Misleading and “Fake” Reporting in Broadcast News

Ian Proctor, Staff Writer


With the 2020 election rolling up in November, a new generation of Pacers are now eligible to make their voices heard by voting for the candidate of their liking, if they will be 18 years or older by the time of the election.

However, the political landscape of the 2010s and now 2020s is a huge turn-off to some, with fabricated information being spread on social media platforms. Even cable news channels are falling victim to misinformed or even intentionally-misleading information.

More specifically, conservative news channels appear to be publicizing more misinformation than liberal ones. With Donald Trump’s lie count numbering over 16,000 since his inauguration according to the Washington Post, the truth has simply become more and more flexible and easily molded to influence the public, and this is no more apparent than in articles displayed on the Fox News channel. 

Get ready, I’m about to rip on Fox News harder than Nancy Pelosi did with Trump’s speech.

It is important to note that a report in 2006 calculated that about 68% of Fox News stories were opinion-based. In journalism, opinion articles allow the author to publish their own views, as opposed to factually-unbiased and straight-to-the-point news articles. News networks often contain opinion segments as they allow for more “freedom” in reporting, as well as providing entertainment for viewers that can boost ratings. 

Indeed, Fox News staples such as “Hannity,” “The Ingraham Angle” and “Tucker Carlson Tonight” are all considered opinion and not news programming. These talk show hosts helped Fox News reach their highest ratings ever in 2019, with Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson being the first-and-second most watched cable news hosts of 2019 according to Nielsen Media Research. Forbes Magazine notes that Sean Hannity also earned $36 million in 2018, making him the highest-paid journalist of that year, if one can call him that.

For many, the way Fox News packages these shows often obscures the line between “news” and “opinion,” sometimes even labelling clear opinion pieces as news. 

A specific example of biased and misleading reporting on Fox News is an August 2019 Tucker Carlson segment titled “Dems Have Ruined America’s Cities.” This segment was about how Democrats have ruined San Francisco by creating its homeless epidemic. Of course, San Francisco’s homeless problem is not caused simply by Democrats, but because of a complex housing issue involving zoning laws and the geography of the city itself, which lacks enough area to build affordable apartments, and the city’s housing areas containing too many single-family homes.

But none of that stuff matters to Tucker; the point of this segment is to simply spread fear of states coming under Democratic control. Carlson even directly states that his audience should be concerned that Democrats want to spread their control to “all 50 states including your neighborhood.” 

This obviously biased and inaccurate reporting is clearly based on emotion and not fact. No evidence or graphs were provided to correlate the rise of homelessness in San Francisco with Democratic leaders in the city. 

Providing evidence to support your claim is a key way to write news, and even then you must be careful. There are plenty of fake websites, doctored videos and fabricated articles that can easily be discovered and cited in a news story. If you don’t cite evidence to support your claim, then you’re basically the same as a lunatic shouting conspiracy theories at people in an alleyway. 

Fox News’ talk show segments are clearly misleading – they are entertainment/opinion pieces that are not marked as such. It is important to note that news media organizations are businesses that profit off of eye-catching headlines. What about other networks?

An example of a biased left-wing news article that misleads readers would be an MSNBC article titled “Twitter knocks down Bernie Sanders’ suggestion that Russian trolls are behind online attacks by his supporters.”

This headline is inherently misleading as it relates to a topic about Bernie Sanders’ rowdy supporters posed during the Nevada 2020 Democratic Primary Debate. The article stated that Bernie was implying a connection between Russian bots and the behavior of his online supporters, whereas the opposite is true; Bernie specifically stated that he “wasn’t saying that was the case.”

Articles such as these seem to have much less bias than in Fox News articles, though. The aforementioned article was likely a “misreporting” of a Bernie Sanders incident rather than the obvious and deliberate skewed reporting of Fox.

It isn’t Fox News’ fault, either; the political-leaning biases of news organizations result in a media landscape that tends to lean more centrist-liberal, and there are fewer right-wing media organizations in number than left-wing, according to data from Pew Research.  

This means that because there are simply more left-leaning news organizations, they are able to report a variety of different stories independently from each other as well as corroborate information from each other. This results in left-leaning news tending to be of higher accuracy than right-leaning news. Also, left-wing news sources tend to not call other news sources “fake news” in an attempt to limit opposing opinions.

Because right-leaning news essentially has only one major “moderate” news outlet, Fox News, and the rest tend to lean more far-right, such as Breitbart or the Daily Wire, right-wing news organizations tend to be more of one point of view. Hence, there tends to be less accurate reporting and more opinion-based news than with left-wing news sources. This may be exemplified due to today’s highly-polarized political climate.

So, in conclusion, to consume news responsibly, remember to check for evidence, read both sides of the story, check if it is an opinion article or a news article, and fact-check sketchy information.

Misleading reporting, be it on cable television or on the web, can change a person’s entire political views. Teenagers are shown to be the least capable of distinguishing between real and false information according to a Stanford University study, and so it’s important that we recognize the “rules” of journalism, and how articles that break those rules can affect the way we think, or sway us in one political direction or another. And that’s not fake news.

With a President who openly promotes “alternative facts” independent of the truth, it is important that we are able to distinguish fact from fiction, news from opinion, so that we can accurately make the best choices for us and our country in the 2020 election and beyond. It’s even more important now that we’re in the middle of an international health crisis, where we need concrete information about the solutions we must implement and not baseless conspiracy theories. 

But this is just my opinion.