Media Sensationalism

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Our Fort Worth Star-Telegram has been filled with news the last few days in both the main section and the sports section about a drug bust that included four members of TCU’s football team along with a dozen or so other students among those arrested for selling the drugs. It seems to be the kind of story they can keep puffing to sell newspapers. I don’t watch TV news, but I imagine it has received plenty of attention there also.

From the kind of big deal that’s been made of it, you’d think this was the first time an athlete had ever been implicated in something of this nature. They keep talking about what a horrible reflection it is on TCU. Come again?

The narcotics detectives involved have gone on record to state that neither the coach nor the administration had any knowledge of the problem or the investigation until arrests were made. Once they were notified of the arrests, both the administrators and the coach moved quickly to announce it to the media and to the world at large and to remove the offenders from both the football team and the university. How does that reflect poorly on either the school or the team?

What it reflects badly on is the news media. These vultures hover over anything that could possibly be sensationalized for the purpose of increasing newspaper sales and/or TV ratings. Sometimes they take the time to get their facts straight, and sometimes they don’t. Even when they do get the facts straight, however, they try to paint them in the most spectacular way they can to attract attention to their stories.

When they were arrested, the four players involved in dealing all stated that huge numbers of their teammates used drugs and had failed a recent unannounced drug test. Okay, these guys were caught with their pants down, and they naturally made self-serving statements. If they could make it look like “everybody” did it, they wouldn’t look quite so bad themselves. What else would you expect from boys immature enough to get themselves into this situation?

The media immediately jumped on these self-serving statements and quoted them as if they were gospel and continued to do so for the next day or two. We should be able to expect a little more from these people than we do from college boys caught in a bind. They should have checked the accuracy of the statements before putting them in print.

The fact of the matter, which they finally acknowledged, is that only one player besides the dealers failed the drug test. A far cry from what was being trumpeted in all their stories.

Another fact which has come out more recently is that the number of players on TCU’s football team failing a drug test is a single digit figure, while the figure for many other prominent universities was a three digit figure. This reflects badly on TCU?

If this sounds like I’m taking up TCU’s cause and defending the university, I am—but not because I’m a huge fan. I’ve never really been a TCU fan, although the success of its football team in recent years has won my respect both for the team and for Coach Gary Patterson. But fan or not, I hate to see any institution demonized by the media in order to create sensationalism over the misdeeds of a few people.

What do you think of the media’s handling of this and other stories where someone got into trouble for wrongdoing?

 

clip_image001David N. Walker is a Christian father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years as a health insurance agent. Most of that career was spent in Texas, but for a few years he traveled many other states. He started writing about 20 years ago, and has six unpublished novels to use as primers on how NOT to write fiction. Since his retirement from insurance a few years ago, he has devoted his time to helping Kristen Lamb start Warrior Writers’ Boot Camp and trying to learn to write a successful novel himself.

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About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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24 Responses to Media Sensationalism

  1. Jim Meyer says:

    David, I have been interviewed or otherwise quoted in local papers more than half a dozen times over the years. The occasions have ranged from Army training events that I was participating in to project work that I was doing at the University of Missouri, which impacted local government policy, to local real estate market trends when I was selling real estate in Columbia, MO. I have also seen write ups about fires and vehicle accidents that I had worked as a volunteer firefighter/EMT.

    Never once have I been quoted completely accurately or seen a piece of reporting that seemed completely straight regarding an event about which I had first hand knowledge. There is always some unnecessary spin or non-trivial bias. Sometimes the event is highjacked and used to support an agenda that has almost no relation to the event itself. The charitable interpretation is just that the reporter/editor had a different point of view and therefore perceived the events differently. I personally don’t buy that in most cases.

    I don’t pay much attention to the news anymore because I think it is mostly fiction and propaganda.

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  2. Hi David. Yep, anything for attention. It’s sad that when I heard about this my first thought was “I bet TCU isn’t the only one.” On the good side, perhaps this exposure will help straighten some people out.

    Cheers

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  3. Christy says:

    The media can certainly alter stories and many people take newpapers and tv news are gospel. This post is a good way to show people not to believe everything they see on tv or read in print. Well done.

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  4. The good news stories get a short clip. The bad news stories? DAYS of coverage. They have lost my trust.

    Don’t get me on my soapbox about their influence on our voting process. It isn’t pretty or kind.

    On the redunkulous side, don’t you love it when they break into regular programming with “weather alerts” and then canvas reporters in the field who stand in clear weather stating “we’re okay here FOR NOW but stay tuned because…”

    Oh, that’s right. You don’t watch TV news. My husband is addicted to FOX News Network. I’ve threatened invoking parental control over his viewing time.

    BTW, David. I realized I signed up for your blog via RSS feed, which is, sadly, comparable to a black hole feed for me. I rarely find/make time to check Google Reader. I’d rather see you in my inbox so I don’t miss any more great posts.

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  5. The media cracks me up. They will sensationalize anything for ratings. Stuff like this I feel is NOT newsworthy. Why does anyone need to know about this?

    Great post, David.

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  6. Jillian Dodd - Glitter, Bliss and Perfect Chaos says:

    I agree. The media tries to make stories out of anything. The more unbelievable the better. These kids are serious athletes and most of the behave as such.

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  7. Journalism isn’t even journalism anymore. When errors are made, retractions show up on page 37 of the newspaper. Or not at all. I don’t know much about the TCU stuff, but there was a sex scandal up here at Syracuse University that has suddenly gone silent. I don’t know what happened, but for a while it was all fingers pointed at Bernie Fine. Now, there is silence and charges have been dropped.

    It just speaks to our new ethos of having to fill TV screens 24/7. And we all know huge news stories don’t happen every minute of every day.

    And this, my friends, is why I read literature and I don’t watch much television. 😉

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  8. Donna Newton says:

    At the moment, the UK media is going nuts over English boxer David Haye hitting some other boxer at a press conference…. or something to that effect. I’m not really into boxing – unless you count the Rocky films.

    The way the media is going on, I’m surprised Haye hasn’t been burnt at the stake.

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  9. Callene Rapp says:

    Unfortunately, bad news sells, and we seem to be hungry for bad news, often I think because it reinforces a victim mentality. “See? The world just sucks so it doesn’t matter if (fill in the blank)”

    Sadly, for every kid like the drug dealers there are probably a dozen working their butts off to get an education. But it’s no fun to talk about those…

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    • Thanks, Callene. I think you’re probably right about the victim mentality, but also sensationalism sells. We know it’s wrong, but we can’t stop ourselves from wallowing in it. Just like we can’t stop ourselves from enabling bad behavior in multi-millionaire professional athletes and entertainers by buying tickets to watch them.

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  10. Barb Estinson says:

    I don’t know much about the TCU drug bust, but from reading your blog, it does indeed sound like the media has had a field day. The same thing has happened so many times here that we quit taking the paper. It is sad. I suspect the media controls what we think about so many things.

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  11. Thank you for calling a spade, a spade! I am a TCU fan but would not uphold wrong doing under any circumstances.

    You are totally correct about the sensationalism by the media. It is classic ‘yellow journalism’ and it is a poor reflection upon those who report without checking the facts.

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  12. jkenjin says:

    Thank you for your post! Keep up the good job and have a great aloha week!! ^_^

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