2011-06-09 / Sam Bari

Debunking the mythical media

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

By Sam Bari

One of my favorite sports is poking fun at the folly of the media business. The media’s ability to skew historical accuracy is astounding. The media of yesteryear, before modern technology, was much more capable of erroneous recording of facts than today, when information can allegedly be checked.

However, checked or not, the information that survives is told from a perspective that makes the best news. The facts, right or wrong, that attract the most viewers, sell the most newspapers, and elicit the most hits on the Internet are generally the ones engraved in historical stone and accepted as the truth – God help us all.

To add proverbial insult to injury, we must take into consideration that we are media victims. Whatever the media powers decide is worthy, is the only news we see. We aren’t given a choice.

That’s why Brittany, Paris and Lindsey get more ink, airtime and Internet hits than let’s say, news from the White House or reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The reports are so thorough when chronicling the useless lives of these icons of pop culture that printing their last names is not necessary. Everybody knows who they are. Anyone living in an area with media access during the last five or six years could not have escaped exposure to information about those three people.

It is indeed interesting that any news about the media darlings, accurate or not, is devoured by the public, even though our lives are not affected by the information in any way. Actually, that is more sad than interesting. However, if the aforementioned is true, we would be foolish to believe that the popular or most accepted information in the history books is always correct.

For instance, this week Sarah Palin again attracted media focus for adding another blunder to her long string of gaffes as she continued her attempt to set the record for blatant display of ignorance.

This time she tried to convince us that her recounting of Paul Revere’s ride was accurate. Before we so hastily pounce on her blunder, what makes anyone think that the facts in the history books that she misquoted were completely accurate?

In fact, the information was skewed. Paul Revere did make the legendary ride to warn the colonists that the British were coming. However, he only rode 19 miles from Boston to Cambridge. The people he told also went out to help warn the Minute Men that the British were on their way.

There were as many as 40 men on horseback going house to house to announce the news. Later that night, Revere was captured and detained by a British patrol while riding to Concord with William Dawes, a militia member, and Samuel Prescott, a doctor. Dawes and Prescott escaped.

Revere was then made famous in the epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” The poem credited Revere with being a hero of the American Revolution for alerting the colonists before the British had a chance to attack.

The truth is, on the same day, a postal worker by the name of Israel Bissell made a 345-mile ride on horseback that took four days and six hours from Watertown, Mass., to Philadelphia. Along the way, he warned many more colonists of the oncoming British regulars than Revere did. That is a documented fact.

However, all the credit went to Revere, a successful silversmith and active patriot who had organized an intelligence and alarm system to keep watch on the British military. Bissell was never mentioned in the local news. Longfellow and the media found Revere more romantic, and easier to write about than Israel Bissell, a lowly postal worker.

Even back then, it was the media that was responsible for sensationalizing selected information and turning local legend into accepted fact.

The same thing happened when Washington Irving wrote about Christopher Columbus convincing

Queen Isabella of Spain that the world was round. The scientific community had accepted Aristotle’s proof that the world was spherical more than 500 years earlier. She already knew that.

Irving erred by not writing about Columbus’ miscalculations concerning the size of the earth. He convinced Isabella that Japan was 2,500 miles away when, in fact, it was 12,200 miles from Spain. When Columbus arrived in the Bahamas, he thought he was off the coast of Asia.

Media myth is largely responsible for why we live in a system we can’t understand.

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