4/3/13 News is Bad News

Ordinary doesn’t make for good ratings, and all news outlets want good ratings. Ratings are how they charge advertisers for their services. Even our public broadcasters are not above caring about their ratings, and everyone knows that their news reaches the choirs in their own lofts . . . it’s the others they would like to get on board . . . to proselytize, as it were.

I earlier wrote about bad sportscasters doing play by play; they must say something. Consequently, their analysis is often obvious, insipid, and mostly wrong. No one ever heard a sportscaster say, “Hey, Phil, let’s just shut up and watch the game.” Newscasters are a lot like them.

According to the news, there’s lots for ordinary folks to worry about other than paying their mortgage, keeping their jobs, and educating their children. There’s GMO foods, international intrigue involving GMO foods, international conspiracies involving GMO foods, and evil corporations poisoning us with GMO foods; and that’s just for starters. The list of things to worry about is endless.

We are greeted with headlines declaring world doom due to climate change, yet we feel we have done something about it if we drive a Subaru or a Prius. I wish I lived in a place where I could walk to work, but Mississippi is just not geared to work that way. Poor old Mississippi and the folks who live here. We must drive polluting automobiles, unlike those who live in more sophisticated places. At least in Mississippi, most of our automobiles are sitting on concrete blocks in our front yards, which are most likely to be the photos of Mississippi shown to you via the news, since an ordinary photo would not do anything to increase the ratings. The only vehicle I have up on concrete blocks is my electric golf cart, which I use to putter around Timberview Lodge, where I am blessed to live. If it’s not too wet, I even take it down into the woods. You’d be surprised, just like the feral hogs, at how quiet you can be on an electric golf cart. Right now, it needs some tires and a new set of batteries, which are just prohibitively expensive at the moment, even though when running, the cart is used considerably around here. It is our contribution to green.

Green is frequently featured in the news. Greenettes are often pitted against degreeners, some of which is filmed in front of green screens, meaning there is no background there, only illusion, which is one of the things the news does so well, particularly those corporate news-mongers whose only goal is to serve their bottom line and their stockholders, and as everyone knows, stockholders have no conscience, only a self-serving interest to increase the size of their dividends and the value of their holdings. This is frequently reported on the news that way: that corporations are only interested in increasing their economic and political power. Another segment of the news makes the same claim about government. Both news-anglers deny what the opposite sides say about the other.

“Corporations are good things,” says one side.

“No! They’re evil,” says the other. “We need government to protect the people from them.”

The news likes to put faces on the evils it warns us of. The left leaning news warns us constantly that the Koch Brothers are the very faces of the devil, and are really wanting to eat our livers and steal our natural warrior energy that GMO foods have not already robbed from us. The other side warns us that all the evils of the modern world can be traced back to George Soros, who I admit, looks more like my idea of Ol’ Beelzebub than the Koch Brothers, and I further admit that I can’t fault those who think that the modern, bloatedly fattened face of the post-Tipper-restrained Al Gore similarly bears a strong resemblance . . . but I could be playing to my own prejudices. Yes, I have them.

So do you. We all like to hear things on the news that reinforce our preexisting prejudices. After all, aren’t all prejudices preexisting? – a post-existing prejudice is an oxymoron, since prejudices that remain after honest investigation cannot still be considered prejudices but informed opinion. But how honest are our investigations? Do we delude ourselves? No, I don’t think we delude ourselves. We allow the news to delude us by thinking we have the facts when what we mostly have are distortions of the facts, parts of the facts, and facts skewed by those who hold precious the most blatant prejudices, disguised in a cloak of reasoned subtlety.

“I heard it on the news,” said Clovis confidently.

“What news?” asked his brother, Willis.

“Hannity,” replied Clovis, his thumbs stuck under his braces and his chest poked out.

“But, Sean Hannity is not news,” rebuked Willis, his arms flailing about like he was swatting at an attacking Red Wasp. “It’s commentary.”

“Says who?” asked Clovis, sticking his chest out even further, causing one of his suspender clamps to suddenly fail, nearly striking Willis in the face.

