Why Is Sensationalism So Appealing?

Why Is Sensationalism So Appealing?

Fun, but sometimes false news
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Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images via wiki

You know the headlines: "so and so are getting a divorce!" or "John Doe, a CHEATER." Utterly scandalous, incredibly addicting, juicy juicy gossip. You can't deny you love it. And frankly, that's okay. Because it's all your biology's doing.

Humans are naturally drawn to sensationalism. “From an evolutionary point of view, the emotional impact of these stories makes sense. Our ancestors would likely have increased their reproductive success by gaining certain kinds of information about the world around them. Thus, stories about animal attacks, deadly parasites and tainted food sources remain salient topics, even millions of years after their likelihood of occurrence has become marginal in industrialized nations," said Hank Davis, an author that analyzed the popularity of front-page news stories from the 1700s to 2001.

“It is characteristic of all humans, not just journalists, to monitor the world around us, and we share this characteristic with much of the animal kingdom,” said Lasswell. He calls it the ‘surveillance’ function of news.

"Over 80 percent believe sensational stories receive lots of news coverage simply because they are exciting, not because they are important," according to The American Society of Newspaper Editors. But why is this?

"A History of News," by NYU Journalism Professor Mitchell Stephens states sensationalism has been around ever since humans had the ability to tell stories. Sex, violence and some sort of conflict appeal to wide audiences because it "strengthens the social fabric," said Stephens. In order for journalists to use methods of sensationalism, facts have to be twisted and manipulated to gain more attention on a topic that may not be so exciting. Clearly, the result of this is simple, false news is born.

Journalists have been conditioned to look for stories that are controversial and scandalous. "We are naturally inclined to attend to conflict or unexpected events in the news," said Paige Brown Jarreau of scilogs.com. "In a 1997 German study, Christiane Eilders found that when she asked readers to reproduce particular news stories in their own words, they were better able to remember the details of stories that were controversial, personalized." These stories stick to human’s brains, but is this material worth remembering in the long run?

Some journalist's in the world get carried away and create false news because of the attention they are given after writing about a specific sensationalistic topic. Journalists are not robots; we crave attention too just like everyone else. Remember Stephen Glass? The man who fabricated more than half of his publications because of the money and attention he was given? It's not difficult to get carried away without even realizing it. If you are fortunate enough to obtain 15 minutes of fame, make sure it's because of something you are proud of. In journalism, smoke-in-mirrors does not apply.

I interpret sensationalism as a guilty pleasure; you know you love it and can't resist it; the candy is too sweet to put down. But it's not necessarily something you should be proud of. Arousing the heart is something journalists strive for; we just have to be careful.

Cover Image Credit: Stephan Lendman

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Ilhan Omar Is at Best Foolhardy and at Worst, Yes, Anti-Semitic

Her latest statements seem to lack substance, motivation, or direction.

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I find the case of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) to be a curious one.

Specifically, I am referring to the recent controversy over select comments of hers that have generated accusations of anti-Semitism. In all honesty, prior to doing research for this article, I was prepared to come to her defense.

When her comments consisted primarily of "Israeli hypnosis" and monied interest, I thought her wording poor, though not too egregiously deviated from that of most politicians in the current climate of bad behavior. After all, Israeli PACs surely do have a monied interest in the orientation of United States policy in the Middle East. Besides, if President Trump can hypothesize about killing someone in broad daylight and receive no official sanction, I don't see the need for the House of Representatives to hand down reprimand to Rep. Omar for simply saying that Israel may have dealt wrongly, regardless of the veracity of that position.

And yet, seemingly discontent that she had not drawn enough ire, Omar continued firing. She questioned the purported dual loyalty of those Americans who support the state of Israel, while also making claim that the beloved former President Obama is actually not all that different from the reviled current President Trump.

In short, the initial (mostly) innocuous statements about the United States' relation with Israel have been supplanted by increasingly bizarre (and unnecessary) postulations.

