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The Problem with the Mainstream Media

I just responded to an excellent post made last night by saycestsay, which got me thinking about the problem with today's mainstream news. She was appalled and disgusted by yesterday's coverage of things like Anna Nicole Smith's death, the astronaut surprise, the Pelosi flap, and saw a double-standard in how things are reported (the woman is always psycho while the man is not reported as such). I think that double-standard is actually a symptom of a wider problem in the news. My response:

What's up with stuff like panties-stories being "news" when real news is getting glossed over? It so clearly demonstrates what has become of reporting: Now, if you want to be a successful news organization, you have to entertain, and that entertainment has to be accessible to the lowest common denominator. "Gee-whiz, Wally! That famous lady isn't wearing any underpants!" So the fuck what?

But some of yesterday's stories were both news and entertainment. For example, we expect our astronauts to be the optimal examples of Americans: Healthier than the rest of us, smarter, more sane, and so on. So when one of them does a cross-country drive in Depends, it's both news and entertainment. However, what most of the stories I've seen are missing is what caused all this mess: What really brought on all of this? Was it really months of stalking by the unstable astronaut or was it a "love triangle" as some reports suggest? Because they had to deliver the story before they knew the full story, the news we see is superficial... and the worst part is that we as news consumers have been trained to accept this and then move on, losing interest before the full story comes out.

The Pelosi thing, I presume, is a bunch of political spin. The Republicans were trying to run with "Look how spendthrift she is!" while using only surface news, themselves - ha! victims of their own Fox News! - and will end up with egg on their faces when she decides to fly coach just to spite them.

Same for the Anna Nicole Smith story. I see a tragic series of events: Her death, her son's death, the death of her financial enemy (the son of the rich old guy), and so on... which suggests to me that the 12-year battle for those $1.2 billion is what really killed her and possibly the others. Money was the killer. There's the real story. It pisses me off that we'll not learn that from the news until it's no longer "news," a little paragraph-long story on page 3D.

So what I think this really is isn't so much sexism as much as simply the news sources no longer doing their job: Investigating and delivering the news. Nowadays they're only reporting in the way that on-the-scene reporters do their jobs: "Gosh-wow, didja see that explosion? I don't know what it was or who fired the missile, but wasn't it cool and scary?" - or - "Hey, get a load of her nekkid bottom! She's not wearing any underpants!"

It's all about delivering the info-tainment before the other guy does, and don't doubt that blood-and-guts is "entertainment" just as much as nekkid people is; see the horror genre's influence in Hollywood. Anyway, who wants to see a guy not wearing underpants?

And that all boils down to money: Grab the readers before the other guy does and not only will we stay in business, but we'll drive them out of business and get rich! Here is why I think the Internet will save "news" as we used to know it.

So: All you blogger investigative-news-types, keep at it!




( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 9th, 2007 06:47 pm (UTC)
Exactly my thoughts: the news media aren't so much biased as half-assed.
Feb. 9th, 2007 06:52 pm (UTC)
Or complete asses, as the case may be ba-da-boom, tsch!
Feb. 9th, 2007 07:18 pm (UTC)
I still don't think you can overlook sexism in the media though. Remember Judith Reagan? Martha Stewart? Now Nowak etc -- all of these fall into culturally approved narrative of a powerful woman who gets her comeuppance for being powerful/conceited/not knowing her place. It doesn't matter what they actually DID or what happened to them; as long as it has the shape of 'uppity bitch gets hers' it will be playing on every news channel.
Feb. 9th, 2007 07:36 pm (UTC)
Oh, yeah, I'm not doubting the sexism thing at all - Martha is a great example - but those are more examples of the media doing info-tainment for the lowest-common-denominator masses... most of whom are sexist. Hence reporting on "bitches" and "psycho women" and nekkidness.
Feb. 9th, 2007 07:21 pm (UTC)
Anna Nicole's got the front page of CNN.com, but you have to dig through loads of crap to find out how the fucking Scooter Libby trial is proceeding.

It's insulting.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 9th, 2007 10:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Liveblogging Scooter
Thank you!
Feb. 9th, 2007 08:26 pm (UTC)
I have heard that the reason why we are getting my celebrity news is that in marketing polls, people complained about too much news that brought them down. To fill the void, the media added the celebrity news and saw their sales/ratings go up.

You're right that there are real stories buried into some of the celebrity news but that the real issue gets buried in the tabloid fluff. For instance, the OJ trial should have gotten a bunch of domestic violence issues kick-started.

I think part of the larger reason for celebrity news is that we process events through human eyes much better than we do through statistics or any of the only-rational methods.

For instance, in WA state, a bill for closing the gun show loophole of uncontrolled sales is pending. The side for closing the loopholes brought statistics, the NRA supporters point out with their stats how few crimes happen that can definitively be attributed to this. What would work far, far better for the closing the loophole is to bring in one or two stories or direct testimony of people who were affected and show the impact of these crimes.
Feb. 10th, 2007 02:48 am (UTC)
*I* want to see men not wearing underpants.

Thanks, Chris. I know that sexism is not the only factor here; but surely irresponsible media and ravening masses aren't the only gate of reportability??

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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