We seem to dance in ever widening circles. We are diverted constantly from being witness to what is important. Rather we are steered toward that which is sensational, here for the moment and profoundly mundane. We are distracted by a cacophony of words that are merely sound and have little or no depth, little or no meaning to us in the long term. We just seem to be dancing at a much faster, more frenetic pace. The louder the music, the more we are taken away from the important things that should be our focus.
The band is made up of those who label themselves as reporters, journalists, information specialists and pundits. All of these people have abdicated their responsibility to those of us who are the consumers of their drivel. Those of us who buy their product, who read the newspaper, watch the news programs or listen to the so-called experts share in a kind of collective guilt for where we find ourselves.
I have come to believe that one of the greatest jokes ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting public was the birth of the twenty-four hour cable television networks. In the early days, when CNN stood alone, it did seem to attempt to cover the news in a responsible manner. But then, along came MSNBC to provide competition. Then lastly (and I shudder to think about it) along came FOX. The trio then had to compete. Fox chose the conservative news-line and has hired a group of snipers who either espoused the line of the ultra-right, or were willing to sell themselves to that political idiom. CNN seems to have sold it’s soul for ratings, and vacillates between hard news and celebrity coverage, as though they have resident journalists, but also have their own stable of paparazzi and muck rakers. MSNBC sleeps in that very same bed.
If we measure it by the number of television hours and newspaper column inches , then the major story of the year has been the death of a pop star. The passing of Michael Jackson has generated more talk than just about any other single event this year. The cable news networks devoted ’round the clock coverage of the events surrounding the death, family and estate of the late Mr. Jackson. It became a wallow. It was like being witness to an orgy of fantasy, with very few facts interspersed within all the words vomited out of the reportorial mouths during this so called news presentation. Ratings and cold hard cash seem to be the primary motivators, with relevancy being sacrificed on the altar of expediency in the pursuit of these two goals.
I do not denigrate Mr. Jackson’s contributions as an entertainer. He was a masterful singer, dancer, composer and lyricist. He was also a father, son, and brother. He was a human being and did not have to be sent-off in the midst of sensationalism, hyperbole and the crocodile tears of the press and of some of the people who came to “mourn.” Michael Jackson was indeed a great and charismatic performer, but was he really the greatest that ever lived? Should there be a national holiday declared so that we could annually celebrate his memory? Hyperbole!
The coverage that 24 hour cable news brings about has also had an effect on government processes, and not for their betterment. For example, the coverage of the so-called confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayer was little more than a chance for the Republican minority to posture and grandstand. The news took a statement out of the context of a speech made several years ago that compared and contrasted the ability of an Hispanic woman to that of a white male in terms of judging certain cases. Cable ran with this statement and produced days of meaningless drivel. Instead of the Judiciary Committee focusing on this nominee’s judicial record, we were given this exercise in political arrogance by the committee members and by cable news. The only real case they presented that Judge Sotomayer helped decide was that involving the testing for promotion of the New Haven, CT firemen wherein her decision sided with minority candidates and was later reversed by the Supreme Court. Much was made of this reversal, yet it was neither a surprise nor was it even newsworthy. It was a foregone conclusion coming from what is now a conservative court capped off by the appointees of and now the living and enduring legacy of George W. Bush.
I have pretty much withdrawn from watching the twenty-four hour cable news coverage, preferring instead to get my news from BBC America, and the sound bites generated by the major networks. (In saying this, I am not holding the major networks blameless. The tenor and the quality of network news has also degenerated. perhaps beyond recovery.)
I also read at least one newspaper a day. For the most part, that local rag presents little or no hard news. It becomes more and more yellow every day, and does not even seem to know it has lost its way. It’s crusade at present seems to be against a local politician who was stopped for driving after having had “two drinks.” Over the past several weeks the paper has devoted countless columns to this infraction. It seems to me that after it has been said, it has been said. This newspaper also offers almost daily letters attacking the current administration, and not over issues. The letters are more apt to be of the ilk that attack the president as having been born outside of the U.S., and of having a secret agenda that if allowed to be fulfilled will bring thousands of Muslim terrorists to live as our neighbors and at taxpayers’ expense. It would be laughable if it was not so disheartening. Then, why should a person continue to read that paper? Well, I’m a movie fan, and as such I need to know what is playing and the schedule. How sad is it when that is the most important page in a newspaper that is short on real news and long on gossip, sensationalism and “sound-bytes.
I don’t necessarily fault the journalists who are presently coming up. They have to eat, so they adjust their product to what the traffic will bear. Yet we have recently been reminded of the respect we were once able to have had for the news and for the people who delivered it to us. So, we need to ask if Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Chet Huntley or David Brinkley would have chosen expediency over integrity. I think not.
The news as it is? We’ve received what we have bought, and it seems as though we have welcomed it hook, line and sinker. We have become, for the most part, a generation that prefers tabloid reporting to real news. We prefer to receive our “information” in short sentences and in the sound bytes that do not tax our short attention spans. So many are now content to simply buy drivel, and we therefore only receive drivel.
Imagine the quiet that could result if we would simply tune-out cable news, tune-out the political muck-rakers who pollute the radio airwaves each day. Imagine how wonderful it would be to have the ability to read and think for ourselves, to have our own opinions and ultimately vote our own minds. If we were able to show that we will no longer buy the product, that it is time to stop the dance, perhaps a message would be received by the powers that be, and the news could once again become….. well, news!