Hype passes off as news

Apr 302003
Authors: Paul Franco

Hype is what passes as news these days. “On tonight’s news, plastic bags, if tied over your head in the proper manner, may cause suffocation and even death. Tune in at 10 o’ clock to see the new terror in your local grocery store. The stories you want, and when you want them!”

It’s easy to sensationalize certain small insignificant stories and pass them off as news. “Hear the latest sound bites from more stupid celebrities talking about their displeasure with the current administration’s actions and our scathing analysis. Tune in tonight to the frontrunner in liberal-celebrity-bashing news!”

It’s also easy to report on a story before any conclusive evidence concerning the story comes in. “Tonight at 10, tune in and see what may lend even more justification to our engaging war with Iraq. American forces have discovered chemical materials that are most likely fertilizer but it could also be material for weapons of mass destruction. The news, now with 150% more flags than our rival; your source for the most patriotic news!”

Many news channels purport to be fair, balanced and unbiased. I can say the same thing about my column, but that certainly doesn’t make it true. I fail to see the unbiasedness in plastering the screen with American flags when we are at war with another country.

I fail to see the balanced reporting when much of the time news is given to insignificant comments by the most marginal celebrity about the current administration and knocking them as not knowing what they are talking about. Of course most of them don’t know what they are talking about. How about the news channels focus on comments made by people who do know what we are talking about and critically analyze those?

The answer, of course, lies in ratings. The big ratings aren’t in putting knowledgeable, intelligent people on the screen, but quoting the most banal celebrity out there. The ratings aren’t in keeping the screen free of American flags, but you can do so if you want to be charged as unpatriotic and part of the liberal media conspiracy. I would like to know when the rules for good news reporting involved being patriotic.

It doesn’t appear news reporting has been about as Joe Friday would say “Just the facts, ma’am,” for quite a while now. The knock on the news for quite a while has been that the media is too liberal: they’ll report Republican scandals but not Democratic ones; they’ll interview Sadaam or grant interviews to Iraqi state-run television; they’re terrorist apologists, etc.

The trend in news, however, has actually changed directions and now the news is becoming increasingly conservative. Fox News, which proudly declares itself as “America’s choice for news,” is the ratings giant of the three cable news channels. Out of the three cable news channels, they are definitely the most conservative and most vocal supporters of the war in Iraq, along with having the highest American flag quotient.

They give us the news that really matters: the news we want to hear, and post 9-11, what we really want to hear has become more conservative than in the past. MSNBC has begun to slowly follow in the footsteps that are the ratings giant of Fox News. They even have an “O’Reilly Factor” clone called “Scarborough Country.” I guess what the public wants is the same content on the news channels.

Is reporting giving the public what we want to hear or something else? Is the news supposed to cater to a certain demographic (liberal, conservative, moderate) or is it supposed to span demographics? Does the news have to wear on its shoulder the mantle of patriotism?

The answers to these questions are, in order: it appears as if reporting is giving the public what they want to hear, news must now cater to the conservative demographic and yes. Why these answers? Ratings.

It would have been a ratings disaster to take a minute to stop showing the towers falling to examine why someone might have committed such an action (this in no way had to involve a justification) or the prevailing opinion of the U.S. around the world.

It would also not have been conducive to ratings to wait until we were actually at war with Iraq before putting crosshair graphics over a map of Iraq and naming the lead story “Target: Iraq.” Sometimes I think the news channels were at war even before the country was. Would it have been too much to ask to take time away from celebrity quotes and give it a closer examination of the various positions taken across the globe towards the war in Iraq? Apparently, yes.

After reading this article, I predict people will think I wouldn’t be writing about this trend in news had the trend been one towards liberal ideas rather than conservative ideas. Perhaps this is a fair criticism. I still maintain that too often fair, unbalanced and unbiased news reporting that covers all the bases and keeps American flags off the screen earns the label of being un-American and un-patriotic.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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