Again, with the Narrative

Once more, the American commercial news media have created a story and then reported it as “news.”

How long, just how long can this go on?

Polls, the day before the New Hampshire primary, show Hillary Clinton suddenly dropping far behind Barack Obama. Clinton has an emotional moment before the primary. She wins the primary. Suddenly, we have a story, a narrative the news media can get their teeth into. Rather than simply reporting the news, they can create it.

If there is a story at all, here, it is in the unquestioned acceptance of the polls. Looked at rationally, no one in their right mind could have believed that Clinton dropped from a lead to a double-digit deficit in five days, days during which she performed well and during which Obama did nothing spectacular. The polling data should have raised alarm bells, leading the news media to start asking why the polls were proving so volatile in what was—for all the media hoopla over Obama’s win in Iowa—a reasonably stable political situation.

It didn’t. Instead, the news media have latched on to the easy story, the one they can project forward and back in a nice, simple form. The New Hampshire voters are ornery, I heard one commentator say, and refused to be buffaloed by the Iowa results.

Say what? People don’t vote just to send that kind of message. To claim so is to be ridiculous on the face of it. But that’s the kind of narrative that the members of the commercial news media like to build, for it is simple and understandable—silly though it might be, on serious examination.

By uncritically accepting the polling data, the news media were deliberately setting up a number of stories, the one used depending on the actual results. Had Clinton lost, the story would have been of a fall from grace. That she won becomes a “comeback.”

But she wasn't falling, and had never gone away.

When, oh when, will the commercial news media begin to simply report the news, rather than twisting it into stories that it can manipulate over a series of days or weeks? When, rather than taking on the entertainer’s role, will they recognize that their job should be to find and share information, not to tell stories?

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But that’s the kind of narrative that the members of the commercial news media like to build, for it is simple and understandable

Today's media has an automatic knee-jerk reaction to create sound bytes; in the hustle and bustle of today's "reality" just the short, easily digestible bits and bytes have advertising value -- they create a "buzz" that people hypnotically follow.

It's a form of propaganda and advertising, so to speak, in the great game of attracting as many people as possible who want to know the latest "scoop" on a story but are too tired / lazy / burnt out to take the time to sift through dry (and thus not always entertaining) news.

The "entertain me so I don't need to think" factor is a big and scary trend of the new infomedia.

One of your big idols,1 in fact, is behind forming an entire school of study into furthering it -- Nicholas Negroponte, and his brainchild the MIT Media Lab.

The problem is that providing a higher entertainment factor is mutually exclusive of providing true information. If, for example, we build filters to automatically group and sort and direct items only of interest to us so we don't have to scan for them ourselves, we'll spend more time with more information of the sort we want -- and likely lose out through those same filters some of the thought, ideas and concepts which challenge them and could thus impact our decisions.

Not a lot of thought goes into some of these studies and techniques on the initial investigation and development side to realize the potential downside from a sociological and cultural perspective, just like a lot of the criticism that can and have been levelled at the OLPC project.

Because the drawbacks are unaddressed, they can be realized and leveraged by both direct and indirect self-interested markets, and establish trends that illustrate the "unexpected consequences" meme quite successfully.

Keep It Simple Stupid -- the KISS rule of thumb for several successful business, computer and social models -- becomes, at that point, not an advantageous guideline but an interesting commentary: "keep it simple, stupid" / "keep it simple and stupid" / "keep it simple" and cultivate "stupid"

When, rather than taking on the entertainer’s role, will they recognize that their job should be to find and share information, not to tell stories?

That, my friend, is a question not for us or them, but for the historians and business majors of future times. We need to manifest the job of information sharing and cull the storytelling out from the news information segments by working with, in, against and among the current media and showing them (and the rest of us) how to manage and classify information effectively, efficiently and clearly. It has to be done in a way to help minimize the inherent propaganda potential (remember, the political propaganda dollars have increased exponentially under the Bush era, where BILLIONS are spent on programs to seed stories that support their causes) and still turn a profit for spreading actual news data elements.

...that means, of course, neutralizing propaganda outlets like "Fox News" and culling the wheat from the chaff (the facts from the fiction) across other major media outlets and markets. A daunting task in an era of major mega-consolidation.

Which, of course, brings us back to the importance of establishing an equalizing force for the common man/woman: net neutrality...

1. Heh, one of your "idols" -- hawk humor and sarcasm. ;)

The media was by no means alone, being joined in the prediction game by most of the major political blogs. And this morning the big story is how they all managed to screw up so badly. PEJ has a decent sampling.

the "paid-for media" had no effect, but the free media did.

Then he voiced a "self-interest" in the free media -- by which he meant the press -- as he is "part" of it.

I will go dig up the transcript and report back.

and make up your own mind. How hard is that? I liken the media at times to my mother telling me what, when, and how I should act/ get the gist! Maybe it's about time to do a little weaning or for mother to just butt out!

made an excellent point on TPMcafe:

I don't know about you, but I am thoroughly pissed off at the lame, unprofessional conduct of the various networks--MSNBC in particular. They knew that the polls had at least 17% undecided. Rather than simply report that there were a significant number of undecided voters and any projections were not reliable, they danced around like crack addicts celebrating the demise of the Clintons. Hillary is too wimpy. Hillary is too stern. Hillary is too manipulative. Hillary is not manipulative enough. (emphasis added)

Personally, I am tired of the media being involved in the campaign process. If the media can't do the job and do it well in the service of the nation, then they deserve to be rendered useless (which is pretty well where most of them stand with me these days). The Wall Street Journal had an article yesterday that made a point that said a lot about their coverage:

With just five days between Iowa and New Hampshire -- the shortest period ever between the two contests -- Sen. Clinton had little time to brake Sen. Obama's momentum. But aside from Nevada and South Carolina, a relative lull opens up for Democrats between New Hampshire and Feb. 5, when states from Connecticut to California hold the "Super Tuesday" votes.

In that span, reporters will have more time for further examination of the Obama record in the U.S. Senate, and his eight years in the Illinois state senate -- helped along by opposition research on Sen. Obama in the Clinton campaign files. The Republican Party, too, already has begun targeting Sen. Obama after long concentrating its unfavorable dispatches on Sen. Clinton. "Senator Obama claims that he was 'broke' seven years ago even though he was a partner at a law firm," said a release put out yesterday by national party spokesman Danny Diaz, going on to question the candidate's credibility on "economic/budget issues."

Pardon me but hasn't the media had better than a year to be at Obama's record?

I canvassed and called for Edwards all day Sunday. 60% of the 50 or so people I spoke with were undecided. Even the toll worker on my way back to Vermont wanted to talk about the primary, and how she was going home to watch the debate she had taped, in order to make her decision.
I don't see how pollsters can come up with valid numbers when you have that many undecided voters. I saw no indication of the number of undecided voters in any of the polls. I think this was the problem, though never addressed as the polls came out.

and I am not so sure I am gonna be happy with the final result. :(

The outcome of the NH primary has left me feeling more than a little depressed and I am hoping it is not a reflection of things to come.

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