Why I Despise the Mainstream (American) News Media

Why I Despise the Mainstream (American) News Media April 25, 2013

TV news reporter sticking a microphone into the bloody face of a first responder at a horrible tragedy in which many people died and were severely injured: “Sir! How did you FEEL when you realized you SON might be missing?” Not the exception but the rule.

Much of a 20 minute (after commercials) national network prime time news cast devoted to a study about “How women really feel about themselves”–at a time when North Korea is saber rattling with threats of nuclear war (among other world shaking events). Not the exception but the rule.

Constant changing of talking heads reading “news stories”–most of them looking like they just stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine. Not the exception but the rule.

Obsession with “missing people” who always turn out to be affluent, young, good-looking females. (See the current issue of JET magazine’s cover story “Missing & Black:Where Is the Outrage?”) Not the exception but the rule.

Total reliance on government sources for news about American military actions. Little criticism of the military except for sex scandals involving generals. Not the exception but the rule.

Interviewing talking heads insisting on sound bytes instead of profound, relevant (even if concise) commentary by scholars and real experts. Constant interruption of guests.  Always coming back to “How do you FEEL about….?” Not the exception but the rule.

Almost total ignoring of the rest of the world unless something affects Americans. Not the exception but the rule.

Treating criminal suspects as guilty until proven innocent (if even then). Then dropping the exonerated “suspects” rather than apologizing to them for ruining their lives. Not the exception but the rule.

Difficult, tangled, messy issues treated with bare headlines and a few relatively unimportant “facts” with little to no depth. Switching immediately from a really important story with world shaking significance to a “human interest story” clearly designed for viewers who otherwise wouldn’t be watching “the news.” Not the exception but the rule.

I could go on and on. The state of American “news media” is abysmal. And what’s worse, we’ve gotten used to it and don’t speak up about it. But, then, many of us deserve it. It’s apparently what we want–to be spoon fed simplistic headlines with no real explanation or investigation of the facts, to be entertained with human interest stories about cat ladies and men who jump into freezing water for “health,” etc., and shown funny clips from youtube, to be left ignorant about the rest of the world except when there’s “footage” of a disaster in some far off place we never heard of and will quickly forget the name of, etc., etc.

Years ago I watched, among other news outlets, CNN, and felt truly informed about world and national events. Then I moved to Europe for a year. When I returned I noticed a dramatic change in American news broadcasting and the change continued and got, in my opinion, worse. Now, it seems, the “news” air waves are filled with fluff and sometimes nonsense. A lot of it seems to me to be thinly disguised advertising (“A new type of facelift that costs less and hurts less!”) The line between infomercials and some network “news” stories is becoming difficult to discern. What justifies a five-to-ten minute segment on a news channel about a forthcoming movie (about which there is nothing really special)?

What has happened to real investigative reporting? I used to count on several very well known hour long “TV magazines” for that. They did a wonderful job of exposing corrupt politicians and businesses (and military waste). Now, for the most part, they are devoted to sensational stories about murdered women (always white, affluent and good-looking), sports heroes (still heroic or falling from their pedestals), and off-beat artists nobody outside of New York cares about.

Now I find myself turning more and more often (when watching TV for news) to BBCA.

Recently I spoke with an acquaintance who is dean of a large Christian university and pastor of an evangelical mega-church. He told me (and others) that he was recently contacted by a major national news television network and asked to provide a three  minute comment on “gay marriage.” He rightly refused. He explained to the reporter that the subject cannot be discussed with any intelligence in three minutes. Needless to say, they didn’t use him.

I believe television news, and, to a somewhat lesser extent but increasingly print news media, is being controlled by advertisers and ratings. There is almost nowhere to turn to hear or read journalism unbiased by concern for “what our advertisers will think” and “how our ratings will be affected.” Public television used to be the exception, but it is increasingly relying on a form of advertising (names of supporters mentioned often with brief commercials) and being controlled by fear of loss of government and private grants.

Is this just a pet peeve of mine? I don’t think so. It illustrates two larger social problems we face–the pervasive influence of money over everything and growing appetite (among Americans) for entertainment to the exclusion of real information. I have written letters to major national, regional and local news outlets about these matters and been brushed off as a crank. One newspaper editor took my complaint about changes on the first page of the newspaper seriously and admitted to me that they were due to the need to sell newspapers. (The change was to huge pictures of children, flowers and animals and articles about local people doing “interesting” and funny things and relegation of real news to inside the newspaper with shorter and more shallow coverage.)

I think we, as a whole society, are becoming sheep. The dumbing down process is moving toward the vanishing point (of knowledge) quickly. Not long ago I watched an old movie called “Idiocracy.” It’s pretty crass, even silly, but prophetic anyway. Recently I attended a high school graduation. Several hundred “commenced” in robes and received something on the stage much to the wild applause and noisy celebration of family and friends in the audience. The problem is that even the program stated that “some” of those commencing were receiving “certificates of attendance” rather than diplomas. Nobody would tell me how many or exactly why. But clearly, whoever they were, their families and friends congratulated them with loud cheers even though they were only receiving a piece of paper acknowledging they met minimum attendance requirements. They will no doubt go out into the world claiming to have “graduated from high school” when, in fact, they did not. This is becoming common practice.

I recommend you watch the movie I mention above–not for entertainment (it’s not very entertaining in my opinion) but for the portrayal (if extreme and unlikely) of a future dystopia (partially already here now) resulting from a radical dumbing down of society, a celebrating of ignorance (“I want a president I can sit down and have a beer with!”) and a general attitude of anti-intellectualism and preference for entertainment over serious information.

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