What is the cost of diplomacy? Allegedly, it’s about $200 million dollar per day. This week, a wave of anger enveloped the country after it was reported by an Indian outlet quoting an anonymous source, that this would be the cost to taxpayers for President Barack Obama’s visit to India. The “news” quickly became viral, making rounds in the blogoshpere, and was picked up by conservative pundits. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., repeated the figure on CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Nov. 3, 2010, in order to make a point about outrageous government spending. When asked where he came up with the number, he admitted that “these are the numbers that have been coming out in the press.” The White House was forced to jump into damage control mode, to address the rumor-turned-headline-news.
With 24-hour news cycles to fill, it seems to have become a habit of news outlets to report on the stories of other news outlets, and we often see reporters interviewing other reporters. In her chapter War and Peace in the Information Age, Elizabeth Hanson addresses how the phenomenon of instantaneous transmission of news creates pressure for an immediate response from the government, often before the government has had a chance to even assess and formulate a position, and regardless of whether the news is legitimate or not.
Our desire for instant gratification as it applies to information has compromised the filtering of that information, and while it allows us to hold political leaders accountable, and accelerate the decision-making process of government, it also results in time wasted on sometimes erroneous topics. This extends beyond politics as well. In retrospect there are several hours of my life I wish I could have back, where my attention was captivated by non-news- think Ballon Boy. Earlier this week it was the mystery “rocket” trail spotted off the coast of California (CNN). I have to question whether it is an efficient use of time to mobilize the FAA, Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force, Pentagon and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, to try to explain what might turn out to be an optical illusion of the contrail from an airplane.
Greater access to Breaking News through ICTs and satellite news further highlights the need for media literacy. The entire investigative process, or lack thereof, of journalism now unfolds in front of viewers. Information gathering, fact-checking, and debunking have become part of the story itself, and citizens (as well as politicians) should be mindful of this fact when considering and applying information received from news sources.