Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Reporting or Making News?

I am generally annoyed by the media, as you can probably tell by my prior posts. I think the idea that they merely report the news is just ridiculous. The goal of nearly very major paper and broadcast news outlet is to stir the public into a frenzy by selectively reporting facts and shaping the ones they do report. An excellent example is the bird flu movie ABC ran during sweeps just a few weeks ago. The whole goal of the movie was to convince America that a devastating bird flu pandemic is very possible and therefore it is time to panic. It did my heart good to see that the movie bombed in ratings.
Even seemingly non-news channels are guilty of what I call "frenzy programming." The weather channel used report what actually was happening in the world around us. Now its programming largely revolves around "Storm Stories" which recounts past disasters. I can respect that: at least these shows consist of footage and models of actual events that have happened. On Sunday nights, however, the Weather Channel will show you what COULD happen if, for instance, another devastating earthquake hit San Francisco or a tornado hit Dallas or some other remotely possible event happened. This show is ominously called "It Could Happen Tomorrow." Well, I think that the idea of this show should be extended: there should be spinoffs showing how there could be a five car wreck and a person could be trapped in the bottom car when a giant car pile exploded or showing how 2 passenger jets could collide in midair killing 600 people and then the wreckage could fall onto an amphitheater and kill thousands more or showing how people could go to bed tonight and have a massive heartattack or showing how a person could cut his fingernails too short so they hurt for a week. All these events are just as likely as some catastrophic event in a major city. Somehow I don't think they will make a show about them however.
There are 2 articles today which relate to the "frenzy programming" phenomenom. The first analyzes how the media pats itself on the back for its Katrina coverage even though their coverage was factually inaccurate, making up negative facts (like gangs and murder in the Superdome) and ignoring positive facts (like the national guard response). The second discusses the concept of a network that would not do frenzy programming but would instead try to understand why and how history works. Victor Davis Hanson wrote an article some time back on the same general subject called "The Prison of the Present." That article discusses how the news networks lack any sense of historical perspective and try to put people in a frenzy. Just for kicks, you should also look at this article which Newsweek ran in the 70's about how global cooling was a consensus position among scientists.
I am heartened by the response of people in general: newspaper circulation is falling and the major news networks are shadows of their former selves. While the elites in the media will never understand why their numbers are falling, somehow I just don't see how people could want to watch stories about what might one day kill them over and over again. Normal people have enough real problems to worry about without thinking about how they could theoretically die in some remotely possile catastrophe.

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