I find it a bit ironic that after the media storm that was the coverage of Michael Jackson’s death, the passing of Walter Cronkite last week has been met with such apathy from the media. Of course, they reported his death, but somehow, with him being the very symbol of integrity in journalism, I’d have expected more.
Perhaps the media didn’t make such a big deal of it because of the contrast that was so evident when contrasting the very things Cronkite was known for, and what the mainstream media has become.
The idea of fair and balanced reporting is such a foreign concept to today’s audience. Today, we have networks devoted to telling us what we want to hear. If we are conservative in thought, we have news networks devoted to telling us how to think and why we’re right and why the other side is wrong. If you’re liberal in thought, you have the same on your own network.
The idea of fact-based news is already antiquated and obsolete. I can’t help but wonder, if perhaps, Cronkite wishes he hadn’t lived to see what’s become of things since he passed on the torch?
Then again, sensationalism in news is nothing new. Less than scrupulous writers have always played fast and loose with the news and the facts for the sake of the “get.” Perhaps the problem is that today there is just so much news and so much competition that stretching facts and bending them to appeal to a certain audience is the only way to assure a certain share of viewers?
After all, the media is, first and foremost, a business. A company who sponsors a certain news program will never be profiled as harshly on that program as they should be—if they do something worthy of media scorn. Is that wrong? If a politician from one party has a scandalous affair, some networks will portray him as a repentant sinner and others as an untrustworthy monster. The next week, they’ll switch positions when a member of the other party does the same thing. Is that wrong?
The common axiom is that we American’s get the government we deserve, meaning that we elect them, so we deserve them. I think the same is true of the media. We get the media we deserve. We get weeks of coverage on Michael Jackson’s death because we watch it and talk about it and blog about it and as long as it brings in the viewers, it brings in the advertising dollars which is what makes the world go round.
We get ridiculously slanted news because we want it. We watch it. We buy into it. We support it. We watch Fox News and buy Ford trucks, or we read the New York Times and donate to Greenpeace. We don’t demand the facts. We don’t even ask for them. All we want is the latest buzzwords. We don’t want news, we want marketing. If you’re willing to tell me what I want to hear, in the way I want to hear it, and explain the events of the world in a way that aligns with my preferences, I’ll patronize you—that’s the way it works now.
Facts? Balance? Integrity? There is no place in the world of big business news for such things. We get the government we deserve. We deserve a government that spends its time posturing, fighting and more concerned with power than people. We get the media we deserve. We deserve the media that markets the events of the day to us rather than report them. Sure, reporters have changed since Cronkite sat in his anchor chair and reported the news to us, but more importantly, we have changed.
We’ve all chosen sides. We all want to be right. We’re willing to be lied to—even to the point of ridiculousness, to maintain that aura of being in the right. The media is biased. The media plays to an audience. The media bends facts and changes stories to suit that audience.
We are that audience. We get what we deserve. We get what we demand. And that’s, sadly, the way it is.