10/3/12

Opinions and Rants #42: The News is Dead


I'm old enough to remember when news had at least a modicum of credibilty left. Those days are long gone. It's so bad that I won't waste your time trying to convince you of something so self evident. The mainstream news media is just plain awful - that's a given.  But let me count the ways...



1. Talking Heads

First, let me say that news commentary via talking heads is a tradition that's been around awhile.  Many of you may remember Firing Line.  I enjoyed listening to Buckley even though I had no idea what he was talking about half the time.

The difference is that today TV news is exclusively reliant on talking heads.  It's cheap and, with the right 'head', you can pull in respectable ratings.  Why waste resources putting journalists in the field reporting on world events when you can plunk some blowhard in a chair and film him speaking for thirty minutes instead?



Evidently, Americans have been so dumbed down that this is actually a preference.  More Americans will tune in to Dick Morris blathering on about some irrelevant scandal than an in-depth report on the goings on in Syria.  It's much less expensive and it gets more ratings - for the news channels, this is a win-win.

Unfortunately, for Americans this is a lose-lose.



2. Bias

I'm not going to attempt to argue that Fox News, the consistently leading news channel, is biased.  If you don't think it leans heavily to the right, then you have been so heavily indoctrinated that nothing I could say would convince you otherwise.  The same holds true for MSNBC - it's unapologetically left/progressive leaning.

I don't necessarily have an issue with these 24 hour news channels spewing their agendas all over the airwaves.... it's just that matters of grave importance gets lost beneath the steaming piles of horseshit.



3. CNN: A Casualty of War

Do you realize that on some days this blog gets more traffic than CNN? It's been truly astounding watching the wheels fall off - how did it come to this? Simple: It lost it's identity.

Think about it.  If you're throwing in the towel on quality investigative journalism, then all you're left with is (A) talking heads and (B) sensationalism.  The talking head format works well when you're spinning things left or right and preaching to the choir.  The format falls flat when you're trying to keep things in the middle.  You need people getting hot and bothered, you need Ann Coulter, you need carnival barkers.

Sensationalism is another draw that is best performed by the spinmeisters. Trying to keep your integrity while at the same time amping up the sensationalism is a lost cause - they are mutually exclusive.

In summary, if CNN is going to compete by playing the same game as Fox and MSNBC, it's going to have to sell out..... it's already sold-out to some extent.  I mean completely. Then, start dishing out rabid talking heads and sensationalist tomfoolery 24-7 and watch the ratings climb.



4. Self-Administered Propaganda

I've been speaking of television news - what about other sources? Unfortunately, there is so much out there  that people basically seek out only what fits their pre-existing bias.  In other words, a progressive is going to listen to progressive podcasts and read The Huffington Post.  A conservative is going to listen to Rush Limbaugh and read The Drudge Report.  And never the twain shall meet.  This isn't news - this is a circle jerk.

Print media is basically dead, so what you're left with is a population simply engorging itself on its own reflection.  Never learning anything new, just pacifying its own ego.  There's no room for epiphanies or seeing things from a brand new vantage point.

And while we continue to feed the beast, the population grows more and more polarized... to the point of no overlap, no mutual agreements.  A divided republic is a weak republic. And we grow weaker every day.



5. The Hideous Results

We are weakened as a nation because we are so deeply fractured.  But we are also weakened by our ignorance.  The talking heads phenomenon is a poor substitute for news. And what is news, but what is going on in the world that is of significance.  When we are blind to it, we are in grave danger of being blindsided by it.

Let's quit with the abstract and look at a real example: the Iraq War.  Saddam Hussein had been sanctioned for ten years after the first Gulf War - he didn't have a single WMD.  The inspectors couldn't find any, there was no evidence of any, and yet the news media, craving ratings that would result from war coverage, was 'all in'.  Dissenting nations like France were painted as infidels and Americans got to enjoy the spectacle of war on their new flat screens. Shock and awe, baby.  BAM!

How beneficial it would have been to have the American Press serve as a counterweight to the War Machine.  The press keeps the government in check.  But when it's preoccupied by ratings, there is nothing to stand in its way.

And so, once the novelty of the war zone wears thin, the networks return to their coverage of Paris Hilton and their endless roundtables of talking heads.  Meanwhile, the bodybags arrive home unheralded.  Men and women return to the States disabled and ravaged by 21st Century warfare while an ignorant nation watches Donald Trump.

THE END


23 comments:

  1. Damn Straight Gilligan! One of your best (serious; I mean - - I can't laugh till I drool at ALL your genius writing) posts ever. I especially like your point # 5.

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  2. I love how, buried among the miniskirt Mondays and retro music posts, you occasionally throw out something as profound as this post. Well said, sir. Well said.

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  3. Gilligan, You're like the crazy uncle that comes to Thanksgiving Dinner. You're a crack-up coming through the door, but when the adults get drunk and talk politics over pumpkin pie, you make more sense than anyone else. Thanks for saying what we all think.

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  4. Speaking as a Professional Pundit, I think you need, I think, to pivot forward on the double-down.

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  5. Right on!

    ....or does saying that make me "racist"?

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  6. Foreign press is usually way ahead of US press in terms of coverage depth and breadth. Most of our news is like a three year old jumping up and down going "look at me! look at me!". Used to be just trashy tabloids, now it's everywhere.

