Mainstream Media Shoots Self in Foot with Sensationalized Game Coverage

February 5, 2008 -
Watching Fox News’ recent Mass Effect hatchet job, it became immediately apparent that the network knew nothing about the game and was in fact making outrageous claims about non-existent sexual escapades.

Perhaps the most frightening thing is that when confronted with the facts afterward the network didn’t seem to care that it got the story wrong.

Perhaps it should.

Next Generation editor Colin Campbell opines that mainstream media is only hurting itself when it sensationalizes, scaremongers, and flat-out lies about video games.
The reason the [network execs and journalists haven’t] gotten with it on games is because they don’t play them; and neither does their rarefied social circle.

This is, in fact, a failure on their part because it’s not normal NOT to play games. Playing games is the thing regular people do. So when the networks start blustering about how it’s “interactivity” or “gore” or “porn” in games that does the damage, they look like idiots. And not just to some hardcore fraternity of die-hard gamers, but to millions of their viewers.

Only someone hopelessly out of touch could hold these antique opinions.

AE:  There’s no doubt that a large and significant percentage of the population plays video games but I have to wonder just how many of those gamers are familiar enough with Mass Effect to recognize that Fox’s report was full of it.

Campbell also takes news networks like Fox to task for being inconsistent in their concern for our “moral well-being.”  He points out that extreme violence and sexual imagery are commonplace on their shows and that other forms of media such as books, music, and movies are not being held to the same standard as games.
All of the above media businesses are self-regulated with rules in place that attempt to prevent the wrong people seeing inappropriate content. None of them succeed at this any better than games; and yet it’s games that get the brunt of the networks’ outrage.

-Reporting from San Diego, GP Correspondent Andrew Eisen


in other news, the sun rose in the east today

It's a shame that voices like Colin Campbell's are only heard on sites that are geared towards people who already know he is right. You would never see CNN, Faux News, or MSNBC ever put on (and let speak) someone who actually knows what they are talking about when it comes to video games.

The Mass Effect story was even inconsistent with its own other coverage of Mass Effect. Specifically, a writer from the Fox News tech section has a review article calling Mass Effect an excellent game.

I would also agree that they see video games as competition because it's using the same big tube. Ratings mean money, and less money means less jobs.

Wait a second, this is starting to sound familiar. It's like Americans vs. illegal immigrants in the workforce. Are some news networks really afraid of the video game industry taking away their jobs?

The only thing that can go worse is if a news network special report interrupts your regularly scheduled video game session (it happened in Tiny Toons)!

pathetic, now if you excuse me, i'm going to beat someone over the head with a chair (in WWE Smackdown Vs. Raw 2008)

"The reason the [network execs and journalists haven’t] gotten with it on games is because they don’t play them; and neither does their rarefied social circle."

It's likely also that all they see in video games is competition. To the execs video games likely take time that people could be spending watching their program and getting depressed at all the stupidity in the world and about war and crime rape and murder

this article got it spot on, there's been a massive rebutal to it, even PurePwnage (viewers

"Perhaps the most frightening thing is that when confronted with the facts afterward the network didn’t seem to care that it got the story wrong."

Frightening, yes. Surprising, no. Fox!=News.

To me, the fact that Fox News did this before CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, or anyone else is really no surprise. No network is perfect, but Fox News tends to skew reality pretty hard sometimes, and that's been going on for YEARS. Also, video games are the enemy of TV in some ways, and this is just a TV entity lashing out at a situation they can do nothing about-the migration of people away from TV to video games, which are infinitely more interesting and engaging.

Once again Fox got Pweenified! :o

"It’s likely also that all they see in video games is competition. To the execs video games likely take time that people could be spending watching their program and getting depressed at all the stupidity in the world and about war and crime rape and murder"

That's a good point. All the news stations run negative stories about each other, so why not game too. After all, those pesky game systems are hogging the TV screen just as much.

"and neither does their rarefied social circle."
This trend of elitist news reporting is not new. Every new social trend has been met with fear and warning.

I understand Andrew's point that not every gamer has a familiarity with Mass Effect that would make Fox's stupidity obvious from the get-go. However, I think that most gamers have enough sense to look for the material in question, rather than simply take the word of a couple of mouthpieces.

How many times have commentors on this site alone complained that any idiot could go find the "sex scene" online with no issue, and realize immediately how bunk the accusations are? I'd say this supports Campbell's argument, because you rarely need to explain this to someone accustomed to gaming in general.

