposed to be factual news.

Let’s consider an example from “The Houston Chronicle” related to Houston PD.

On January 25, 2021, Houston officers were involved in a shooting that began in the 8500 block of North Main where a person in a car was shot and killed. The shooter then shot at innocent people as he made his way to a convenience store where he went in and threatened customers and employees with a firearm.

Houston PD’s bravest confronted this shooter at the convenience store. The courageous officers were forced to end this deadly threat to themselves and innocent Houstonians.

(Note that this author inserted bravest and courageous into these sentences to plant the idea into your subconscious mind.)

This situation was essentially an active shooter incident. Was it reported that way?

Hell no.

The Chronicle ran a few lines under a photo. The headline read “Officer-involved shooting probed.” The lines under the photo read “Police investigate an officer-involved shooting in the 100 block of East 44th Street on Monday. An officer shot a suspected gunman who fatally shot a man in the 8500 block of North Main Street.”

They failed to report the fact that the gunman was actively threatening innocent citizens or that Houston officers bravely ended the deadly threat to citizen’s safety.

Notice the word choice. The Chronicle led with the words “Officer-involved shooting probed.” Words ripe with connotation that the officers actions were questionable.

No mention that officers risked their lives to confront and stop an active shooter threatening innocent people.

This incident could have been reported with the real facts. But the Chronicle chose to report it with the spin that the officers had done something wrong.

In subsequent days, there was no mention of this shooting incident in the paper or that the shooting was determined to be justified.

When an officer involved shooting occurs, the officer is never referred to as “suspected” of shooting. Terminology is used in the article that suggests the officer did something wrong and is under investigation by multiple agencies.

The known shooter is always given the benefit of the doubt with the words “suspected” or “alleged.”

This serves as another example of reporting that instills an opinion or idea in the mind of the consumer of the news.

Beware of the thin blurred line.

The line between fact and commentary has been blurred. Every news report is written to persuade you to think in a certain way. Every report attempts to elicit an emotion in the reader or listener.

Every news report that you are exposed to comes with commentary and agenda. Every ounce of news that you ingest has been tainted with a viewpoint.

Consume accordingly.

Copyright©2021 Barbara A. Schwartz  All Rights Reserved.

No part of this article may be reproduced in any manner without the expressed written consent of the author.

Barbara A. Schwartz has dedicated her life to supporting the brave officers of law enforcement.