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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

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.



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