I don't think I have the same optimism that Campbell has on the growing influence of the newer generations, but the increasing confrontation with the TV news does tend to signal that. Same as political blogs, which a few years ago were pathetic jokes to the TV media, and now are hostile invaders. Some of those blogs like to repeat the same Ghandi quote: "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." Definitely a positive outlook of the future.

finally. they figured out that faux is loosing viewers because of the crap they spew. and would gladly play a game instead of waching some depressing news.

I sense a conspiracy.

Colin Campbell - Bruce Campbell - Evil Dead - Ash Williams - Ashley Williams - Mass Effect

Let's see how long it takes Fox to make that connection and blow it out of proportion.

I have to chime in with a differt direction here.

This isn't just games. I've found that if I pay attention to the media when it talks about any topic I actually have knowledge of they almost always get it wrong.

They treat games the same way they treat any technology (or science) story,... start with an idea, blur facts, and try to make it accessible and rating grabbing. I am guessing the assumption is that so little of their target audience has real knowledge of the topic that it gets more ratings for less effort to 'wing it' then do accurate reporting.

the media just isnt doing their factchecking any more

The TV news media now feels more like a glorified supermarket tabloid than actual news. The major news networks have lost all credibility with the more informed viewers since the networks implemented "ratings comes first, above all else". It's not just in the US though, its happening in a lot of places.

I personally feel that you'd get better, unbiased news from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and that's just sad.

It will be this way, probably, for another 5 or 10 years. it was the same for movies when they had news reels before them. the newpapers said they were bad for you and rotted your brain. then when TV came around, news reels on the big screen said TV was bad for you and rotted your brain. once comics grew in popularity newpapers and TV said it rotted your brain. then games come along and TV says... you guessed it... it rots your brain. whenever something new comes along, the main stream media, at the time, says its bad. why? because they are competition and they know what is coming. New reels are now dead and Newpapers are slowly turning into just websites. They want more viewers, so instead of reporting some bad news and good news, all they report is mostly bad news, violence, and fear mongering garbage to get more viewers.

the media is really getting pathetic

***All of the above media businesses are self-regulated with rules in place that attempt to prevent the wrong people seeing inappropriate content. None of them succeed at this any better than games; and yet it’s games that get the brunt of the networks’ outrage.***

I can speculate that they know there isn't a strong, tightly-knit industry there like there is with the MPAA/RIAA, but there is only so much speculation can do. What I do know is what I've been told, specifically by Illinois governor Blagojevich's office. In a letter I sent in April of 2005, around the time that Safe Games Illinois was launched, I asked a few questions, one asking why laws were being passed against video games but not for other industries, and this is the response I received:

"Your first question deals with existing laws that limit minors’ access to materials such as books or movies with violent or sexually explicit content. Illinois law already restricts minors’ access to certain harmful material, as dictated by the state’s Harmful Material Statute (720 ILCS 5/11-21). This law prohibits minors from buying a broad range of sexually explicit material - materials such as pornographic books or magazines. So laws do in fact exist that prohibit children’s access to media other than video games."

While movies and books can have all the sex and violence they want and still get rated R without laws preventing children from getting access to them, there are laws dealing in pornography and minors' access to it. Fine. But why is it that a video game with less supposedly-harmful content than a non-regulated movie or a book gets so much attention from the media and government? It's not porn, but the media and politicians would like us to think they are. They want us to hold video games up to stricter lines of morals and decency.

Why? I think it is due to two things: because there is still a general perception that video games are only for kids, and because politicians and media corporations have something significant to gain from scaring people who have that perception.

@koku - Fox News isn't losing viewers to anyone. They trounce all other networks handily in their hard news programs. All the networks get things wrong, period. Remember Dan Rather? Wishing a thing true doesn't make a thing true....

Bottom line folks is that as much as we'd (gamers) would like to think we've got some sort of vocal mass, we simply don't have the numbers. For each one of us there are, in all probability, thousands of people who don't game or give 2 shakes about any game (video or not) that doesn't involve cards or casino's. Now I don't have any hard facts to back those numbers up. I simply know that if I walk around my rather small work place, I'm the only one that knows, for example, what HellGate London or COD4 is and I'm outnumbered over 200-1 in a fairly large state capitol. So the idea of a major network of any sort reacting to our, in my opinion, smallish numbers is pretty far-fetched.

"All of the above media businesses are self-regulated with rules in place that attempt to prevent the wrong people seeing inappropriate content. None of them succeed at this any better than games; and yet it’s games that get the brunt of the networks’ outrage."