“Piers Morgan, that’s who,” Willis nearly shouted, grabbing the other suspender, giving it a sharp tug, stretching it as far as he could, and letting it go with a “smack” against Clovis’s chest. Then the fistfight was on, all precipitated by an argument over whether Piers Morgan or Sean Hannity represented the best the news has to offer us. Neither one does, of course, but you can’t tell Willis and Clovis that else you’d be in the middle , finding yourself fighting the both of them, since blood is thicker than water.

“We haven’t had any real news programs since Walter Cronkite retired,” shouted Jarvis, the older brother of the Davis clan, trying to separate his two brothers, getting a bite on the wrist in the process of twisting Clovis’s ear, and a kick in the shin from Willis while he was distracted by the bite. He was already fighting both, who had turned on him in a fury of frenzy. He would have rebuked himself to himself, but he just didn’t have time to do so, since his hands were full of warring, wayward brothers.

Neither of them would ever listen to their older brother, who seldom watched TV news programs, but got most of his news by reading “The Nation”, “The National Review”, and “The Onion”. Jarvis figured out that if you weeded out the ridiculous from a feature in “The Onion”, you’d be as close to the truth as you might be from reading the other two. Somewhere between the sublimely ridiculous and the ridiculously sublime was the truth. Jarvis was certain that he could get at it with just a little work. The real truth was that there would likely be a trip to the emergency room for some stitches before the brotherly brouhaha was finished, and he was just as likely to be the patient as either one of the other two. Eventually, reason prevailed, and the brothers ceased their fight, but not before Jarvis took a jab to the eye, causing a shiner, a picture of which would make the front page of the weekly Froward County Ledger, the headline reading, “No Charges Will Be Filed Say Younger Brothers.” Now, this was news: plain old everyday, useful news, since everyone was interested in this odd family who kept mostly to themselves except for the occasional outbreak of minor internal violence which were reported in the local paper.

Lots of folks in the world feel like Willis, Clovis, and Jarvis: willing to fight over their version of the news. But for what purpose? How do they serve themselves and each other by fighting over the veracity of news organizations that mostly serve themselves by giving us what they think we want to entice us to linger on their channel so they can count us in their ratings, boosting their value to their advertisers. Once, TV newsrooms were persistent but necessary money-losers to their corporate parents, but they felt they had to have a legitimate news organization since the relatively modern invention of journalistic standards ruled out partisanship. “Only newspapers are partisan,” the TV news executives told each other. And newspapers were partisan, had always been partisan, and would likely continue to be. This had been true since America was a British colony, though what the newspapers were allowed to print in the colonial days was subject to a post-publication edit by the seizure of the paper’s printing assets and the arrest of its publisher and editors. The new-fangled nation’s notion of freedom of the press was an intoxicating experience to publishers, who, as a group, gleefully moved off in all sorts of partisan directions. Liberty is a powerful thing.

So as the earth warms up, and frackers endanger our lives by further endangering our already endangered environment, and as the Koch Brothers conspire with Monsanto to feed us genetically modified foods, all while George Soros controls all major media outlets not already controlled by Rupert Murdoch, all of them trying to control our minds, rendering us all Manchurian Candidates of one sort of another, we will digest the news that is hyped to the point of ridiculous, as we watch, riveted, as the white bronco traveling at speeds of up to fifty miles per hour down the freeway, hoping to see the scene end in chaos, mayhem, and misery, to the repeated replays of compounded-tibial fractures in tournament games, while reading the latest political rantings of TV, movie, and music celebrities, as if their opinion counted or didn’t count, since everyone has an opinion and wants an outlet for it, and Jim Carey brags, in the most base manner that his lack of gun ownership is proof of his natural endowment, we mistake for news what is not news, just public mental-masturbation pitted against a adolescent angst, desperately in needing of a cleansing like an acne face needs an astringent. Most of it doesn’t even bear repeating as gossip, much less repeating in a national forum.

Why do we debase ourselves by allowing them to debase us in this manner? Who is being served? Maybe a good dose of salts is what we need. Maybe it’s what they need, too. I’d like to see a news segment on, “The Benefits of Epsom’s Salts in Modern American Newsrooms.”

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