Two rants in one: ethical bankruptcy in the media, and general ignorance.

In my media class we saw a video about the April 30, 1998 televised suicide on the California freeway. It was a “Nightline” episode, where the host (presumably Brit Hume) was holding forth on whether this constituted journalism or not.

The panelists were apologetic, wringing their hands and oozing sincerity, and at the same time defending their right to show stuff like that. In the seven years since, nothing has changed, not that I find that particularly galling. No, there is a particular reason for my ire in this case.

What pissed me off, more than anything else in the whole show, was their apologies. They aren’t sorry. They never were. While this guy was contemplating suicide, I’ll bet any money that they were egging him on back in the control room. When he blew his head off, I’ll bet any money that they were cheering, giving high fives, and smoking cigars. Why? Because nothing generates ratings quite like violence, live violence even more so.

Do I think they have the right to show stuff like that? The First Amendment has consistently held that they can determine what is newsworthy, and I agree. But let’s not lie to ourselves here. They don’t report the news anymore. In most cases they MAKE the news. The tail wags the dog. In determining what is and what is not newsworthy they literally manufacture news. Why was this guy a big story? Because it was live TV, in living color. Suicides are a dime a dozen, protests happen every day, traffic accidents stop the freeway all the time, so there was nothing remarkable about this guy. But damn, was it good news!

What’s more, after it happened they put up the usual caveats and apologies, hemming and hawing about how sorry they were that they showed the guy’s head coming apart. Bullshit. They weren’t sorry, and I am absolutely incredulous that they would say so. Then Nightline does a story about the “tragedy”, not coincidentally replaying virtually every part of it for a NATIONAL audience, and trying to take the moral high ground in doing so because it’s now “newsworthy”.

It really makes me sick, this moral and ethical bankruptcy. They intentionally put this stuff on, call it news, and then to mollify the “outrage” of the public they make apologies rather than telling the truth, which is that they showed it because the public wanted to see it, because the public has been conditioned to the idea that this is what news really is. The “public” outrage is really a fig leaf, one that hides the bloodlust, the very thing that encourages live TV, blood and guts in living color.

I’m sick of the dishonesty. Show it if you want to, but don’t pretend you’re sorry that you did, and if you’re the public, don’t pretend that you’re outraged about it. It’s what you want, after all.

Next topic: The total unmitigated ignorance of the American populace. I was walking back from class, still stewing over what I expounded upon above, when I heard a girl say that she took a “lucky guess” at who one of our State Senators were. The other one said that had she only known she would have gotten an A on her test.

Are you kidding me? How is it possible that you don’t know who your senators are? How can anybody be that uninformed? I’ll bet that she knows who J-Lo is dating, though.
In closing, I despair for this country. I’ve said before, and I maintain, that this country can survive with Hanoi Jane, Bozo the Clown, or Kent Brockman as President, but you know where the inevitable decline of this country will start (and has started)? With its citizens, the fat, sated, utterly uninformed, completely vapid, and ridiculously unconcerned populace that couldn’t give two shits about anything as long as they can watch the newest fad reality show every night.

Where did we go wrong, what can we do to fix it, and do we want to fix it or do we want to just chuck the whole rotten mass and start over?

You don’t know this to be true. This a complete fantasy on your part. My mother was a journalist and I spent a lot of my childhood in newsrooms. They do not cheer tragedies and they agonize constantly over what they should or shouldn’t report on or photograph.

There is a degree of black humor that develops but it’s the same black humor you find on police forces. Just like cops, a lot of journalists who cover dark stories develop problems with depression and alcoholism. They actually go and see the bodies at the plane crashes. They see the crime scene photos of murder victims, they learn a lot of stuff on background that they don’t report and their involvement is more personal and intense that what you see for a few seconds on television or read about in the paper.

They are not just a pack of cynical, unfeeling hyenas who would high five a suicide. That is not a reflection of reality.

The second half of your rant I agree with.

