cynicism, journalism, politics

Media New Year’s Resolutions

In 2010, I won’t be making any comment on politics and the media. Everything I post, no matter how well-intentioned, spawns a comment thread that I really don’t enjoy. And a lot of it is based on political beliefs that I don’t necessarily have. My comments aren’t driven by a desire to favor one party or one politician. They’re driven by a frustration that the truth is being obscured. Basically, we in the media are getting played like a Mike Mangini drum kit.

So before I shut my mouth, I’d like to make one humble suggestion for the media in 2010: It’s time for a reverse McCarthyism.

Here’s what I mean: McCarthy was a master manipulator of the press. He knew when to make his statements to coincide with press deadlines. Wire services put the newest info first; most newspapers cut wire stories from the bottom up. The result: A lot of newspapers with a whole lot of unchallenged McCarthy statements. (See Joe McCarthy and the Press, by Edwin Bayley.) Edward R. Murrow changed all that by challenging McCarthy and calling out his misstatements.

We couldn’t get played like that again, could we?

Here are a look media manipulation, then and now:

Similarity Then Now
Media weaknesses Deadline structure
Reticence to challenge officials
Focus on conflict and snark
Postmodernist “all viewpoints are valid” approach
Lack of time
Exploited by … Well-timed releases
Spurious claims
Outlandish, misleading or incorrect statements
Populist/paranoid appeal Anti-Communism

So the challenge for journalists in the coming year will be to channel their inner Murrow (or Jon Stewart) and challenge what they’re hearing. If that appears to favor one “side” in the oversimplified red-blue political divide, tough. Maybe discrediting some of the more extreme folks on one “side” will let more reasonable voices come to the fore.

Good luck with that. In the meantime, I’ll be tuning out a lot and reading some alternative media. Maybe even some books.

Happy 2010, everyone.

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