Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thank Heaven for the Caffeine-Addicted, Negative, Sinful News Media

Last month, one of the city’s more colorful characters, a harmless eccentric with a penchant for proselytizing and handing out Bibles on the Boardwalk spoke at a city council meeting.

He’s mostly harmless, obsessed with cleanliness and civility and has a deep loathing of rock music.

So the man tells council the biggest issue in our decent, God-fearing world is not crime or education but the news media.
Oh great, I thought. Another media-bashing buffoon taking a swing at the Fourth Estate, armed with nothing but spite and rage.

Like I haven’t heard this bullshit tirade for years during my career.

“They spend too much time glorifying self-centered, hedonistic, self-indulgent rock stars, Hollywood movie stars, sports stars. The news media makes it seem these celebrities, many of who are very selfish and mistreat people including their own families like they’re heroes,” the man complained.

I agree with the wingnut here. Mainstream media has morphed into entertainment over the last few years, with celebrity gossip and coverage increasing. Oddly enough, entertainment such as The Daily Show on Comedy Central has turned into a news program, with many young people relying on it for their information. Guess Gen X comedians are easier to digest than that Maureen Dowd op-ed in The New York Times.

The man also complained the news media “spend too much time glorifying self-indulgent, hedonistic lifestyles. Arts, music, pleasure.”

Hedonistic lifestyles? I don’t recall elements of hedonism in the last municipal budget story I wrote. Perhaps rubbing one out to long blocks of text describing the complicated expenditures, revenues and tax levy is what gets this pervert into a steamy state of wet sheets and flush skin. For most of us, that kind of thing is just weird fetishism.

One wonders if the guy has his own safe word as he reads the newspaper. You know, to prevent any chafing.

Art and music are what make life worth living. They are an intrinsic reflection of existence, individual creations of imagery and song. Life bereft of art and music is gloomy and desolate, an intellectual malaise.

Hearing this whackjob speak, you’d think newsrooms across the country were decadent pleasure palaces where Roman orgies are held frequently and with lusty abandon.

So what should the media’s role be in our ever-changing, nihilistic and consumer-driven country?

“Their emphasis should be solving the problems in the world. On ending violence, on making young people mentally healthy,” the man challenged.

I think that’s what a politician’s job is. They’re the ones with power and influence. Though investigative stories can shed light on corruption and social problems, their effects remain muted and discredited by the forces seeking to maintain the status quo.

Don’t believe me? Write a story about gun violence and load it with statistics and facts showing houses with firearms are more likely to have gun-related deaths than homes without gun owners. The National Rifle Association will come after your paper with everything it’s got.

“The news media spreads false information. They’re obsessed with coffee and chocolate. Coffee and chocolate includes caffeine, which is a dangerous drug. There’s one line in the news media, their line and they never present the opposing point of view. You never hear people in the news media who are against abortion. You never hear pacifists, conscientious objectors, opponents in conscience to individual wars. They’re very one-sided,” the man groused.

Coffee and chocolate? Are you fucking kidding me? That’s why the media are evil incarnate? Because of caffeine?

Perhaps this dude spends his days wearing a hair shirt and engaging in self-flagellation with a cat o’ nine tails in a windowless monastic chamber, but most normal humans enjoy life’s pleasures without the crippling religious guilt. A Hershey bar isn’t going to send you to Satan. A Chunky bar, however will. Chocolate with nuts and raisins is Hell’s banquet.

The man went on to gripe about the media being too negative and emphasizing violence, murder and crime. He said because the media covers violence, more violence occurs.

Yeah, I can imagine the Bloods and the Crips watching Wolf Blitzer’s coverage of Afghanistan and, swept up in some primal bloodlust, taking to the streets of L.A. with semi-automatics and machetes.

To prove his highly-emotional and totally retarded point, the man says he was at Philadelphia city hall one day and confronted a group of reporters there soon after the massacre in Tucson. The man proclaimed to the reporters that no one anywhere should be able to buy a gun. When the reporters didn’t respond, the man felt slighted.

“They had no interest in the issue. And this is after the massacre (in Tucson),” he said.

Maybe if you didn’t look like a homeless guy who crawled out of a boxcar people would pay attention to you.

But this holy-roller has us in the media figured out. Every media professional is a pathos whore, getting high off human tragedy.

“You give them a call and say there’s been a murder, a rape or a robbery in south Philadelphia the smile comes to their face and they’ll get very excited. They’re obsessed with the negative,” he said.

Right. We so enjoy death and tragedy. Imagine how excited the media was on 9/11 when the airplanes hit the World Trade Center. To the media, it was like waking up and discovering you’re sandwiched between a naked and satisfied Mila Kunis and Kim Kardashian who both shower you with $1 million in cash. Such widespread chaotic destruction is news gold!

Of course the media is not obsessed with the negative or the violent. That’s an asinine over-simplification. Most news happening in the world, the dirty shit people really need to be apprised of, is negative. War, famine, genocide, murder, economic meltdown, terrorism. Such things are universal constants in modern society.

The man proclaimed the news media “persecutes Christians,” and as an example, said president Reagan gave speech top national council of evangelicals on what it means to be a Christian.

“Thirty years later those speeches still have not received coverage. After one of them the New York Times ridiculed him the next morning in a belittling editorial,” he said.

What the man didn’t clarify was the speech, delivered on March 8, 1983 to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Fla. was Reagan’s famous “Evil Empire Speech” and was covered ad nauseam.

The man said the only solution (and why the fuck was he proposing this to a municipal council in a small town) is to change the current makeup of media professionals.

“We need an entire overhaul of the news media. Young people, 23, 24 who are not burnt out physically or mentally. Many of these news media people are cynical. They’re burnt out. You need young people who are loving, positive, optimistic and who get up in the morning to help people, not to destroy society,” Ned Flanders concluded.

The contempt shown for my profession by people who know absolutely dick about journalism pisses me off. It’s so easy to target the news industry as a cynical, profit-driven behemoth unmoved by human suffering.

Sensationalism is the press is nothing new. Yellow journalism and muckraking of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, lurid headlines and compromising photos of tabloids years ago and the current glut of tabloid television and gotcha journalism force-feed the public information, whether they want it or not.

Instead of investigative reporting, fact-laden articles with multiple sources, we get softball questions lobbed at pop stars and celebutantes. The paragons of true journalism, the Brinkleys, Huntleys and Cronkites are replaced with fresh-faced youths hipper to the Facebook age of instantaneous information, a vacuous vortex of sound bites, inflammatory partisan rhetoric and dialog that shapes a particular political opinion instead of cut-and-dry objectivity.

We should seek the wisdom from the old school journalists and report the facts. We also shouldn’t be afraid to take no for an answer and tenaciously dig and uncover what lies buried. Curiosity is not a determent; it’s a prime mover.

It’s safe lobbing sanctimonious grenades from the confines of a bully pulpit instead of experiencing a newsroom firsthand. I’m sure this guy would shit himself stupid if he dealt with interviewing, note-taking, organizing and writing stories on deadline week after week.

In other countries, jailing journalists and muzzling the press is business as usual. Ideas and information set you free. Governments hate truly free people. Hence, governments hate the media’s scrutiny.

But if it weren’t for journalists digging into government and reporting social problems, wouldn’t this be a society of ignorant dullards blissfully unaware of the world’s ills?

We deal with reality. It’s ugly, brutal and unforgiving, but must be reported. Without learning the bitter truth, we can never hope to grow. Hitting everyone with positive, feel-good pablum is not news; it’s propaganda. Save the fairy tales and sermons for the pulpit. Reality, with all her warts, scars and neuroses awaits.

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