Monday, January 04, 2010

Death Panels, Balloon Boy, Jon & Kate, Tiger Woods: Who Cares? I'll Tell You Who. (Video after the jump)

If there's one thing that sets my teeth on edge about the 24-hour-news media's "looks back" at 2009, it's their staggering cognitive dissonance. They snort at and scorn tabloid junk, seemingly unaware that they are the leading source of said junk.

You hear it all the time on cable news. They mention Jon and/or Kate, Balloon Boy, Tiger Woods and so on, and then say something like "the public was fascinated" or "the public couldn't get enough."

To which I would reply, how exactly did you know?
When these stories "break" the news channels slap them on air immediately and continuously. They don't wait to get emails and phone calls demanding coverage. They are the first to know and the first to cover them endlessly. They do so without asking a single member of the public whether or not he/she wants the coverage.

And when you cover something hour after hour, day after day, week after week, is it fair to then blame the public for being interested? When it's an interest they themselves created?

The news media never seem to recognize their own influence. If a movie or a TV show is heavily promoted, the media always dismiss its popularity, using phrases like "massive hype" or "you couldn't go anywhere without seeing an ad." The audience is treated like mindless followers.

But if a news story gathers interest, it's always the audience's fault. Now the people are treated like mindless leaders. Apparently it's our fault that the news media cover these stories. Even though we weren't participants in the decisions. And they were made when we were still so blissfully unaware of these sordid stories.

The 24-hour-news channels deny their own influence in more important matters, too. They have been pounding a relentless drumbeat for a whole year: "Obama is in trouble"... "People are angry"... "Failing agenda"... "Bleak outlook for midterms"... and so on. Doesn't matter that their source for this meme is thirty idiots in a gym yelling at a congressman. For the benefit of 24-hour-news cameras.

They tell the world that thirty yokels in Georgia are angry, and why. They painstakingly and repeatedly list the arguments of these thirty morons, presenting them as an "opposing argument" somehow equal to the truth. Sixty people in Iowa see this and they start yelling, then ninety people in Utah, and so on and so on.

The week the "health care reform will kill the elderly" myth was spawned I saw right-wing talk radio shithead Lars Larson on Hardball spewing it as gospel. Also appearing: Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who actually wrote the amendment, patiently trying to explain that the story was nonsense. And that's balance in the news world: giving a huckster a forum to tell the author of an amendment that he doesn't know what's in the amendment.

And yes, Chris Matthews does challenge Larson. But the kind of person who believes Larson's crap dismisses Matthews as a lying lefty. And when Larson is done, Matthews encourages him to come back on the show. Why? Why would anyone want an obvious liar back on his show? Then Matthews interviews the Congressman just as stiffly. Again, that's balance for you.

Don't believe me? The video of the debacle is below. It elevates a lie to truth, which only serves to sell it to the gullible. "Obama wants to kill us!" you can hear the yokels cry. "It's true! I saw it on the news!"

Then, after all this, there are the polls -- which the news media commission -- showing the President's popularity is down a few points ("Obama is slipping!")... the next poll the numbers drop a little more ("The public is disenchanted")... until they hit what is called "a historic low"... and the media take no responsibility for it whatsoever. They deny their own complicity. They blame it all on us.

If any movie received the hour-after-hour, day-after-day, over-and-over promotion that the idea of "Obama bad" has gotten, that movie would be the biggest blockbuster of all time. Yet the media adopt this "Who, me??" attitude. It's repulsive.

Finally, there is one more culprit being smeared unfairly: reality TV. All you hear on the news is how corrosive reality TV is to our society, making stars out of worthless morons like the White House party-crashers, or the Balloon Family, or aforementioned douchebags Jon & Kate.

I'm sorry, but it's not reality TV that made these people celebrities, it's the news media. The party crashers wanted to be on reality TV, but it was the news media that actually put them on the air, that gave them endless camera time. That made it all worth it for them.

(As I tweeted at the time, if someone runs on the field during a baseball game, the networks don't show it, so as not to encourage imitators. But crash a state dinner and you're booked on the Today Show. Unbelievable.)

The Balloonatics had been on a network reality show. Yet none of us knew their names or faces until the news media pushed them in our faces 24/7.

Readers of this blog know that I watch a lot of reality TV. Yet I had never even heard of Jon or Kate until their marital troubles were all over the news. I couldn't believe these two idiots had eight children, let alone a TV show. And I really couldn't believe that they were considered news.

Finally, there is the argument news types always make: the ratings go up for tabloid stories. First of all, the highest ratings any 24-hour-news channel ever got are lower than the ratings cancelled network shows get. The only thing smaller than the audience for news is the readership of newspapers. So let's not consider the piqued interest of this miniscule audience to be a leading indicator of public opinion.

Furthermore, isn't it possible that viewership goes up because there is a storyline to follow? You tell people the father of an exploited child might be indicted. Can you blame them if they tune in the next day to see what happens? It's not interest. It's not even curiosity. It's simply a function of being human. Like Sky Masterson's betting on which raindrop will travel down a window fastest, it's in our nature to want to see how any competition ends, no matter how trivial it is.

And trivial is exactly what the news media used to be. Now they've devolved. Now they're trivializing. They put everything into a tube of info-toothpaste, then squeeze. Out it all comes, all mushed together, all seeming equally important: Tiger Woods, Yemen, Octomom, mammogram guidelines, terrorist bombings, Mrs. Obama's sleeveless outfits... all one gooey stream.

And if you want to know who suffers, look at Wall Street or the hobbled health care "reform." The media gorge and vomit, and we pay the price.


Lars said...

I just love all you "tolerant" types who are open to debate and discussion!

Michael Markowitz said...

No honest, reasonable person is obliged to be "tolerant" of lies. And when one party is lying, true "debate and discussion" is impossible.

skyliner said...

Lars can't be as stupid as he sounds, so he must be as disingenuous and evil.

Tim Johnson said...

Ahhhhhh, it's so good to have you back, Mike!

Michael Markowitz said...

Aw thanks.