NOTE: I am a fan of the New England Patriots, thus indicating potential bias in the views expressed below. In other words, “confirmation bias” might be at work here. But more on that in a minute.
The media circus known as “Deflategate” served as quite the distraction before the Super Bowl, but it also had one positive effect – it taught enlightened media consumers some important lessons:
1. Internet-obsessed “journalism” – including social media – is diametrically opposed to responsible journalism.
I’ve argued this point before, but Deflategate underscores the message.
Kevin MacMillan, a Lake Tahoe newspaper editor, summarizes the inanity of the Deflategate timeline from his geographically distant perspective:
“New England Patriots destroy Indianapolis Colts in AFC title game; Twitter ‘report’ suggests Patriots may have used under-inflated balls to their advantage; media outlets and pundits pick up story and immediately opine the Patriots should be punished (even though nothing has yet to come out that they were at fault); Patriots and fans fire back and accuse media and world of being New England haters; NFL rules 11 of 12 Patriots balls were illegally under-inflated; press conferences featuring New England star Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick denying any wrongdoing are attended by literally hundreds of media; thousands of Internet jokes and memes about balls being touched, fondled, etc., explode; and the media, led by ESPN, covers it all with a level of veracity that deserves its own definition in Webster’s dictionary.”
2. The viral nature of today’s media skews news judgment.
Rush Limbaugh, America’s beacon of journalistic integrity, observed that Deflategate was “how the three major networks led their newscasts [on Jan. 22] with everything else going on. The king of Saudi Arabia, well, maybe he hadn’t died before they went on the air. But clearly Yemen had happened. And the thing with Israel and Netanyahu. And any number of serious things happening in this country, and this is what they lead with?”
Rush Limbaugh makes this point! Enough said.
3. Confirmation bias – the tendency to seek information that supports your view and to ignore information that does not – is alive and well.
Not until Deflategate did I understand the universal dislike of the Patriots outside of New England.
I came late to the Pats party, having grown up a Baltimore Colts fan until they were kidnapped and moved to Indianapolis in 1984 (but that’s another story). Until Deflategate, I believed fans of most other teams – save for, possibly, the Jets – at least respected the winning ways of New England. Boy, was I wrong!
After observing Deflategate debates and participating in them myself, I now know that if you’re not a Pats fan, you despise the Pats. And nothing will convince you that they did not cheat. Just like nothing will convince Pats fans that their beloved Pats did cheat. Confirmation bias.
4. Thanks to the Internet and cable news channels, the world is increasingly a place of echo chambers and filter bubbles where like-minded people congregate.
If you like Fox News, that’s where you live, ideologically. Same thing if you like MSNBC. But never in both worlds. Likewise, your favorite online site is either Breitbart or the Daily Kos, but never both.
Internet activist Eli Pariser explains that Web searches, controlled by algorithms that employ our Internet-browsing history, show us “what we want to see” but “not necessarily what we need to see. A filter bubble is what he calls it. It’s a bubble of your own unique information, but you can’t see what doesn’t get into it.”
5. The speed of today’s news cycle causes many to judge prematurely.
Providence Journal columnist Mark Patinkin was certainly not the only public voice to declare the Patriots guilty before the investigation. But he was one of the few to admit his hasty error.
“[On Jan. 25], I called out the Patriots as a team for intentionally breaking rules by messing with those footballs,” wrote Patinkin. “At best, that was a rush to judgment. So today [Jan. 28], I’m writing a second column to add something: I blew it.”
“It’s a lesson not just about being trigger-happy as a writer, but about listening to your gut. I didn’t.”
Far too many people with a blog, or a newspaper column, or a network microphone were far too willing to cast the Patriots as criminals even before the NFL could begin its investigation, relying on hearsay, social media posts, and scattered bits of information. Apparently, consumers of the 24/7 news cycle expect nothing less.
6. Regardless of one’s feelings regarding Deflategate, the best team usually wins.
The Patriots proved that point with their Super Bowl victory over the Seahawks this year – without even one deflated football in sight.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.