A fascinating polling piece at YouGov.com illuminated how much we overestimate the size of minority groups whether it is Blacks, Jews, lesbians, transgenders or millionaires. How can it be that in a nation drowning in sources and distribution of information we can be so ignorant about who we are?
Once reason is our mistaking entertainment for information. Minorities are disproportionately represented in sports and entertainment not from pushing an agenda but because most people are not entertained by watching the mundane activities of the majority of Americans. We see more interracial couples in product ads, not to push an agenda but to reflect the reality. “The percentage of married-couple households that are interracial or interethnic grew across the United States from 7.4 to 10.2 percent from 2000 to 2012-2016.”
The non binary character of Taylor Mason on the Showtime series Billions made the TGNC (Transgender nonconforming) minority real for many people outside of the settings where they are likely to encounter them.
The news is more focused on minorities for two reasons. The lines between news and entertainment are increasingly blurred, and the success of news in the age of internet and social media is measured in clicks and shares more than journalistic quality. Fear and outrage is the cheap and easy path to clicks and shares. While entertainment exaggerates the percent of minority groups in our lives, the news exaggerates their oppression. The Jessie Smollet case indicates the demand for hate crimes is greater than the supply. Multiple studies estimate the rate of hate crime hoaxes ranges from 15% to a third.
In the aftermath of the George Floyd murder the incidence of unarmed Blacks killed by police was wildly exaggerated in the public’s mind. Public surveys showed estimates in the thousands. The real number in 2019 was closer to 15. (Liberals guessed much higher than conservatives.)
This misinformation has consequences. The George Floyd riots lead to the disastrous defund police movement which preceded sharp rises in violent crime in affected urban areas.
A large part of the problem lies is the political affiliation of news sources. Political differences became existential threats and justified news crossing the line to propaganda. While distrust of media has led people to even less reliable sources we are misled as much by the omission of stories that are true as we are by the acceptance of stories that are not. Facts, incomplete or out of context, can also be used to mislead.
From Kevin Williamson:
Our friends in the media who bemoan the rise of Donald Trump and Trump-style politics — which is to say, the politics of lies — have some penance of their own to do, because it was not right-wing populists who trained so many Americans to be skeptical of what they read in the newspaper: It was the newspapers themselves, not least the New York Times. As I have written before, the Times does some great work on its news pages, particularly on its local-news pages, but the intellectual standards of its opinion pages can be shockingly low — especially when it comes to the matter of entirely unsubstantiated claims about Republican politicians. And I say that as someone who has written for the Times opinion page.
This isn’t just a problem for the Times opinion pages, it isn’t just a problem for the Times as a whole, and it isn’t just a problem for the press, either: The more elite institutions fail to do their basic jobs, and the more they abuse their positions at the commanding heights, the more room they create for populist demagoguery .
The politicalization of the press creates a feedback loop where noise drowns out information and volume trumps accuracy. Efforts to silence dissent only amplifies them. Media stories increasingly reflect a world unfamiliar to more and more viewers. This destroys trust and when you trust nothing you will believe anything.