Somewhere Between Sensationalism and Hysteria

Somewhere Between Sensationalism and Hysteria - November 2, 2014

State Representative David Perryman

Our oldest child was born in 1982. I was still in law school and my wife was just finishing up her second year of teaching. All of a sudden our world changed. There we were, two kids who had just been given more responsibility than we had ever had.

It really didn’t hit until parents and siblings had gone home.  All of a sudden one day, there we were with this little girl. What were we supposed to do with her and what if something we did was not right?

In retrospect, there were probably lots of things we did wrong and lots of things that we did right. It is comforting to know that children are created to be pretty resolute things and loving them can cover a multitude of missteps.

Even so, we all want to avoid mistakes, particularly in regard to the most important task with which we will ever be presented. A 2009 book by Po Bronson and Ashely Merryman, entitled NurtureShock assists in that endeavor.

In contrast to the medical-based opinions of Dr. Spock and the experiential been-there, done-that advice by other authors of parenting books, Bronson and Merryman use scientifically quantified approaches to provide eye opening conclusions.  For instance, children who are praised more for their effort rather than their intelligence after a test normally perform much better on subsequent tests.

Another study found that reading The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf increased children’s likelihood of lying while a book on George Washington and the Cherry Tree decreased it dramatically. In light of the marked distinction in the results of hearing a negative message as compared to a positive message, application to adult listeners is no stretch.

In other words, it would be logical to believe that the effect of being needlessly and repeatedly alarmed through media outlets of Chicken Little’s message that the sky is falling would have a drastically negative effect on the attitude and demeanor of the listener.  Why would we expect anything less than fear, distrust and trepidation?

This is no more of a knock on FOX or the Blaze than it is on CNN or MSNBC.  What is inexcusable is the lack of accountability of all of these purveyors of sensationalism and hysteria. For instance, we react with terror and anguish when we are inundated with non-stop coverage of the “Ebola epidemic” when in truth, as of October 29, 2014, the number of deaths world-wide for the entire year is just over 4,900, while the United States alone has nearly 54,000 influenza and pneumonia deaths per year.

Add to that nearly 600,000 from heart disease and another 143,000 from respiratory failures like COPD and it would appear that we have bigger fish to fry than Ebola. In fact, the odds of contracting Ebola is 1 in 13.3 Million. The odds are better that we would be attacked by a shark or die in a plane crash than becoming infected with Ebola. It is more likely that we would die from being struck by lightning or from a bee sting.

Punditfact, a branch of Politifact.com, a project operated by the Tampa Bay Times and widely praised and criticized from both ends of the political spectrum, has found that CNN, FOX and MSNBC all three have credibility issues.

In a recent 2014 study, FOX was found to tell the truth only 18% of the time and even of that 18% only 8% was totally true and the other 10% was mostly true. 60% was false, mostly false or “pants on fire” false.  The other 22% were half-true.

During the same time frame, testing of statements made by MSNBC was found to be true only 31% of the time and 48% of the statements made were found to be untrue. CNN scored 60% on honesty and made untrue statements 18% of the time.

Understanding that no media outlet that scores 60% or less on a truth test can legitimately be called “news” is a first step.  The second is turning it off and finding something positive to do with our time.  Perhaps reading to the children in our lives would fill the void. Maybe starting with the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree or Abraham Lincoln’s honesty in returning a penny to a customer would be a place to start.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as State Representative.  If you have questions or comments about this issue or any other matter, please contact me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.