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Media Mires April 4, 2008

Posted by Tim in Uncategorized.
I am a political person. Sometimes I try not to be. And then truth comes a-knockin’.

There are two problems I am encountering as of late.

First, the theme of the life lessons I’m learning right now is Perspectives. Plural, not singular. The value, the beauty, the necessity of multiple perspectives is unraveling itself to me. This applies to all things: my relationships with my close friends, my visit to Russia, my spiritual understanding of life and God.

And it relates to politics. But politics take information, sources, Media. And currently, I only have one news agency I trust not to lie to me: The Economist. The Economist is valuable because it considers things, it digests things. It dares to spend fifteen pages on one topic. I am fully aware that The Economist spins things, but they are upfront and professional about it, so I don’t mind too terribly. But now I realize the need for more perspectives. Maybe I should consult American media. Maybe there’s an Asian or Middle Eastern or even African media outlet that is professional and produces solid reporting. But, I don’t know and I don’t know how to find out.

Second, my attitude toward American news agencies has taken a sharp turn for the worse.

I long have believed that CNN, Fox, and MSNBC were worthless, partisan, and playing to our dumbest tendencies. I’ve heard (via The Daily Show) that CNN ran without commercial interruption for 90 minutes… when Anna Nicole Smith was found dead. To that illustrious company you can add NBC (left), CBS (worthless), NPR (more left), and others. Don’t forget to include most news mags – specifically Time and Newsweek which are hopelessly pop. That leaves newspapers. But even they are selling out: The Wall Street Journal is now owned by Murdoch, the Fox guy, and The New York Times bit off a bit too much with the unfounded McCain affair insinuation.

Our press is free, but self-funded. In the goodly competitive and capitalist society we find ourselves, that means the same force that drives reality TV is now driving our news: ratings. So the days of hard-hitting journalism are very much waning. Gone are Deep Throat and Walter Kronkite. Most of our news is undigested press releases from companies and government agencies, not investigative reporting. And what is not news desk is blathering punditry. Cable news is about what is happening right now. When I landed at JFK, back from Russia, the Eliot Spitzer scandal was breaking (note that a government domestic spying agency caught him, not a journalist). CNN talked nonstop about it for three or four hours, playing and replaying a speech maybe two minutes in length. One local news channel had live coverage of his car as he traveled to the speech. Why? Not because it mattered, but because it was breaking.

The conclusion: the American news media is not worthless garbage. That implies it is harmless, like Jimmy Carter. Our news media is diseased. It is harmful to the system. It hinders the government from working effectively, and it prevents the American people from understanding the truth of what is going on in our world. The new media exists, primarily, to hold the government accountable and to keep the public informed. Soundbytes aren’t information, and showing clips of Obama’s speech and interviewing his latest endorser is not accountability. We are in a sad state when more effective criticism of the government is coming from a couple of faux news shows than from a multi-billion dollar journalism industry.

What to do? The trouble, of course, is that the system is pure capitalism. And that’s far better than the alternative – government-funded, government-regulated news. But the market is us, and we are being played. I say, play ball.

So I’m going to try to find some new news outlets. And for now, I’m going to do my best to boycott the rest.



1. Meghan - April 4, 2008

I completely agree with your analysis of the situation, but i would take it a step further. When our major american news agencies play to the lowest common denominator, it is easy to view them as “worthless but harmless,” and to equate their level of intelligence and influence about equal with that of their viewers, which is a drastic underestimation.

I think perhaps the most telling example of the extreme harm that can come from the news media’s misuse, or abuse, of influence is general opinion regarding the “war on terror” and the war in iraq. Looking back, it is distressingly easy to see how american news media, anticipating white house moves, has led the public to first violently support and then violently resent military action in the middle east, and if one looks carefuily one can see evidence, even in the more “left of center” papers, of the masses being herded in other, perhaps even more frightening, directions regarding situations in iran and guantanamo, among others.

there is absolutely nothing “harmless” about a system that uses their superior access to news and information to guide and shape public opinion to best fit their purposes: news media should be the people’s advocate, not their schoolteacher. unfortunately, much of the american public can’t be trusted to make informed decisions for themselves based on unbiased information. and, as you say, in a functioning capitalistic society such as ours, media simply has to operate in their own best financial, as well as political, interests. it is a frustrating mix, the best solution to which isnt really a solution so much as a coping mechanism: be as informed as possible from as many difference sources as possible.

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