Carl Bernstein recently attacked "celebrity news" as one of the big problems with the media. But he insists that the media isn't the only one to blame for that. As the article says:
Bernstein, 63, said he believes an "idiot culture" is partly to blame for the dysfunction of political life in the United States.
"You can't separate the appetites and demands of the people themselves and what they are given," he said. "The blame simply can't all be put at the feet of those who present news."
But why the hell not? There have always been people more interested in gossip and celebrities than real news. There has always been a big market for salacious stories and juicy rumors. And without any doubt, there have always been idiots. And those idiots have always had sources to satisfy their need for news they can understand. So what? When did popularity become the standard for excellence?
Big Macs outsell filet mignons by a wide margin. Does that mean that fancy restaurants should start selling Big Macs? Or more appropriately, Britney Spears outsells Glenn Gould. Does that mean that Gould should start recording pop albums and hiring half-nude dancers for his concerts? Of course not. So why is it ok for "serious" news shows to cover Britney Spears stories, when there are obviously bigger problems on our plate?
The fact is that there are different audiences who want different things from different people. You go to McDonald's when want a fatty burger and a cheap toy for your kid. You listen to Britney Spears when you're a herd-like pre-teen who wants to bop around to fluffy music. And anyone who wants that kind of stuff goes to McDonald's or buys Britney's albums. In these circumstances, it would be inconceivable for higher quality establishments to sell-out and start pleasing the masses. And if they did, they would most certainly be loudly derided by all serious people and their reputations would go down the tubes.
Only with the media do we take this as a given that it's ok to sell-out. It's all about ratings and high readership. It's all about giving the people what they want. But that's not what journalism is about. It's not about ratings. It's about information. It's about giving people what they need. And if that means that your show won't get as high ratings, well tough shit. That's not what this is about. There is an audience for real news, and if that audience isn't as big as what you want, well that's just too damn bad. That's the business you're in and that's the product you're expected to provide.
We already have news sources that focus on entertainment news. That's why People Magazine and Entertainment Tonight were created. The E! Network even has a celebrity news crawl at the bottom of the screen, for those who want to watch Hef on The Girls Next Door, but are afraid to miss the breaking news on Lindsay Lohan's latest arrest. We already have plenty of celebrity news sources. Now we need real news sources. And if most people don't watch real news unless a big news story happens, well that's just how it goes.
Nobody asked them to make a 24-Hour news channel. But if they're going to have one and it's going to influence real news, which it will, then they have a responsibility to provide real news. And there are no excuses. Nobody promised them an audience. We owe them nothing. They went into the market as real news sources, and that's what they owe us. And hell, if they want to rebrand themselves into gossip news sources, I'd fully support that. I hate those 24-hour news channels and would be perfectly happy if they stopped covering real news.
But as long as they cover real news, they will have a strong influence on it. And as such, they are fully responsible for the crappy state of journalism we're in. There will always be fans of "idiot culture," but that doesn't mean I want to see Glenn Gould lip-synching pop songs while prancing about in a thong. News people can aim for a pop culture audience, but then that's how they should be treated. I have no problem with the existence of shows like Entertainment Tonight. I just don't want those fools picking my president.
P.S. I just saw that Gould died quite a few years ago, which would make it that much less desirable to see him prancing around in a thong. But I love his music and like his name, so I refuse to change this to whomever his living equivalent would be.