What better way to distract people's attention away from your own shortcomings than by creating a monster that is so easy to demonize? Many (voting) parents don't play video games, or understand the draw of gaming, and so don't even begin to understand the topic. Faux and others are only using that to their advantage so that they can continue to exploit sex and violence to make vast fortunes, all the while pointing at video games and saying, "Look thither! For THAT is the demon that makes your children ill-behaved!"

I know, pretty obvious. Just hacks my cackles that so many people have their heads so firmly planted in the sand that evil people like the Faux executive staff can get away with crap like this.

Excellent article!

I never thought of the media vs. media angle, but that makes a lot of sense. Report after report keeps coming out about viewership slipping for network television as a whole. So, when interactive media is the one taking away your viewers then attack them as some moral enemy to society. Food for thought.

I think Loud has the reason the Networks do it, and LAG has the reason the parents listen to it. Seems the easiest way to control a group of people is to create a shared enemy. In school, it was easy. I was the shared enemy that drew the other kids together.

You point out a group or a item and say "There is the cause of all the problems!" and it gives people a vent, you can control them by saying "If you do this, then we will be fighting the problems!" It's a lot like what the government is doing with terrorists.

Basically, villianizing games allows them to take no responability for things like teenage pregnancy, raise in crime, Billy can't read, and Bobby won't listen to me. You want to fight teenage pregnancy? Where are you wen they are screwing? You want to know why Billy can't read? When did you read with him?

The networks know they can make people stampede just by pointing their finger. It's like a small group of people reveling that they have the very power of Oprah in the palm of their hand.

...The piece seems to imply that Fox News airing distorted, sensationalistic stories is somehow new or unique to the medium of video games.

I think to suggest that this will HURT Fox News's ratings rather misses the point that this kind of yellow journalism is exactly the reason Fox has HIGHER ratings than its competitors.

@Thad - And Fox News is the only outlet that practices this sort of thing? Again does Dan Rather ring a bell?

And Dan Rather got the sack for it, didn't he?

Murdoch and his NewsCorpse got owned again, oy.

@Void - I'll not argue that the anchor shouldn't have done a better or be tossed. I'm simply pointing out that these sorts of hatchet jobs and bad reporting are not limited to one news outlet.

Dan Rather was sacked because he got called out, he was caught ... if it hadn't been for alternative news sources (ironically, newer, more tech oriented sources) such as the bloggosphere ... Rather might have gotten away with Rathergate.

I don't beleive in attempts to 'regulate' what indeed should be a free press, it's just that the 'Nightly News' is no longer the trusted 'NEWS' source it once was. The time of Chroncite era trust in the major news networks is over, and the free market is solving the problem. I'm not saying our outrage is misplaced or somehow wrong, but that our outrage, and our viewing habits as media consumers will rectify the problem, if fox doesn't. People watch what they want to, and beleive what they want to. Some people can't get enough of the 'bat boy' tabloids, and who are we to say they can't have that?

My main beef is with the political aspect of all of this, if the ignorant audience of a media outlet is going to vote to restrict my freedom, or worse, some elected official is going to take advantage of this bandwagoning of my preferred media to further his own gains ... I will possibly loose freedoms under the law due to this ignorance.

It is my own responsibility as a citizen, consumer and gamer to take an active political stance on these issues. Isn't that at least in part what this site is all about? *ponders an ECA membership*

I've stopped even watching the news. I can get most the information I need off the internet without the same rhetoric of "murder, murder, arson, death, weather, murder, kidnapping, disappearance, murder...."

Let's not forget that when Fox News ran a story about a serial killer during Spring Break last year, all through the morbid discussion they played video of girls in bikinis. Nice one, Fox. How about Bill O'Reilly strange fixation with That Polumbo woman's pictures, the ones she was being blackmailed about?

"I’ve stopped even watching the news. I can get most the information I need off the internet without the same rhetoric of “murder, murder, arson, death, weather, murder, kidnapping, disappearance, murder….”

Now to Jim with Sports. "Oakland KILLED San Diego, Kobe Bryant was on FIRE, The Giants HAD THEIR WAY WITH New England.

I had to stop watching the news for the same reason, it basically turned into a show to watch to see who died during the day.

Form an image in your head of the average Fox News fan. I know, you'll probably have to rely on some unfair stereotypes, but that's kind of what this story is all about in the first place, I think.

