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I happened to stumble across this journalistic gem on the website of WPXI, the NBC affiliate in Pittsburgh:

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On the surface, it seems innocuous, right? Now here is how WPXI framed the issue on their Facebook page:

wpxi facebook amazon prime

Awww, how nice. The news station wants to hear what people think about Amazon’s voluntary efforts to help those in need, right? Uh, not so much. Look at the way the question is phrased- “What do you think of the discount?”; it’s designed to make sure readers know somebody is getting a deal on something and it isn’t them. But don’t worry, this is social media, so I’m sure everyone will conduct themselves with respect and mutual admiration, right? Let’s take a little stroll to the comments section…

Does anyone believe for one minute that WPXI didn’t know they were going to get that kind of ill-informed response? Of course they knew, and they knew the issue would trigger people to rant and complain, so they structured the whole thing to sensationalize it for their own benefit. Instead of actually reporting on a story to help educate the public and generate a positive conversation, WPXI decided to bait those “working class white voters” we hear so much about in the hope of triggering an angry response for the sake of increasing their Facebook traffic.

This story is a perfect example of the media intentionally whipping the public into a frenzy with blatant disregard for the big picture or nuances of facts and then acting all shocked when people respond exactly the way they had hoped. If you listen closely, you can hear Edward R. Morrow doing somersaults in his grave.

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There can be legitimate debate about the role of the media, but can’t we all agree that dividing an already deeply divided country isn’t one of them? Does anyone want to guess how many people who shot off comments to the story actually understand how SNAP benefits actually work? The message is clear- somebody else is getting a break that you’re not getting and that should piss you off.

We now live in a society where clicks and shares are more important to many than basic human decency. It makes you wonder, in the words of WPXI’s ongoing segment…

is this why we're broke

Is this why we’re broke? Damn right it is- in more ways than one.

Author

A passionate communicator, advocate, and opinion maker with executive-level experience in law, public policy, and government. (Don't let the boyish good looks fool you.) President of Perpetual Fortitude, a Pennsylvania-based political consulting and social media management firm. (www.perpetualfortitude.com)