This is a thread about how journalists decide what is “news” and what isn’t. Anyone shaping the news and anyone consuming the news should understand who decides what counts as news, how they decide it, and what determines what they say about it. Here, I ask a few questions:
This thread is inspired by the gap in what mainstream media treats as urgent and what are the greatest threats to human safety, well-being, and survival.
For example, air pollution kills *10 million people* each year and causes untold additional illness and suffering. It rarely features in daily news stories. Why?
Instead, daily news is dominated by “crime” stories. But even these are “crime” stories of a certain kind: they aren't stories about the many air pollution crimes. They are the kind of "crimes" publicized by police press releases, usually involving poor people.
Much of deadly U.S. air and water pollution is also criminal, but “law enforcement” chooses to ignore it, and thus so do most journalists.
Why is this important? What the media treats as urgent helps to determine what the public thinks is urgent. It shapes what (and who) we are afraid of.
A thought experiment: Imagine if every day for the last 25 years every newspaper and tv station had urgent “breaking news” stories and graphics about the *thousands of deaths the night before* from air/water pollution, climate change, or poverty?
Take the frenzy over “retail shoplifting” from big corporate stores, which has taken over local/national news. Same reporters don't cover the $137 million in corporate wage theft *every day,* including by the same companies whose press releases about shoplifting they now quote.
The media’s frenzy has led to emergency actions by many politicians, who are feeling intense political pressure to pass laws, assign thousands more police, increase police/prison budgets, and project an urgency they have *never* shown for wage theft:…
Wage theft is more devastating than all other property crime combined. And unlike theft from big companies, wage theft is *by corporations* from workers, many of whom struggle to meet basic necessities of life. It makes people homeless and kids go without food and winter coats.
Did you know that mostly bank fraudulent overdraft fees amount to basically the same amount of property theft as all burglary, larceny, car theft, and shoplifting combined? Probably not, because the media doesn’t report on instances of overdraft fraud by banks every day.
If it’s hard to grasp the scope of the news’s silence on $50 billion wage theft epidemic, how can we grasp the scope of the news’s daily silence on the $1 trillion tax evasion epidemic by wealthy people?…
Viewed in terms of absolute property value and objective harm, this makes much of the media’s obsession with retail shoplifting from corporate chain stores look absurd.
The same is true across public health, banking, manufacturing, employment, consumer protection, tax, and environment: things that cause greatest suffering and threats to public safety—many of which are crimes—receive a fraction of the attention as what police report as “crimes.”
Most people don’t know, because "news" didn’t tell them, that fraud crimes by bankers killed tens of thousands of people. Hundreds of thousands of people become homeless each year because of illegal actions by landlords. Almost never reported each day.…
So, who is deciding to cover shoplifting with “breaking news” urgency but not air pollution, wage theft, and fraud that leaves people and their children homeless and in poverty?
The stakes are enormous. The world is careening toward extinction level events and millions are already dying from preventable causes that most people in the U.S. do not treat with urgency.
It’s hard to think of something more important than understanding the information-spreading apparatus that creates this gap between perception and reality.
Most people setting these agendas in the media are caring people committed to helping people understand the world. The NYT slogan is “all the news that’s fit to print.” The WaPo: “Democracy dies in the darkness.” How did such a gap between reality and "the news" develop?
Here are a few questions worth asking, and I hope you’ll add more:

Do the social and economic circles of journalists determine what they think is newsworthy?
Are there habits and customs relating to where journalists look for information, who their sources are, and who has the money to publicize things to journalists that determine what is considered news?
Are there professional economic incentives, racial and class biases, and jingoistic ideologies that shape *what harms* to *which people* count as important enough to be breaking news, or news at all?
What role does corporate ownership and consolidation of media companies play in determining what is covered and how urgently it is covered?

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More from @equalityAlec

Jan 18
I wrote about how two Harvard professors accused me of trying to "censor" them when I showed their proposal to add 500,000 cops to arrest 7.8 million more people was riddled with dishonest errors. Then it got weirder. Students sent me the final exam question from Prof. Lewis.
Here is the background in case you missed it yesterday:…
Here is the mandatory exam question from the first-year criminal law class:
Read 12 tweets
Jan 17
Do you remember the two Harvard professors who wrote the article riddled with errors calling for 500,000 more cops? I learned last night that they circulated a PDF to other profs a couple months ago replying to my critique suggesting that I was trying to "censor" them.
Here was my critique. It's remarkable that, at a moment of *actual* censorship of professors in Florida and beyond, my thorough criticism of the dishonesty and poor arguments of two prominent Harvard profs is being framed as an attempt to "censor" them.…
I'll have a post later today responding to their statement accusing me of censorship.
Read 4 tweets
Jan 16
Thread: Seven years ago, Christy Dawn Varden became the first person since the rise of mass incarceration to win a federal lawsuit challenging the U.S. money bail system on equal protection and due process grounds. Her story is tragic, but important.
Like so many women separated from their children because they can't pay money bail, Christy was distraught. Like so many people in U.S. jails, when she was crying uncontrollably, Christy was strapped to a restraint chair and repeatedly Tased until she stopped screaming.
Christy was trapped in jail because she didn't have a few hundred dollars cash. She was accused of shoplifting from Walmart. It was January 15, 2015.
Read 11 tweets
Jan 15
THREAD. An interesting question is how the news media came to adopt the cute term "tear gas" to describe a chemical weapon that is internationally banned in war. Plus, it's not even a gas.
If you are a journalist, you should know that "tear gas" is a term of government propaganda used by U.S. officials to downplay the horror and international law violations associated with U.S. use of banned chemical weapons against Vietnamese people during the U.S. invasion.
As I've discussed before, one way that news media manipulates public thinking is through the choice of words that it uses. The use of "tear gas" obscures how harmful it is for government employees to unleash a chemical munitions agent on human bodies.
Read 6 tweets
Jan 14
The news media often suggests an equivalence between left-wing and right-wing "extremism." People on the far left want things like access to healthcare, housing, clean air, etc. People on the far right want to round up immigrants, kill abortion providers, deny the Holocaust, etc.
Some people in the news media (and in the left itself) may disagree with various tactics, strategies, policies of various people on the left, and those can be debated. But there is no denying among honest people the fundamental differences between left and right.
I could have listed 100 other characteristics of left and right. As you move down the spectrum--the 20% closest to the left and 20% closest to the right--characteristics are striking: a concern for life, love, human and ecological flourishing vs. hate, surveillance, exclusion.
Read 4 tweets
Jan 10
THREAD. Yesterday, I wrote about how the news shapes our thinking by the sheer volume of stories on different issues. But there is surprisingly little public discussion, even among journalists, about the *ways* in which those stories are delivered to us, and how that is changing.
For example, dedicated teams at big media outlets now spend a lot of time and money deciding which of the stories of a given news outlet to promote in various ways, including by marketing them on social media and, increasingly, by sending urgent push notifications to our phones.
Business executives, with their own incentives, fairly homogeneous backgrounds, and a narrow range of political and cultural associations also make editorial decisions about which stories get daily follow up in these ways and more:     Which stories get sent ...
Read 8 tweets

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