Columns / Discourse / November 17, 2010

Voice of Reason: Info-tainment media

There seem to be few easier targets to attack in America today than the so-called “mainstream media.” It’s too liberal, it’s too conservative, it focuses too much on celebrities, it focuses too much on human interest pieces, it focuses too little on Latin America/Africa/the Third World in general, it’s too visually driven, it moves on too quickly to the next story…etc. If it can be alleged, chances are somebody has alleged it. Bipartisanship may be impossible in the halls of Congress, but Republicans and Democrats both seem to be able to agree that something is wrong with the media.

So it is that on the occasion of my last column this term, I am driven to write about an issue that has been bothering me from day one of writing it: the tension between providing information versus “info-tainment.” Every week, I work under the tension of producing a boring column that no one will read or one filled with outrageous statements that make me hardly better than Glenn Beck. The middle ground is often very difficult to strike. Weeks in which I make more exciting proposals (such as legalizing every illicit drug) or make outlandish assertions (claiming Lady Gaga’s defense policy is better than the Republican Party’s) always garner the best feedback. People hate the media for being sensationalist, but their favorite part of media is the sensationalist part. This has led me to reflect on how this impulse is spilling over beyond The Knox Student.

I find it hypocritical on our parts to criticize when the media does nothing more than respond to what we ask it to provide. This is particularly true when the criticism is the lack of attention paid to regions that aren’t the United States or the few priority countries such as Britain and Israel in the news. The hard truth is, unless some sort of horrible disaster occurs, people tend to not care about other regions. I hear complaints about how the media forgot about Iraq, but never pleas to talk more about suicide bombings or deadlocks in Iraq’s parliament. No one was clamoring for more news of Haiti previous to the earthquake. The hard truth is that unless Americans have a special interest in a region (Israel and Jews and evangelical Christians being the best example), no one is going to cover what no one is asking to hear about.

Knox is certainly as guilty of this as anywhere else, only with a typically Knox-y leftward slant. From conversations here, Glenn Beck is roughly a step below Hitler in the scale of greatest threats to humanity to ever exist, and Fox News might as well be run by Joseph Goebbels (the question that sprang to my mind upon seeing the anti-Fox posters liberally placed around campus was who exactly they were trying to convince. Why spend time attacking what no one watched to begin with?). One seeks in vain to hear a negative word about MSNBC and one cannot even imagine someone criticizing “The Daily Show.”

I would just ask that we take collective looks at ourselves before we jump to attack people who are just doing their jobs as we ask them too. We decry how everything is visually driven on the news but are content to let newspapers die as a medium. We hate how sound bites drive politics but reduce candidates to their one or two most outrageous statements. We hate fear mongering but Rush Limbaugh remains the highest-rated political radio show in the country. If you don’t like any of these situations, remember they all start at home. Media consumption is a two-way street. Don’t expect things to change if you’re not willing to change them.

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