When Erik the Red wanted to attract settlers to land in which he decided to settle, he named the island “Greenland,” hoping that the pleasant name would lure people to the rocky, cold island.
While in the year 982, there was no media akin to what we have today, he was successful in using this misinformation to convince people to join him.
Today we have an information-dispensing system with an extensive reach that constantly bombards us, often with dubious “facts” and conclusions, many of them no closer to reality than the name Erik the Red used.
The most recent example that comes to mind is the blizzard of historic portions that was to hit New YorkCity and surroundings this past January. For days, the news was filled with dreadful predictions of a classic nor-easter of unprecedented size.
|Where's the blizzard?|
Meanwhile, the European computer models predicted that the storm would center about 40 miles to the east, and while it would hit Long Island and New England, as many storms do, it would be a major storm, but not one to set records.
The entire city shut down. Subways stopped running. Major financial centers closed.
And when the storm hit New York, the snow was measured in inches, not feet.
As one person who was interviewed by TV news media said, “It’s called ‘winter.’ We get one every year.”
It got me to thinking about other recent media-whipped frenzies.
How about the University of Virginia suspending fraternity and sorority activities because of the uproar over an article published in Rolling Stone Magazine?
|University of Virginia|
When I read about the article, my first thought was that a writer got carried away with a story, and it played fast and free with the facts enough that it should probably have been labeled “fiction.”
It wasn’t long before a closer examination of the “facts” revealed major discrepancies. And an article that was heralded as striking a blow for taking sexual assaults on campus more seriously instead made a mockery of this crucial effort.
Then there was the media treatment of the incident where a black youth was shot to death in Ferguson by a police officer. Once again, a serious issue. But the first reports told of an innocent young man shot while raising his hands in surrender.
Riots ensued, once again heavily reported in the media.
As the facts came out, it was revealed that the young man had just been involved in a shoplifting and assault of a storekeeper. The positioning of his hands could not be determined, but it became apparent that he had been approaching the officer after he had been told to stop. The officer, with only a few seconds to make a decision, feared for his life and shot, as he had been trained to do.
Perhaps the saddest incident in the wake of this was the death of two New York City police officers, who were ambushed. The officers, one of Hispanic extraction and the other Chinese, recognized the problems inherent in a white-only police force, and made the decision to be part of the solution by becoming minority police officers themselves. It cost them their lives.
Just last Wednesday, NBC news anchor Brian Williams conceded that he had, as he puts it, “made a
mistake” in reporting that he had been on board a helicopter hit by fire and forced down in Iraq.