I cannot fathom this kind of ignorance. Hell, even as an absentee voter I knew who my representatives were in Congress, if not always at the state level. sigh I do assume you’re talking about the Federal level, not the state level.
I’m still kinda proud that for the longest time I saw all that spam about the XXX Paris Hilton tapes, and wondered what the hype for a webcam in a French Hotel was all about…

I agree with your rant AD. Although DTC caveat is generally advisable (we cannot really know what they might be hoping for), it is clear that stories are selected based on whether “compelling” video is available, and if it is graphic and violent, you are probably going to see it somewhere.

Part of me wonders whether the new zeitgeist due to Janet Jackson’s breast will have any effect on showing violent deaths, but given the odd Puritanical selection of violence over sex in our country I doubt it.

These topics always remind me of one memorable CBS evening news program. Early in the show, without warning, they showed a scene from the fighting in the former Yugoslavia. One person fell down, and another person walked up and calmly sprayed them with fire from an automatic weapon. They gave no warning or hint that anything potentially disturbing was coming up.

Later in the same program, Dan Rather interrupted to say that, during a story about Richard Speck in prison, they were going to show some very disturbing video, and gave some time for people to clear the room. They then showed some video of Richard Speck with his tits hanging out (he was undergoing some gender-altering procedure, and had grown breasts), talking in his jail cell.

I’ve always been struck by the cavalier attitude about a graphic killing, but the extreme caution shown to Richard Speck’s trans-boobs.

There’s a difference between senator and state senator - you sure she wasn’t talking about the latter. That’s a bit more understandable than not knowing who your US Senator is.

No, that was my mistake. She was referring to Arlen Specter.

I don’t know who my senators are or who J-Lo is dating.

So HA!

So, what do you know? :stuck_out_tongue:

I understand that the media performs like an observer in a probability experiment - their observing and reporting the events changes our perceptions*; I don’t have a big problem with this, but I do have a problem with Joe Public not understanding this, and thinking that he’s getting pure, unadulterated facts.
*What I mean by this is, for example, if the media reports only the facts that fit within a pre-determined bias, we will develop a perception that this bias is reality, without realizing how the media has filtered the facts.

As for ignorance, I’m developing a theory about that, and how it is becoming a survival trait. I’m not quite ready to go to Great Debates with it yet.

Presumably Ted Koppel. What were you saying about ignorance again? :slight_smile:

I know who mine are, and isn’t J-Lo married to Mark Anthony or something?

Someone (Spider Robinson, maybe? I’m heavily paraphrasing, at any rate) once said that it was a sad commentary on our country that watching people making love was considered obscene, but watching people being blown into little bitty bloody pieces was considered entertainment. Talk about a circus, in the old, Roman sense.

(I actually do know who my senators are: Barbara Boxer and Diane Fienstein. I was just making a joke. I really don’t know who J-Lo is dating, though.)

I know who my senators are, but I won’t admit to them in public.

Miller, I was just meaning to have a little fun with you, not really thinking you’d not know your senators. You’ve impressed me with too much of a clue to think that you wouldn’t know them.

I know who my senators are, but I have no idea who they’re dating.

(I do know who my governor was dating, though.)

I think J-Lo is currently married to one of my state senators. Because it was his time.

Those of us old enough to remember the advent of Happy News know who to blame - the masses of TV viewers, network and local management, and the news sluts (of both sexes) for whom the rating point is king. Tax policy or a fire? Guess what gets on. Anyone speaking with nuance for more than a 15 second sound bite is boring. It’s news you can use, not news that’s educational. How many people stopped watching the stations who showed this stuff?

The stupidity of the American public is nothing new. When I was in junior high, in 1966, huge chunks of the public couldn’t say where Vietnam was.

We elitists are fortunate to have NPR and the New York Times for real news, in decent depth.

Julius Caesar, wasn’t it?

Some 20 years ago Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves To Death about the effect of television on public discourse in this country. Still highly relevant, especially as we see his predictions coming true.

It’s also quite depressing.