The Scream of the Peacock ... Journalism vs Infotainment
Bumping again for relevance. 11/16/2016
Originally posted 2008-02-07 06:29:02 -- given the current state of the media, well worth bumping -- cho
You guys are just covering — what do they call it — the scream of the peacock, and you’re missing the whole fox hunt. -- Stephen King [Interview in Time Magazine]
Mr. King was taking the media to task for their coverage of the "news" and his observation brings into sharp relief the problems with the media. What we are being offered as "news," according to King, is a "screaming peacock." Reporting inconsequential details from a celebrity's life does nothing for the intelligence level of the American people (other than maybe make them feel that their own screwed up lives are normal). But, the point is, THIS ISN'T NEWS!!
The Screaming Peacock -- Is the Media Biased?
What is News? According to dictionary.com
news/nuz, nyuz/ –noun (usually used with a singular verb)
- 1.a report of a recent event; intelligence; information
- 2.the presentation of a report on recent or new events in a newspaper or other periodical or on radio or television.
Often referred to as the Fourth Estate, the press has traditionally played an important role in government. They were tasked with the responsibility of "reporting to the people" the important events shaping current history. Prior to the 1960's this was accomplished through newspapers, but as television came on the scene, followed by the internet, the landscape of the "press" has changed drastically. In 1969 Vice President Spiro Agnew was launched (by accident or design we may never know) into a campaign to frame the media as "liberally biased."
According to Richard Nixon's Revenge by Pat Buchanan and published in the American Conservative:
What he had done was to strip the false flag of neutrality from Big Media and expose it as a co-belligerent in the political wars, no longer entitled to any immunity from attack.
The so-called "liberal media" was branded and the philosophy of a "liberal media" was propagated for the next 30 years, while a stealthy movement by conservatives was under way to "have their say." In an effort to show "fairness," the media bent over backwards to accommodate the conservative viewpoint. This had the effect of turning a powerful voice for the American people into a "tool" of the political machine -- both liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican. Enter Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America. Gingrich loudly and openly complained about a "liberally biased media" and once described his goal as "reshaping the entire nation through the news media." (New York Times, 12/14/94) A prime example of how the media is manipulated for political ends is this little tidbit from FAIR [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting]:
Indeed, a deceptive memo was recently leaked to the Washington Post, [snip]. The memo was circulated by the National Association of Manufacturers in response to a call from the office of Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert. It urged corporate lobbyists to camouflage themselves as working class folks for a GOP rally on Capitol Hill in support of Bush's tax cut plan.
"The theme involves working Americans," said the memo. "The Speaker's office was very clear in saying that they do not need people in suits. If people want to participate-- AND WE DO NEED BODIES-- they must be DRESSED DOWN, appear to be REAL WORKER types, etc. We plan to have hard hats for people to wear." The political director of the manufacturers' association, who normally wears a suit and tie, attended the Republican rally in a faded farmers' hat, rugby shirt and green pants.
The Capitol Hill photo-op, with its sea of hard hats, looked good on TV for the Bush team and their tax cut. Media outrage over the deception was rare. [emphasis mine]
Outrage was rare. Here is a case where "news" was used to sell a political agenda. It wasn't even truth, let alone news. News Corpse writes frequently on this site about media bias and cites instances when reporting leaves a "biased" taste in a viewer's mouth. His work falls into the category of watchdog journalism. There are many organizations (on both sides of the political spectrum) who tout themselves as "media watchdogs", yet the media still finds itself complicit in deceiving the American public. Recently JamesS wrote Media Consolidation -- a Historical Perspective, an important piece that gives a good overview of the steady decline in "monopoly" regulations that have played a role in turning our news into "infotainment". Clarence Page observed:
While some of us pundits still pride ourselves on being unpredictable, the marketplace increasingly seeks the predictable. [...] Listen and believe? No, believe and then choose to what you want to listen.
Quite often the result, as Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” famously bellyached on CNN’s “Crossfire,” is pseudo-intellectual cheerleading, a battle of heat-seeking interests masquerading as serious discourse. One tunes in to such programs to have one’s beliefs, notions and prejudices reinforced. If thorough consideration of an opposing view is the beginning of intellectual growth, much of today’s infotainment sounds brain dead.
Punditry is the core of today's political infotainment offerings. A recent stir was caused around a comment Chris Matthews made about Hillary Clinton and her successful political career. Media Matters took him to task for his comments and Matthews subsequently offered a quasi-apology for his remarks.
Some people whom I respect, politically concerned people like you who watch this show so faithfully every night, people like me who care about this country, think I've been disrespectful to Hillary Clinton, not as a candidate, but as a woman. They point to something I said on MSNBC's Morning Joe the morning after the New Hampshire primary, that her election to the U.S. Senate, and all that's come since, was a result of her toughness, but also the sympathy for her because her husband embarrassed her by the conduct that led to his impeachment, because he, in the words I used, "messed around."
What is News? and Where do I find it?
News organizations now target us as consumers -- and not just consumers of their news product, but also as consumers of the products and services being advertised in their publication/production. Viewing us as "consumers" has heralded a new era in "news," wherein news has become infotainment and ratings are based on "market share" rather than the quality of the information being imparted. Blogs, informed comment and citizen journalism provide a good set of checks and balances to today's corporate media environment. Even our "Fake News" such as the Daily Show with Jon Stewart provide a real background for the "jokes" that are delivered. This little quote from the Courant re-enforces the value of fake news in political discourse.
Both were returning to their shows — without writers — for the first time in nine weeks, since the Writers Guild of America strike. Their absence came at a bad time. Usually, Stewart would be making hay of the political race, which was about to mark its first presidential primaries Tuesday. Colbert hadn't even completed covering his own quixotic race for president before both late-night hosts left the air Nov. 1.
This video, produced by the writers for Stewart's Daily Show and distributed on YouTube evinces the power of the internet in getting both sides of the story to ordinary people (provided they have an internet connection and just a trace of curiousity).
In an op/ed in the Chicago Tribune Clarence Page comments:
There's nothing new about bosses pleading poverty to their workers while boasting to investors about how much their companies are rolling in dough. What's new is the ability of strikers to show both faces of their employers to the world via the Web.
This represents the power of the internet in today's discourse. Just about anybody with an internet connection has suddenly become a "journalist" ... and this presents a new set of problems. Wikipedia, lists several "genres" of Journalism, which is really quite interesting. Bloggers are wont to call themselves Citizen Journalists, but there are many cases where their activities fall into "advocacy" or "gonzo" journalism.
Citizen journalism: The act of citizens "playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information," [...]
We have to be careful we are not being shoveled "truthiness" instead of the truth.