Those latest two controversies I find most egregious. Questioning the loyalty of an American citizen for espousing support for a heavily persecuted world religion and in defense of a refuge for practitioners of that self-same religion that has existed as an independent state since 1948, seems, in really no uncertain terms, anti-Semitic.

After all, is it not her own party that so adamantly supports persecuted Palestinians in the very same region? Is it not she and fellow Muslim Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) (who is not without her own streak of anti-Semitic controversy) that have rejected challenges to their own loyalty in being ethnically Somali and Palestinian respectively? Is her claim not akin to the "racist" demands that Obama produce proof of his birth in the United States, and the more concrete racism that asserted he truly was not? And (if you care to reach back so far) can her statement not be equated to suggestions that President John F. Kennedy would be beholden to the Vatican as the first (and to date only) Catholic to hold the presidency?

From what I can discern amongst her commentary, in Omar's mind, the rules that apply to her framework on race, ethnicity, religion, and culture as sacred idols above reproach do not extend to her Jewish contemporaries.

Oh, and may I remind you that over 70% of Jewish Americans voted for Hilary Clinton in 2016.

And yet, beyond even this hypocrisy, is the strange disdain Omar suddenly seems to hold for Barack Obama. Even as a non-Democrat, while I can find reason for this, it is still largely perplexing.

To begin with, I recognize that Ilhan Omar is not your prototypical Democrat. She would scoff at being termed a moderate, and likely would do the same to being labeled a traditional liberal. While she doesn't identify as an outright democratic socialist, one would have to be totally clueless to avoid putting her in the company of those who do, such as Tlaib or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

As such, she's bound to have some critical evaluations of President Obama, despite the lionizing that the Democratic establishment has and continues to engage in. Two points still stick out to me as obvious incongruities in her statement, however.

First, Obama and Trump are nothing alike. Again, this coming from someone who does not regularly support either, I can at least attempt to claim objectivity. While Obama might not have been faithful to all the demands of the far-left during his presidency, his position on the political spectrum was far from the extreme bent that Trump has ventured into.

Secondly, there is the style of the two men to consider. While Obama had his share of goofs and gaffes (I still think it somewhat juvenile that he often refused to say "radical Islamic terrorism" when referring to Islamist extremists) he pales in comparison to Trump. Every week Trump has his foot caught in a new bear trap. Obama is enormously tame in comparison.

And in addition to all of that, one must beg the question of Omar's timing. With Republicans emboldened by her controversies and House Democratic leadership attempting to soothe the masses, why would Omar strike out at what's largely a popular figure for those that support her most? There seemed no motivation for the commentary and no salient reasoning to back it up, save that Omar wanted to speak her mind.

Such tactlessness is something that'll get you politically killed.

I do not believe Barack Obama was a great president, but that's not entirely important. I don't live in Ilhan Omar's district; her constituents believe Obama was a great president, and that should at least factor into her considerations. Or maybe she did weigh the negative value of such backlash and decided it wouldn't matter? 2019 isn't an election year, after all. Yet, even if that's the case, what's to gain by pissing off your superiors when they're already pissed off at you?

You need to pick your battles wisely in order to win the war, and I'm highly doubtful Omar will win any wars by pitching scorched-earth tactics over such minute concerns.

Her attitude reminds me not only of that of some of her colleagues engaging obtusely and unwisely over subjects that could best be shrugged off (see the AOC media controversies), but also some of my own acquaintances. They believe not only in the myth of their own infallibility, but the opposition bogeyman conjured by their status in a minority or marginalized group. As the logic goes, "I'm a member of x group, and being so gives me the right to decimate anyone who has any inclination to stand against me in any capacity, tit for tat." So much for civility.

I initially came here to defend Rep. Ilhan Omar, and I still do hold to that in certain cases. The opposition to some of her positions is unwarranted. She is allotted the freedom of speech, as are all Americans.

And yet, in certain other cases she has conducted herself brashly, and, one could argue, anti-Semitically.

All I can say is that I am content living adjacent to Minneapolis, not in it. You'd be hard-pressed to find me advocating for leadership that makes manifest in such impolitic fashion.

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