Former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien criticized the mainstream media and cable news on Wednesday for perpetuating the spread of disinformation and under-representing various groups of Americans in their coverage.
During a House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing focused on disinformation and extremism in the media, O’Brien provided testimony on how the media is not representative of the American population and is providing a platform for “liars” to generate reactions that become a “slugfest” in order to “chase ratings.” (RELATED: As Dems Angle To Deplatform Fox News, Rep. Scalise Reminds Them Baseball Shooter Was A Fan Of MSNBC)
O’Brien began her testimony by describing a piece that aired on CNN’s “Lou Dobb’s Tonight” in 2005, in which host Lou Dobbs claimed that within a time frame of 3 years there were 7,000 new cases of leprosy in the United States from unscreened illegal immigrants. She explained the reporting was untrue and said that “Dobb’s lie advanced his agenda of demonizing undocumented immigrants.”
“We had entered an era where broadcasters would begin repeating and reenergizing lies and liars,” O’brien said. “Media, disguised as journalism, has been spreading lies for years, elevating liars and using the ensuing slugfest to chase ratings, hits, subscriptions, advertisers. Period. Full stop.”
She went on to describe how she felt “this era of truth decay” began with the decline of local newspapers and the rise of “free social media.” She claimed that the country has lost over 2,100 newspapers since 2004 and that the demise left people with only “unverified and unfiltered” opinion.
She then explained that people turned to television for “traditional reporting” but it “didn’t fill the void” of in-depth reporting on communities across America. “Instead it became a place where facts often go to die,” she added.
“TV, cable news in particular, relies on the cheap and easy booking of talking heads, who exchange colorful barbs, entertaining outbursts, and sometimes peddle outright fiction,” O’brien continued. “It’s only gotten worse as reporters and anchors chase ratings, toss aside objectivity to divide us into false categories, I believe, of left and right, manipulating facts and debating the liars they booked for their very own shows. Today, viewers who come looking for information instead get enraging and contradictory facts from an endless churn of guests, who are not in the least representative of the public.”
She noted that on “Meet The Press,” “Face the Nation,” and “This Week” in 2015, 80% of guests were white, 12% women, 2% women of color, 41% Republican, and 22% were Democrats. “All of this has eroded the public trust,” she added, before claiming that only 40% of people in 2020 trusted the media.
“When news organizations make decisions based on ratings, rather than responsible reporting, disinformation flourishes in dangerous ways. Important conversations are clouded. Scrutiny is reduced. Trust in our institution erodes,” O’Brien continued.
She closed by describing what can be done to fix the problems she listed, saying that shows should stop booking liars and advancing lies, stories should not just be posed as having two sides because “some stories, in fact, have many, many sides and are more complicated,” and for organizations to hire more diverse staffs.
“America trusts the media to deliver accurate, factual, unbiased information. It’s the grist of democracy. It’s the stuff that enables us to have intelligent and accurate conversations with our neighbors, to cast informed votes, and make thoughtful and intelligent decisions,” she concluded.