Now, with your idea of the average Fox News fan in mind, how many of those viewers do you think Fox News really in danger of losing because they'd rather be playing games instead of watching the news? Compare that number to how many of those viewers Fox News can retain by reaffirming their paranoia and prejudices against video games.

I don't buy the idea that Fox is trying to attack games because it doesn't want television to lose national mindshare to another form of entertainment. I don't buy the idea that Fox is highlighting questionable content in other forms of media to distract people from the questionable content it runs itself, either.

I'm pretty sure Fox News runs stories about the evils of video games simply because a significant portion of its viewership still believes that video games really are evil.


That is kinda a worry that I have, if I'm too busy playing video games, I might not notice that something huge IS going on

Not that that means it'd be ok to interrupt my gaming, but still

@ Stinking Kevin

But Fox is a much larger behemoth than just Fox News. Think of it this way, is more time playing video games less time spent watching The Simpsons? Family Guy? Any of those other Fox shows that target the same demographic? I think it's a reasonable assertion. So Fox uses it's propaganda department (fox news) to protect it's entertainment division.

I think Jib Jab put it best with their "This is what we call the news" sketch, about saying that repected and dignified reporters being 'replaced with blondes with big fake boobs." and "only 3% can point to Kabul on a map, but 97% have seen Brit's 'puty-tat'."

If this is what we call the news.... we as a nation a royaly $#%^@$^&@#!!!!.

this from the corporation that doesn't want the Simpsons to do a fake Fox News piece because they fear Fox News viewers won't be able to tell the difference between reality and a cartoon.

@ Thad

Fox's ratings will go up with sensationalism, that's a fact. However, it's merely an attempt to delay the inevitable that we as the gaming community already know...

...TV is BORING! Interacting with the screen is exponentially more fun than just watching the pictures come out the way someone ELSE wants them to. It's obvious that video on the Internet is the future or at least interactive video rather than the, "Blah, blah, blah, here's what we think and if you don't think the same you're stupid!"

The television media has held media control for decades and now places on the net that encourage individuality are getting a LOT of attention.

This is the exact same phenomenon we're seeing in music and movies. Evolve or die. The RIAA is in the middle of it right now and it has so far decided to die rather than evolve. TV is going to have to do the same and start allowing us to PICK the content we wish to see when we want to see it (DVR or the like) or die as the dinosaur it is.

It's a huge change for a group that's used to talking to the darkness. The whole thing with Cooper Lawrence is a perfect example. Outrage manafested itself in the form of the gaming community. The audience voiced their opinion back on what was said. That's gotta give ANY network journalist nightmares. The weatherman... Well they're usuall wrong, so nothing will change there ;)

is there a award for stupidity, because fox news has just won it.


I agree with you 100%. I've been pretty much saying this whole time that one of the main reasons new media being attacked by old media is out marketshare concerns.

I ment to say "out of", not "out".

It's really come to a turning point too. Before we had something like the "Hot Coffee" gate...scandal...hubub...whatever, and that was pushed to the extremes of ridiculousness. But the less functionally intelligent side of society eeked out a win by getting the game off shelves and filing class action lawsuits - with claims that nobody seemed to care to verify in much the same fashion as the Mass Effect debacle. A few years later and we can see the gaming community has advanced to the point that we've kept up with the technological and social aspects of gaming and the media moguls who once held the position of power have not. If Mass Effect came out three or four years ago I would be willing to bet it would be ripped off the shelves - thanks to blogs like GP, Joystiq, and Penny Arcade we can reach a far greater number of people with the actual facts. Not to mention retaliate with said facts much quicker. Or review-bomb somebody on Amazon. I hope the irony wasn't lost on her.

Stay Classy,

As a few other readers have mentioned above, I think it's highly likely that execs at Fox see video games as competition to their media empire. As far as I'm aware (and somebody correct me if I'm wrong) Fox have a very low to non-existent stake in the game industry whereas their movie / pay TV operations are where most of their revenue comes from. Latest reports suggest that the game industry is currently surpassing the movie industry in terms of revenue and high end games such as Mass Effect are taking the gaming industry to places where cinema just can't go. Getting the conservative / religious right all rilled up over this new media is nothing more than typical dirty corporate tactics. Thankfully there is enough intelligent people to see through this farce.

There’s no doubt that a large and significant percentage of the population plays video games but I have to wonder just how many of those gamers are familiar enough with Mass Effect to recognize that Fox’s report was full of it.

At last count about 1.6 million people probably know that. Fox needs to get its act together and stop trying to pass sensationalism off as news.
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