Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Media Coverage - We Lose Again

OK it's over. As you could guess, I would have been just as unsatisfied if the Republican had won instead of the Democrat. Both are merely emblematic of a system that is rotten, corrupted beyond repair. What I want to point out today is the enormous role of the major media in and the role they play in degrading the average person's understanding of current events, and thus contributing to the abhorrent state of affairs we find ourselves in.

I did not watch any of the campaign/election coverage on any of the major networks or news channels. I do not read the daily papers or national magazines on any regular basis. I do not follow any popular bloggers or Twitterers. Nevertheless I can tell you what the vast majority of the coverage was like:

1. The candidates were presented as personalities, celebrities, two-dimensional figures. The focus was not on their genuine character, but on how well they did at concocting an image/"brand" for themselves and selling it to the public.
2. Their activities were covered like a reality TV show or a sporting event. Emphasis on drama, winning/losing, crisis, scandal.
3. Genuine context and background exposition was absent from most analysis. Even if they wanted to, how could they when most of the time, coverage of any particular item only lasts one to two minutes?
4. The various media outlets and their star "journalists" knocked themselves out claiming that each was the most honest, independent, fair, balanced and tough in their reporting, while what you actually saw were egotistical media celebrities whose main talents are looking good, and a willingness to say and do just about anything to boost their ratings.

The net result is that the picture of reality presented by the mainstream media is, overall, an incredibly superficial one, in which the complex problems of the world are reduced to sketchy dramatic episodes, absent any sense of larger context, background or history. The thoughts of our leaders are reduced to sound bites. Media coverage, especially TV, degrades reality down to the TV paradigm - everything is reduced to short, commercialized bursts of entertainment that are expected to be quickly forgotten.

One might think that political figures would be unhappy with this state of affairs. But in fact for those at the top of the political milieu, this is just what they're looking for. It is useful for them to have the public accustomed to learning about the world in the most shallow, superficial, fragmented way, because by keeping the public awareness at that level, our political leaders can then come forward with bogus solutions to those problems, that in reality only support the agendas of themselves and their wealthy patrons.

People like to say the media is biased in either a "liberal" or "conservative" direction. While this may be superficially true, both are smokescreens for the larger bias - towards those with money and power. Especially as regards news and political coverage, those with the money and political clout get covered, period. This guarantees a very narrow range of views is ever presented, thus effectively marginalizing alternate perspectives, which in the real world are quite abundant.

The media are complicit in making us think it's only Coke or Pepsi. Red or blue. Us vs them. Freedom vs evil. This false reduction of reality down to a fake paradigm of only two choices is the big lie.

What do you think the consolidation of so much of the multimedia landscape down to just a handful of mega-corporations has to do with this? Hmm, another blog post...

This is not to say that there is no good information out there, or no good journalism going on. There most certainly is. But in today's world, we must go after it, seek it out, and find it for ourselves. It usually is just laying on the ground, un-noticed, waiting to be picked up, or it has fallen down the memory hole, and must be dug out. And even then, we must frequently do our own work to learn the actual context, history and background of the story for ourselves. It is always there, but almost no one in the mainstream media bothers to connect the dots. We have to do it for ourselves, and you know what? We're actually better off if we do.

There are some people whose work has been incredibly helpful to me, and has inspired me to work much harder at learning for myself, researching and thinking critically about what I see and hear. I will be highlighting their work in future blog posts, in hopes they might give someone else the kick start they gave me.

For this post I have leaned heavily on two brilliant books which I highly recommend:

 News: The Politics of Illusion (9th Edition, by W. Lance Bennett


Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman


  1. Tamera Ferguson WolfeNovember 7, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    Ben--great post. The sad thing is the public is spoon fed information and so many have no historical/factual knowledge with which to evaluate what they are being told. The number of people that have no clue what our constitution actually says or that matter basic us/world history is absolutely mind boggling.
    I've found better information about the US from British papers.
    It's the "kardashianism" of the public--

  2. This recent election proves that the inmates have finally taken over the asylum. The takers now outnumber the makers. Thirty years of incremental progressive policies have produced what we have today. The votes were cast on Tuesday to reelect Uncle Santa. Economic collapse is just months away. Just look to Greece to see your future. It's all over now but the tears.

