Media and the Power of First ImpressionsJOE HYAMS
EDITOR: Though written from an Israeli perspective, the following is an excellent analysis to understand the workings of the media and the power it holds over us in shaping public perceptions.
If you read this article -- and then re-read it by substituting the references to "Israel" with the word "Sikh" -- it'll help drive home for us the urgency for addressing our own media needs.
What are the primary factors in how people form opinions? Which has more impact, intuition or reason, in how people perceive Israel? These are some of the most important questions for us at HonestReporting as we fight for fair media coverage of Israel.
After all, correcting anti-Israel bias in the media means erasing the myths and distortions in the news that sway the public away from honest discourse about Israel. The more people see something presented as fact in the news, even if it is later corrected, the more they are likely to internalize it as part of their worldview.
In a recent debate on The New York Times website over Jonathan Haidt’s new book, “The Righteous Mind,” Michael P. Lynch (author of “In Praise of Reason”) summed up Haidt’s position as follows:
"Often “reasoning” really seems to be post-hoc rationalization: we tend to accept that which confirms what we already believe (psychologists call this confirmation bias). And the tendency goes beyond just politics. When people are told that they scored low on an I.Q. test, for example, they are more likely to read scientific articles criticizing such tests; when they score high, they are more likely to read articles that support the tests. They are more likely to favor the “evidence,” in other words, that makes them feel good. This is what Haidt calls the “wag the dog” illusion: thinking that reason is the tail that wags the dog of value judgment."
This kind of confirmation bias is a major challenge not only to HonestReporting but to the entire world of Israel advocacy. We see this type of bias among journalists whenever we find recycled photos, which have already been debunked as false or misleading, alongside current news articles.
A flagrant example appeared on Twitter earlier this year when a UN employee posted an old, unrelated photo of a bleeding Palestinian girl. The tweet strongly implied the photo was current and depicted the effect of an Israeli air strike. Although the photo was removed and the UN employee was placed under investigation after HonestReporting exposed the source, the damage was irrevocable.
As Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman points out, exposure to strong emotional imagery such as a plane wreck will lead people to overestimate the incidence of accidental deaths in the general population. The same can be said about evocative images of alleged victims of Israel military strikes, including phony or mislabeled photos.
So while reason plays an important role in shaping people’s opinions, we cannot ignore the effects of intuition. Cognitive psychologists have made significant progress on the matter in recent years. The community of Israel advocates ignores it at its own peril.
The author is CEO of HonestReporting, one of the world’s largest grassroots organizations defending Israel against media bias through education and action.
[Courtesy: Times of Israel]
October 15, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Harpreet Singh (Delhi, India), October 15, 2012, 2:59 PM.
We Sikhs and our bodies, at least in India, do not give any importance to media. Though character or kirdaar of a Sikh is more important (as Balpreet Kaur from America has proved recently,) then also we must not ignore the media. There is no hope from our elected bodies. Nowadays each news-site or web-site invites comments from readers and we must give the correct view point. I will give one example. A few ago, someone wrote in The Hindustan Times that in Bangla Sahib Gurdwara in Delhi, there are two langars, one for rich and another for the poor, though that is not true. The kar seva babaji has his own langar at his premises situated within the precincts of the gurdwara. The Bangla Sahib langar being popular because of its delicious rice and curry, most of the poor people prefer to eat there. Now this was a big allegation, but I think the response from our community to correct the misinformation was nil. Similarly, vis-a-vis the Balpreet Kaur incident, many serious comments on reddit.com about Sikh principles (why we cut nails, but not hair, etc.) needed urgent and solid clarifications from us ... but were not there.
2: N. Singh (Canada), October 15, 2012, 8:45 PM.
We seriously need to wake up to this and deal with it in an organized fashion as illustrated in this article. During my lifetime, I have witnessed first hand what the media can do to a minority. Firstly, there was the constant reporting of rapes, muggings and crimes by 'young, black males', clearly identifying the race of the alleged or real perpetrator. We have all witnessed the harm that this has done to the Black psyche as well as the general portrayal of their community. Secondly, there was the use and initiation of the word "Paki" to describe the community even vaguely connected with the subcontinent ... the term brought into usage by the British media. We had to deal with the abuse, violence and insults from this on a daily basis. The Nazis used the media extensively in Germany to initiate and justify the mass murder of Jews. Anti-Jewish literature was circulating many years before the Jewish Holocaust. We all know that chapter of history. I believe that a concerted media strategy is being put in place by the Indian authorities and their Hindu journalists to destroy the Sikhs. Quite recently I have noticed ad-hoc articles on the Daily Mail online appearing under the India section which send out subliminal messages about the Sikhs as terrorists and violent people. Any comments submitted are not published. Individual attempts to contact these publications are ignored. What we need is a fully-funded organization with the backing of big Sikh businesses to take on this challenge, otherwise I fear the worst is yet to come.
3: Aryeh Leib (Israel), October 16, 2012, 5:08 AM.
"If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing." ~Malcolm X - who also defined "history" as, "HIS story". While there are many significant differences between the Jewish and Sikh narratives, media certainly appears to be one area where a common cause exists. I would also point to a window (maybe even a door!) of opportunity for the two groups to learn from each other by working together exploring strategies to combat the common 3-pronged threat of De-legitimization and Demonization, the agenda of which is propelled forward by a well-coordinated campaign of Disinformation. I invite any Sikh whose heart and talents move him/her in this direction to check out the website of HonestReporting. I've followed them since the organization's inception, and can say that they're an excellent example of what I think Sikhi, in its group identity, needs today.
4: Harpreet Singh (Delhi, India), October 16, 2012, 3:02 PM.
I think in every country there are authorities/mechanism to report our grievances if the concerned newspaper/media is not publishing correct facts/clarifications. In India, there is the Press Council of India. Furthermore, legal recourse is available. A few years ago, Sikhs from Chandigarh were able to obtain a stay of a transmission of a TV programme,'Top Ten' after a legal battle. Yes, this requires much effort, money, dedication. Also we Sikhs neither try to know or disseminate, especially at an organised level, true facts about Sikh principles/ history/ contribution, etc. For example, how much do we know or have told the world about Bhagat Puran Singh of Pingalwara or S. Bhagwant Singh Dilawari?