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  7. I don't really disagree with anything you say but there actually are newsworthy events going on that don't have a political slant. Like the tidal wave in Japan. I found CNN to be best source of news on this. I'm watching CNN.com right now for the 1st presidential debate coverage.

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  8. Solution: Subscribe to the Economist. Every week, you'll find out what's happening in the WHOLE world! It is a little too conservative and always ready to defend the excesses of investment banks, but it is well-written and sly humorous in a dry, British way.

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  9. As a person on the inside of the media with a BS in electronic/mass media, I want to let you know you hit the nail on the head. I agree with pretty much everything you said. I recently made a post on my website after I read comments on Facebook on local TV newscaster profiles about how "national news has changed" and "doesn't reflect us Ozarkers values." I went back and looked at old network news cast from the 60s, 70s and 80s. The current network news is not that much different from what it has been in past decades. Of course, people here in the Ozarks would rather have a Baptist preacher or Republican mouthpiece give the news than an actual journalist.

    While I'm one the subject of Facebook and the Internet, I don't like how websites like MSN and Yahoo priorities stories by how many people on Facebook shared it or how many times it was e-mailed to a friend. If there was a nuclear attack, Yahoo would instead have headlines like "Watch this baby pull a cats tail" or "Bristol Palin gets diarrhea on DWTS, Her mom blames this on Obama."

    I also don't like comments being left on stories news media sites. Recently in this area, a man and his three kids died in a plane crash with a woman, who wasn't his wife. You have the local hillbillies here in southwest Missouri on Facebook leaving comments on this story like, "Were them thar people having an affair?" Real tacky!

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    1. I notice in your response to the article you made sure and put Baptist preachers and Republican in the same category as hillbillies. Really? You are supposedly well educated and I guess you consider yourself non biased. I would say for myself as a Republican and a resident of Missouri and also a Baptist that I believe you need to take another look at your views. Did my ignorant Baptist Missouri self spell all these words correctly?

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  10. A new low point for media coverage of a political event was the "professional" pundits reaction to the recent DNC speech by former Predident Bill Clinton. The address was neither analized or critically commented on. The talking heads and paid tweeters, etc. were simply giddy in their attempts to one-up each other with praise that bordered on idol worship, "He's still got it!" "Best I ever heard" "to bad he's not running." We are often not well served by the fourth estate.

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  11. modicum not monocum

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  12. For the record, Saddom did not allow the UN weapons inspectors the access to all the locations he was required to in the peace agreement. It is important that this fact is not lost. There was also a good 6 month window before ground troops hit that the weapons could have been possibly destroyed or relocated. The ground evidence suggest that he did not, thank God, have a new WMD program, but he sure did a great job making sure everyone thought he did. Including his own military and the UN.

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  13. For the record, Saddom did not allow the UN weapons inspectors the access to all the locations he was required to in the peace agreement. It is important that this fact is not lost. There was also a good 6 month window before ground troops hit that the weapons could have been possibly destroyed or relocated. The ground evidence suggest that he did not, thank God, have a new WMD program, but he sure did a great job making sure everyone thought he did. Including his own military and the UN.

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  14. I'm not that sure that a few thousand Kurds would agree with your summation of Husseins possession or otherwise of WMD.

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  15. Saddam had WMD, as defined by the UN... however, the journalistic definition of what WMDs were simply slid every time another 10 tons of yellow-cake or rocket capable of delivering payloads 100+ km were recovered. Those are simple facts CNN, MSNBC, Fox, ABC, NYT, Post, etc, etc never reported. Yep, you're right about one thing; journalism is dead.

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  16. I'm surprised you didn't mention the other thing that's obvious to anyone who watched the news then and now: quite simply, male or female, you need to look like a supermodel to report news today. Now I'm not suggesting that attractive people can't be smart, or vice versa, but clearly someone who looks like Walter Cronkite wouldn't have a chance as a field reporter, let alone an anchor, in today's environment. When the number 1 prerequisite for TV news is how you look, chances are we've lost something. Just sayin'.

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  17. The problem isn't that Fox slants right or that MSNBC slants left, etc. The problem is that 'news' isn't the same as it used to be. It still wasn't perfect, but when I grew up, 'news' reporting was primarily the raw conveying of facts to an audience, who could decide what it meant. Now, 'news' is served up along with the meaning, to minimize any (gasp!) thinking requirement. It's pretty easy to get your bias in when news has been redefined. A raw newscast today wouldn't last one airing. Thinking is hard.

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  18. I am conservative and lean pretty far right but I thought your essay hit the nail on the head. I do tend to listen and watch the news on conservative channels and I do realize I need to broaden my horizons but find it difficult to do so. I really can't think of a single source of news that is trustworthy or non biased. You wrote a great article and I wish you would get this published on a major news source if possible.

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  19. I am conservative and lean pretty far right but I thought your essay hit the nail on the head. I do tend to listen and watch the news on conservative channels and I do realize I need to broaden my horizons but find it difficult to do so. I really can't think of a single source of news that is trustworthy or non biased. You wrote a great article and I wish you would get this published on a major news source if possible.

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  20. Preach, brother. And it all began when a bitter narcissist named Ted Turner decided news should become 24/7.

    I wish I could go back in time to 1979 and shoot him. The history of America and the entire world would instantly change for the better.

    In fact... TV show idea :)

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  21. I disagree that MSNBC is the counterpart to FOXNews; CNN is their counterpart. FOXNews leans right; CNN leans left. MSNBC is a mouthpiece.

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