The news media will paint your picture

…and you probably won’t like how the news media paints your picture.

I first wrote about “LittleLebowski”‘s self-defense incident on “How We Each Draw Our Lines Differently“. In my reading of his retelling, another thing stood out to me:

How the media paints your picture.

Here’s the full text of a story from KHON:

Honolulu police have arrested a suspect in a Waikiki stabbing.

It happened on Nohonani Street at around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Sean Hogle, 39, was arrested after police say he and a 38-year-old man were involved in a fight.

The victim was stabbed multiple times and taken to the hospital in serious condition.

There is no official word yet on what the fight was about. A witness at the scene said the altercation may have started with an argument between a man and a woman.

HPD has opened an attempted murder investigation.

Hogle has not been charged at this time.

When you read that, what impression are you left with?

Probably that Sean (LittleLebowski) is the bad guy.

Now in fairness, the article is pretty straightforward; there really isn’t editorializing or commentary. But the way it’s presented? It sure makes Sean seem like the bad guy.

Another report did say:

A witness… said the suspect stepped in to break up a domestic altercation involving an assault on a female. The suspect then stabbed the 38-year-old man.

Which is another fact, and when you hear it does paint a different picture.

Why did the first news story omit that fact? It could be for a nefarious reason, or it could simply be that reporter didn’t get to speak to any witnesses and simply didn’t know.

Regardless of why, the picture is still painted.

I know from my own incident that the news media will paint a particular picture. Once that picture is painted, opinions and perceptions and understanding will be formed. It may not be correct, but it will be what it is. Unfortunately it will likely remain the primary and only picture that people will have about the incident. You may have to fight an uphill battle to combat the image.

One way to start? Live a good life and provide a proper image of yourself online. The moment a story hits, news reporters know how to work Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo, and work it they will to find whatever information they can about you. If they can use it to create a larger story, they will. You’re welcome to cultivate whatever image and reputation about yourself that you wish: it’s your life, live it as you want. Just be aware how the public could, can, and does perceive you.

The court of public opinion has potential to do far greater damage to you than any court of law ever could. Just look at how the mob rules today with “Internet shaming”. It’s wrong, but it’s unfortunately part of how things are today.

On the same token, when you read news stories, consider your own responses and reactions. Do you have the whole story? Could the media be incorrect or incomplete in their report? Can you have empathy to those involved, instead of rushing to judgment? Use this as a way to improve your own personal responses, because someday that story may be about you.

Be sure to consider the news media, their impact, and how it affects the information of your story and thus your life. It’s an important part of figuring out “where you draw your line”.

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