Why the Media Might Be Accurate, but Distorted

Years ago, there was an earthquake in San Francisco.  I don’t remember which one – but it was big enough to make the news right away.  Our local TV station showed a live feed of a building where the bricks had fallen off the front onto the sidewalk, the road was buckled, and a fire had broken out in another building.

Live interviews featured people who had felt the quake and were panicked.  The city looked like a war zone.

RubbleI was especially concerned because my wife had just flown up there, and her plane had landed only a few minutes before the quake.  This was in the days before cell phones were common, so I didn’t know if she was OK. 

Diane was going to get a rental car and drive up north, but I assumed that wouldn’t be possible.  I pictured her stranded in massive rubble, closed streets and power outages – exactly what I saw on TV.  Every indication was that the city was devastated, based on the events I was seeing.

For the next two hours I was glued to the broadcast, strategizing how I could get in touch and how we would deal with the crisis.

I jumped when the phone finally rang.

“Hi,” she said.

“Are you OK?” I asked. “What’s going on?  What happened? How bad is it?”

“How bad is what?” she responded.

“The earthquake,” I said.

Her response was unexpected:

“What earthquake?”

She had no idea.  She landed at the airport, went to the rental car center, picked up a car, drove through the city and on to her sister’s house in Santa Rosa – and never saw a thing.  The only evidence was that a ceiling tile had fallen at the airport in the concourse, and someone had put a couple of little orange cones around it.

I had been watching on TV, which made me think the city was in shambles.  She had actually been there, and was totally unaware.

The city wasn’t in shambles.  One block was messed up.  That’s what the news showed.  It was a view through a single lens of a single event in a very large city.

Their coverage was accurate.  There was an earthquake; there was a fire; part of a building collapsed.

But their coverage was distorted.  I was led to believe that I was looking through a wide-angle lens, when it was more like a close-up lens.

When we watch the news, it’s important to distinguish between the two lenses.  Otherwise, we’ll assume the worst when watching a minor event. 

It doesn’t mean the event isn’t real.  It’s just a limited perspective.

When police take a report at a crime scene, they talk to as many witnesses as possible.  Each is looking through their own lens, and believes that what they saw is true.  They’re being accurate.

But other witnesses saw through their lens, providing a different angle.  When those different views are combined, it provides a more accurate picture of the entire scene – a wide-angle perspective.

I’ve learned to watch the news more deliberately.  What I see is a single view from a close-up lens.  It’s accurate – but it’s distorted if I assume it’s a wide-angle lens.

The news doesn’t bother me as much when I keep my lenses straight.




Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Speaker, Author of 5 books – including “People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys,” “I Wish He Had Come With Instructions,” and “Dealing With the Elephant in the Room.” (See Book page)

  • Wow, what a great way to explain it and a challenge to keep in mind when we see and/or read anything. We so need God’s perspective who only has the truly right and over arching view.

    • Thanks, Kathy – Yeah, I think it’s pretty much all about perspective, isn’t it? Bad lenses = bad perspective . . . gotta make sure we’ve got the right lens!

  • Marilynn Grimm


    I am not making light of your post, nust want to add a personal experience.

    OCt ’89. We had a H.S. foreign exchange student, from Spain living with is with us here in Ohio. I was making dinner, he was chanel surfing. I heard “Breaking News – major earthquake – San Franciso ” He switched chanels. I said “David why did you do that? This is importantnews. He said “Momma, I am looking for America World series baseball game this s important news for me.” He was not joking.

    • It’s interesting that we all have our own perspective of things – and we assume that everybody else sees things the same way. Great story – thanks for sharing!