Said Thomas Jefferson: “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” Jefferson’s comment may be expanded to include most of today’s mass media; this is especially true of television. As American linguist Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa said: “In the age of television, image becomes more important than substance.” It is effectively visual lying, dictated by Marshall McLuhan’s observation: “The medium is the message.” For example, TV news programs often illustrate air pollution with a smoke stack emitting water vapor, implying it is pollution when it is anything but.
Distortion and deception are accentuated by hyperbole. Television news and documentaries frequently report normal weather as “extreme weather,” implying it is abnormal and caused by human activity. But while a hurricane, for example, may inflict serious damage to our structures and cause major loss of life, it is a normal event in hurricane-prone regions, where it is foolish to live without preparing for the weather patterns of the area.
The problem is accentuated when supposedly prestigious newspapers like the New York Times present provably false information. “Summer’s Beast is Loose,” published in the Times on July 16, was an obvious attempt to sensationalize warm, but normal, summer temperatures: