You only have one reputation

Photo illustration by Joel McCarthy

Don’t underestimate the destructive force of dishonesty

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Feb. 24, 2015

Journalists getting into trouble—an old story, yet a frequent one. There is not much you can predict these days except that sooner or later some established media figure will stumble off the pedestal they created for themselves and writhe in the filth of their undoing. What happened to Brian Williams, NBC’s Nightly News anchor, could not have happened to anyone. It was not an honest mistake. He did not misquote a subject. He did not make a typo. He made a conscious decision to lie. And although the public may be forgiving, they will never forget.

A person’s reputation is built upon their competence and integrity. When someone compromises it, as in the case of Williams, that reputation is tarnished. The stakes are the same; it doesn’t matter if the person is a 40-year veteran or a newly hired intern. But what can we learn from this incident? After all, we understood at a very young age not to lie.

The reason we lie is not necessarily because we are evil, lazy, hurtful people. The main motivation for lying comes internally from the person telling it. They may have a lack of confidence, lack of ability, or lack of trust. People lie to themselves first in a fake-it-until-you-make-it sort of way. The lies then snowball and eventually what began as a little confidence boost becomes a rolling, unstoppable stone of trouble.

When Williams was called out for his exaggerated story, he admitted to misremembering the situation. And believe it or not, in his subconscious mind, that is in fact true. If you tell a lie enough, eventually it does become true; however, that doesn’t change reality. We need to be aware of what we are lying about and how far we string our web.

It is time we recognize that there is no such thing as a harmless lie. Whether it’s in a professional, academic, or social environment lying can compromise your reputation and destroy your relationships. We must have confidence in ourselves and own up to our mistakes. People are quick to forget errors. We all make mistakes. We all live pretty normal lives. We all work hard. We should stop allowing lies to be an acceptable norm.

Take a look at your resumé or listen to yourself at a party and try to catch yourself when you stray from the truth. Call yourself out on it. The sooner you know you are a liar, the sooner you can stop. You do need to stop. If you don’t, it will destroy your life. Maybe not today. Maybe not 20 years from now. But one day. Look at all the famous people who are now only recognized for the lies they told and not their accomplishments. You don’t want your name on the career tombstone alongside Brian Williams, do you?

Reporters aren’t robots


By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Oct. 2013

Mass media has an enormous cultural responsibility. It can influence everything from the food we eat to the politicians we vote for, so it’s critical that all the news presented is informative and accurate.

All that is good, but society has been so focused on the “truth” that journalists have become all tight-lipped when giving their opinions on the topics they cover. Fearful of losing their job, being ridiculed, or getting sued, most reporters and journalists choose the “no comment” method of relaying news in order to appeal to the collective and avoid backlash. But with reporters hiding behind a veil of ingenuousness, it’s the readers and viewers who don’t really get the full story. After all, credibility is an illusion.

Understand this: all media is biased, whether it’s a conglomerate like MSNBC or FoxNews, or an independently run news source like the Other Press. There’s always your story, my story, and the truth—so wouldn’t it be better to know what everyone’s opinion is right from the start? From there we can select who to listen to and who to avoid, who to share ideas with and who to challenge. Understanding is gained from open dialogue, not bottled up suspicion and mistrust.

Criticizing media bias is like criticizing the way we learn from our instructors, our parents, and our friends. You would never condemn any of them for giving their points of view; why shouldn’t the same go for media professionals? The public demands ethical journalism, but individual opinions are just as viable, as long as they’re shared ethically and honestly.

In the annual State of the News Media report done by Pew Research Center, MSNBCwas touted as the most opinionated news network, with 85 per cent of their content being opinions and commentary, versus 15 per cent factual news. Other news media outlets aim for a 50/50-split, and I believe that is a fair balance.

In a world with so many options for news sources, bias is not a negative. In the same ways that we all think and speak differently, news sources should present their differences as well. It would open the playing field for readers and viewers to think critically and build upon their own individual opinions.

News and current events aren’t supposed to be comforting. News is not a television sitcom or a romantic comedy you can cuddle up to. It’s informative, it’ll spark conversations, and only through discussion can we heighten social standards and awareness. Media bias isn’t the problem. The issue is a refusal to see from another’s point of view. That leads to prejudice, stereotyping, and inaccurate assumptions.

I understand the thin line between subjective opinion and propaganda, so don’t get me wrong: what I’m preaching is hard-hitting free speech, not bullshit. As long as an idea is based around facts, there is no problem with voicing harmless thoughts. If you don’t want to hear it then find something else, but in a chaotic world, it would be nice to know what those influencers from television, radio, newspaper, and the Internet are really thinking. In the end, the truth will always surface, regardless of what was reported.