Monday, March 05, 2007

The People's News

I just read this opinion piece complaining about how tabloid news has taken over our legitimate news sources; which is something I really, really hate.  But then he asks: “So whose fault is all this, the media's or the public's? Both.”

Uh, no.  It’s not.  It’s entirely the media’s fault.  Because real news isn’t a popularity contest.  It’s a duty.  It doesn’t matter if it gets poor ratings.  All that matters is that it’s important for people to know.  Imagine if the IRS was so concerned with their poor image that they decided to stop doing taxes and opened up an amusement park.  Sure, they’d be much more popular, but it isn’t a substitute for what they’re supposed to be doing.

And that’s what the media’s giving us.  They’ve decided that real news doesn’t pay, so they’re moving into an entirely different line of work.  Even when they cover real news, they do so in a tabloid way.  Elections are a horserace.  Policy issues are a boxing match between two sides.  Local news is nothing but an endless stream of car accidents, crimes, fires, missing people, weather, sports, and all kinds of other things that you can’t possibly have any influence on.  And the national news wants to be more like the local news.  Oh, and apparently, Anna Nicole’s still dead.

But in no case is any of this intended to inform you of anything that you can do anything about.  It’s escapism.  It’s meant to be the exact opposite of real news.  Most people don’t want information to help them make better decisions.  They don’t want any kind of call to action at all.  They just want to passively watch a show and be fascinated, or mortified, or bemused, or probably all three.  But they don’t want to be told something that they might need to act upon.  That’s too much like real life.

But that’s not the public’s fault.  Escapism is more popular than realism, but they’re not substitutes for one another.  The IRS should not have an amusement park.  Their job is to collect tax revenues, just as the media’s just is to provide real news.  And there is a market for real news.  It may not be as big as the one for fake news, but that doesn’t excuse them from secretly changing their product.  

Especially as there are lots of people who surely do want real news, but haven’t realized that the media has duped them into accepting a counterfeit alternative.  When reporters take dictation from the administration, these people believe they’re getting thoroughly vetted facts.  They’ve been assured that they’re receiving objective truth.  And they assume that if the news they’re receiving is of somewhat lighter weight, that it must be a slow news day.  

It’s sad to say, but I know many people who watch CNN regularly and who really believe themselves to be knowledgeable on current events.  Yet they seem utterly amazed when I tell them of the stuff that is common knowledge on mainstream blogs.  They honestly don’t realize that CNN is in the entertainment industry.  And don’t even get me started on Fox News, which has elevated escapism to levels that even Disney has yet to attain.

Because there is no amount of escapist news that a legitimate news source should give.  It’s not that the media has gone too deeply into fake news, as the opinion piece suggested; but that they’ve changed their entire purpose for existing.  Even supposedly serious discussions on CNN focus more on speculation and rumors; with facts being treated as party poopers.  The problem isn’t that they’ve gone too heavily with the crowd pleasing material, but that they consider the crowd’s opinion at all.  

Democracies require truth, but truth is not a democracy.

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