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At times the news can be disheartening. It can also be very wrong. It’s all about how we interpret things.

News is supposed to be built on fact, only fact. The reporting of it is not supposed to be tainted with bias. Concluding opinions are meant to be left for the listener or reader to make.

But that doesn’t always happen. Opinions do creep into stories.

The problem stems from entertainment. We crave it.

Basic facts have a tendency to get boring. Too many details on any one thing requires a long attention span. Time is what we don’t have a lot of and patience isn’t all that thrilling. To pick up the tempo and razzle up the humdrum, a news story needs to sparkle. By omitting some facts it leaves those left over all bright and lovely. Like fish, we’re attracted to the shiny thing dangled in front of us and lured away from safety. The truth exit and lies enter. It happens almost all of the time and rarely are we made aware of what facts were left out.

And there’s no going backwards to reassess the words and facts used in a story. Once a news package is delivered, it’s done. We move on. They move on. Everyone moves on.

No one cares about going over old ground anyway. Why go there? We’ve already been there. We want to go to someplace new, see new stuff and do new things. So the lie gets by and everyone involved in the news chain supports it. That doesn’t make the process right or accurate. It just allows us to become comfortable with lie telling and lie listening. We’re extremely proactive participants in the world of news entertainment.

Here’s a fantastic lie I witnessed in the eighties. I only know how big it became because I knew the background to those reported in the story. A friend’s friend was sent to jail for the murder of a woman in Logan City.

He lied to the police.

He had reason to lie. He didn’t want his partner knowing something he’d done. She was in the room when he was being questioned. That small, insignificant word ‘no’ he gave the police in response to being asked whether he had ever been in the woman’s house, was all that was needed to lock him up. He was accused within a day, remanded into police custody and awaited his day in court.

At the time it was the most explosive news event in Queensland. The piece headed every broadcast. The woman in question had been bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat and readers gasped and cringed at the morbid details splashed across the pages. Those living in the area near the victim stayed inside while detectives outside swore they’d catch their man. They pounced hard and fast, announcing gleefully they had caught the menace, locking it up tight and tossing away the key. The good people rejoiced and went back outside to do it in the sunshine.

Meanwhile, a scared young man in the same cell awaited trial. The investigation that had brought him to that cell was haphazard and hurried. I know this because my ear was close to the action. The news didn’t report the bumbling that went on behind the scenes. In all fairness, reporters didn’t need to include any of those details. Their frenzy was fueling the engine to the police’s hurriedness which, in turn, created more news. The media pushed extremely hard to get the police to find the evil doer sooner than later. The community wanted instant results. The reporters wanted to report those results and give the people what they wanted.

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The backstory: Let’s call our ‘accused’ Jon Smith. Jon isn’t a fast thinker at all. He is a kind, gentle man. Jon lived with his lovely girlfriend Jane who felt safe in Jon’s securing arms. They weren’t married. They were in love and had been so for a year or two. Jon didn’t have any children with Jane but he had one with another woman. Sarah was his former lover. As you can imagine, Jane didn’t like Sarah. She especially disliked Jon having to visit Sarah to gain access to their jointly-shared child. Someone broke into Sarah’s home and killed her by beating her head in with a bat.

On the night of the murder, Jon was asleep beside Jane, all night. There was a knock at the door the next morning. The police wanted to know if he’d ever been inside Sarah’s home. They had lined him up to be a suspect.

Jane had one rule for Jon when it came to Sarah: Don’t you ever go inside that bitch’s house.

What a fool Jon was. What a fool Jane made him out to be. The police asked him again as he looked across at Jane’s growing frown.

A fingerprint left on one of her light switches was his. The police already knew what his answer should’ve been. All he had to do was say ‘yes’ and let the police confirm his movements and investigate properly. He didn’t do that. He looked at Jane’s face and listened to his dumb heart instead.

It’s not against the law to lie to a partner. The police have a different view on lying though. And it’s completely irrelevant as to why he went inside Sarah’s home anyway. It doesn’t matter if he went inside to sleep with her or help her get their child ready for an access date, he should’ve been brave enough to face Jane with the hard truth and not invite doubt into the minds of the investigators.

His lie changed everything.

He was taken away immediately and the reporters celebrated by plastering his image everywhere. They successfully demonized Jon by calling him ‘Mr Smith’ or ‘Smith’ and writing ‘Smith claimed this or that.’ Sarah’s presence was sensitively personalized by using ‘Sarah’ or ‘ Miss Sarah Jones.’ Without doing anything more than this they separated the two players into their villain and victim roles, producing a subliminal bias right from the start.

It conjures up images of chanting villagers taking up their pitchforks to hunt down the evil, thirsty to the idea of seeing a good lynching. Jon didn’t commit this crime. The only crime he was part of was the one that robbed him of his dignity and almost two years of his life.

He wasn’t officially in a jail but he might as well have been. Eighteen months is what it took for the police to find him not guilty. There wasn’t the evidence to support what they wanted to believe. The story went from being front page news in large bold fonts when he was the killer, to small, insignificant inserts buried deep in the body of filler-content when it was clear he didn’t do it.

He was released from police custody and the report in the paper was a just few small lines located near the rear page.

He had no job to go back to and his girlfriend had moved on. Did anyone care at the end of it? Nup. Not at all. The media and the police did a number on him. They all could’ve done more to be fair to Jon during the trial and they could’ve done better to serve the public with unbiased reporting, complete and totally unbiased reporting.

And the real killer?

Oh yes, what about the real killer? Yes, now there’s a thought.

While the media and police welcomed the community back to a lifestyle of calm and safety, a murderer walked around carefree. He’s probably killed before. It’s likely he’d do it again. What about Sarah? Her life was taken. No one is held accountable for that. A child is without its mother. Did any of those details ever get reported? Doesn’t her family need closure by finding the real perpetrator?

Days after the murder, more leads came to the police, good strong ones too but Jon was already in custody. He’d lied once and the community was satisfied he did it. They didn’t want to backwards and feel unsafe again. They had a man. They had their sense of justice fulfilled. Did any of these facts appear in the news when it was happening?

Why look for someone else when you’ve already found someone?

In SEETHINGS you’ll find mention of how the news media manipulates its stories to meet its own end. It leads us all the way to Kurdaitcha, the silent assassin taking lives from a storm ravaged city. The media plays a crucial part in helping our killer commit murder.

-Michael Forman (author)

The Novel ¦The Author ¦ Order 

Michael Forman’s books on Goodreads ratings: 4 (avg rating 4.50)

Seethings

News: Factual Entertainment? was originally published on MICHAEL FORMAN AUTHOR

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