>> Sunday, March 21, 2010
*Steps on soapbox*
Project Savior did an experiment this week with inflammatory or misleading headlines. No surprise to me, but it reminded me of one reason I rarely watch the news.
I've often said I don't yearn for the "good old days" and that hasn't changed, but one thing I do miss - at least the appearance of objectivity when it came to "news."
Not that we haven't always had some level of propaganda. Yellow journalism as a term came from the sensationalizing going on in the late 19th century in New York when rival papers used methods we all know far too well to increase circulation. These tactics are credited with drawing us into the Spanish-American war (though the truth of that's debatable).
There have always been "newspapers" aka tabloids that have stretched, rearranged and apparently laughed at the truth, making often outlandish claims with minimal concern for retribution. Editorials don't pretend to be unbiased, and even straight responsible journalism stories (or the choices of which stories to pursue) could promote a particular viewpoint.
But it used to mean something to get the facts right, to have some measure of objectivity, to tell a balanced story without theatrics or gimmicks, half-truths and innuendo, inflammatory language or manipulative tactics.
I'm not pointing out "liberal" media or "conservative" media here either. It feels like no one's objective any more.
The "yellow journalism" has spread from the editorial pages and tabloids until it has seemed to infect everything. No longer are stories presented with evidence from either side. Now, journalists make sure they tell us how we should feel about it. Wild rumors and suppositions are presented as credible fact and there seems to be no repercussions no matter how egregious the errors turn out to be.
Apologies, those few news sources that still provide them when they are shown to be demonstrably in error, are often late or dismissive as if telling the lies don't matter.
So what? Someone might say. Obviously, the public eats it up - and they do. Often the most inflammatory and off-kilter "news sources" rake in the ratings or the views (or whatever metric they use) and, clearly, much of the public is eating it up. If thinking people are a bit nauseated at obvious attempts at manipulation and illogical conclusions that are clearly unsupported, so what? Who cares what we think?
But the problem is more than alienating the thinkers. It's that the media controls much of the public opinion here and can change the perception of the truth. Sure, they might all just be going for ratings or popularity - and negative reporting on government or celebrities or just about any group, including scientists and other intellectual professionals, is almost always good business. But there are also a number of big business groups out there with a great deal to lose if people look out for their own good. I think it would be naive to assume that private money isn't behind much of the naysaying on many topics intended for the public good.
The trend is frightening for another reason. Wars in the past century have been effectively driven and controlled via the media. The media has a tremendous capacity to tell the public who they are and what is good and bad out there. Hitler managed to pull it off. So did Stalin. If someone owns enough of the media (or influences it enough), the resultant power is more than a little frightening. Good things like vaccines can become unpopular or ignored. Environmental issues can be dismissed. Truly heinous acts can be overlooked or even sanctioned. Think it can't happen? It has.
One reason this country (the US) has always been so successful is because they have rewarded and admired original thought, science, and other great thinkers. But media organizations don't want an educated thoughtful public. They want one they can control readily. I suspect there is some self-feeding going on as the circle continues with media dumbing down and sensationalizing, the public eating it up and pushing for more ways to dumb down the public under the influence of some viewpoint (perhaps protecting our children) and the cycle continues.
You think the media isn't a factor in the latest move by the Texas education numbskulls who clearly have no concept of history but feel they need to dictate changes to our curriculum?
As long as the public responds, the yellow journalism will continue. As long as people are swayed by inflammatory information fed to them in sound bites and with half-truths, the public will continue to respond to yellow journalism.
It's a cycle that can take us some ugly places we definitely shouldn't want to go.
If it hasn't already.
*steps off soapbox*