by Linda Jimenez

Chief Diversity Officer and Staff Vice President—Diversity & Inclusion
WellPoint, Inc.

In the past 50 years, as technology has made tremendous advancements, the power of the media has also gained increased influence as more individuals are able to access real time information with greater rapidity. Increasingly, we live in a society dependent on this information and communication to perform our daily activities. We all make decisions based on the information that we gather. We live in an age where there are myriad media sources and, more often than not, these sources carry a bias on each issue.

As a society, we have put a tremendous amount of trust in the media as an authority on a broad range of topics, and we rely on them for accurate information on current events, entertainment, and education. The media can be a helpful, but equally harmful, force. The inundation of repetitive messages can develop and perpetuate negative perceptions and assumptions, as well as shape our opinions and beliefs—sometimes correctly, other times incorrectly.

As seasoned diversity practitioners, we stress the importance of viewing things from different perspectives. The media can shape our attitudes about a multitude of things from what we buy, the people we admire (and those we don’t), our perceptions of political issues like immigration and health care, to social issues focused on diversity facets such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and age. We all need to be vigilant, and ensure that we look for opposing opinions and evaluate the facts for ourselves, rather than blindly accept one media outlet’s or one individual’s version of the “truth.”

“As a society, we have put a tremendous amount of trust in the media as an authority on a broad range of topics, and we rely on them for accurate information on current events, entertainment, and education.”

Journalism is a profession like any other, and certain standards of quality and professionalism must always be maintained. At the same time, in this age of prolific media sources and abundant perspectives, we must all make sure we take time to find differing viewpoints. After the attacks of 9/11, the media dedicated significant time and coverage to the event and the surrounding circumstances, which led to the public’s indictment of Osama Bin Laden for the attack, and greatly influenced the public’s perception about the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

Many similarities occurred with regard to the health care reform debate. While I applaud the attention given to this important issue, it can be problematic if the media receives and reports inaccurate information, only shares one side of the argument, or over-simplifies a complicated subject. This can inadvertently lead to the propagation of negative perceptions and assumptions about people and companies, and prevent a healthy and necessary public forum from occurring.

The health care reform debate is illustrative of how an issue was distorted or over-simplified, and led to the complete public polarization on an issue. Instead of objectively looking at the system’s overall failure, the media became complacent in its reporting and often remained focused on a few surface issues. This often resulted in blaming the system’s failure on just one sector of the health care industry, and reinforced the public’s negative perception of some health care organizations and the people who work at these companies.

Omitted from the public discourse were the many other issues complicating the health care system, as well as the efforts those within the health care industry made to advance ideas on best ways to offer quality and affordable health care to more Americans. The media’s reporting did very little to advance the public discourse on what health care reform is and how it should be shaped, and actually limited the public’s knowledge on what are the real and myriad issues crippling our nation’s system.

Let us remember: generalizations, assumptions, and perceptions can all be influenced by the media, but it is up to each of us, as diversity champions, to be diligent in encouraging the discovery and evaluation of all perspectives, opinions, and accurate information.

Linda Jimenez is a native of San Antonio, Texas, and attended the University of Texas at Austin where she received her B.A. with honors. She is also a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law and has spent 20 years specializing in labor and employment law.