  3. I have recommendation for all that read this blog. I recommend using the internet as I do to get accurate information about what is going in this country. I like using the net and going to foreign new sources like the London Telegraph online. Here is the url The old network news sources in this country along with most of the newspapers are propaganda outlets of the political machine favoring the Democratic party and act much like the old Soviet Tass and Pravda did during the communist years in Russia before perestroika. I have found that foreign news sources will give you the truth because they have no vested interest in this country or political party here.

  4. You said:
    ..."just as unsatisfied if the Republican had won instead of the Democrat"...

    Are you trying to say that it doesn't matter who gets elected president? It didn't matter if Carter or Reagan was elected? That just seems absurd.

    You also said:
    "I did not watch any of the campaign/election coverage ... the daily papers or national magazines ... popular bloggers or Twitterers."

    And then you pass judgement on the media? Are you saying that the media has changed? They're more or less liberal/conservative now? They're more or less inclined to try to be media-celebrities? When was the media good? When those reporters took down Nixon with Watergate? Hasn't Bob Woodward made a career out of being media-celebrity Bob Woodward? He releases an insider access book every couple of years. I don't think the media has changed. There's just more of it now.

    Then, ..."everything is reduced to short, commercialized bursts of entertainment"... Really? When did we ever give politicians more than acouple of minutes to explain themselves? Have political attack ads ever been a 15 minute disertation on macro economics? That's not the media's fault, it's ours.

    Of course, the worst part is the whole you should read alternative/english media. I've read those and they are the most biased, tabloid, sensational pieces of trash ever produced. Please.

    Finally, who do you think should be president? Ralph Nader? Or should there be an overthrow of the system by the proletariat? That's very romantic, but this is not Les Miserables. We live in the system we live in. I'm not an "My America, right or wrong" kind of guy. But it seems like people that rail against the "system" have a problem with America itself.

    So, what I'd like to hear about is what sort of America you'd like to see. The system that you seem to be against, i.e Democrat vs. Republican, the media is corrupt, etc. Is the only solution more government control? If the government controlled the media, soviet-style, would that somehow be better? If there was no 2-party system, again soviet-style, would that be better?

    I've read several treatise that argued that the best form of government is a "benevolant dictorship". That's an interesting thesis. Do you agree that if there was someone who had the whole people's best interests in mind and just implemented the correct policies that everyone would be happier?

    I'll be interested to see your future blog posts.

  5. Great writing, Ben. I so appreciate the time you have taken to share your thoughts. I think part of the problem is that many people, myself included, have become a big part of the machine. We have little time to access the truth, and many of us do not understand the difference between truth and opinion. We have to triage our days filled with priorities, family-work-social responsibilities and commitments; finding time, and the desire to obtain accurate information is a challenge. We have traditionally looked to the media, but the facts are often skewed in favor of a political perspective or as you have stated, the next big story to score ratings. How many times have journalists thrown caution to the wind to get the story out; only to find out their report was missing key elements - and even wrong? Meanwhile, how many of us take an incorrect headline for truth, and never see a retraction - when or IF the news outlet bothers to admit error? And what do we do? Nothing. Status quo. Our world is changing faster than ever before. Technology, a blessing and a curse, is redefining us individually, and collectively. We spend less time talking to each, and more time texting and emailing. We have less time to engage, understand and really communicate with one another; and as a result, we have shorter attention spans and less patience. We make time to post for hundreds of FB friends we don't really know and vice versa. We are reading less, listening less, understanding less - taking positions, based on feeling and emotion-placing ourselves in our own thought vacuums. We have become complacent, and let someone else take the responsibility and the blame. The truth is that the problem really lies with us - not the media, or politicians. The election changed nothing. We have the same divided government we had the day before we voted-and WE voted for it. Status quo. We have to change before we can have change. I doubt if that will ever be possible.