Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Yet another rant about the media

As I sit here typing, I'm watching Jon Stewart having an in-depth interview with Evo Morales on The Daily Show. Don't know who that is? Well, I'm not surprised. He comes from a country which has no oil and therefore gives us no reason to invade or colonize. Bolivia does have the second largest natural gas reserves in South America, but that's pretty far down on the neocons' list of priorities right now - somewhere below pre-emptive war with Iran but above free kittens for abortionists.

I'm not sure exactly how I feel about Evo Morales... He considers himself a socialist, and is a champion of the unions - mostly due to his past experiences as a coca grower. I can go along with most of that, socialist that I am. And I do love me some coca.

Some of his other stances make me a bit uncomfortable. Morales has said that "The worst enemy of humanity is U.S. capitalism." That's a bit too much, I think. He also supports building an "Axis of Good" with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro of Cuba. I get nervous any time someone refers to creating an "Axis" of anything, Of course, I feel the same way when people talk about a Coalition of the Willing. What the frick is that supposed to mean? The answer, I believe, is nothing - it's purely a diversionary tactic, and therefore not to be trusted.

All of this is beside the point, though. My ire was raised not by any political stance discussed during the interview, but rather by the interview itself. I can remember a time when news outlets were climbing all over themselves to get an interview with any foreign head of state, especially the controversial ones. But now, when Evo Morales or Perves Musharraf come to America and want to address us through the media, where do they go? NBC Nightly News? CBS, or ABC? No, they end up in front of a live audience, talking to a man who, despite being a comedian, makes more sense and asks more pertinent questions than any so-called "journalist" in this country.

I don't claim to know whether this happens because the other media outlets turn their backs on these heads of state, or if they actively choose to go on The Daily Show over those other programs. I could certainly see the appeal, particularly with vocal Bush critic Morales. I think Musharraf did do some interviews with CNN and 60 minutes, but I think he hit The Daily Show first. And I still think it points out a sad reality about the state of the media in this country. A self-proclaimed "fake news show" is fast becoming more relevant than the more established, traditional media. And this makes me sad.

Don't misunderstand - I love the fake news. And I'm glad that the show is getting some respect, as it certainly should. But when The Daily Show was created over 10 years ago, it was meant to spoof the trend of combining news with entertainment. But the intervening years have taken all the sarcasm out of the premise. It could be just another news show, only with better jokes. I actually get more news from The Daily Show than I do from just about any other American so-called "news program".

I long for the days when American newsrooms ran independently from the entertainment segment of the networks; when making a buck off the news was not the ultimate goal. The point used to be to provide your viewers with the best possible information, even if it didn't make your network a dime. Networks did this with the theory that if you provide reliable news every day, your viewers would reward you with loyalty & stick around to watch whatever entertainment was on the lineup. They also did this because it was the right thing to do. I'm afraid that's a time now lost to history.

And there's no excuse for it. Technology has graced us with a myriad of new ways to keep people informed about current events and things that affect their daily lives. Those sources are out there and are often used by those of us with the time and curiosity to seek them out. But news has always been meant for the masses, and there are so many methods to disseminate news to the world that, for one reason or another, have not been used to their fullest. I wonder why that is so...

Why is it that technology allows CNN, Fox and other cable news to run a constant headline ticker, providing up-to-date information on the same handful of irrelevent stories that have no bearing on our lives? Screw all the elaborate graphics and tickers. I'd be much happier with a more traditional 30 minute newscast with a real mix of local, national and international news. (I actually do watch something like that, at least the closest I could find - BBC News America.) I don't need 15 minutes of weather and 20 minutes of sports; I would much rather spend that time finding out what's actually going on in the world.

But Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone and all the other old, pasty media moguls wouldn't make nearly as much money that way, so for now the best way for an American to find news is to seek it from other countries. This, I think, is the saddest of all. We used to have the most talented, elite journalists in the world. Now most of our news shows are anchored by "personalities". Just using that word makes my stomach turn.

But unless we start demanding better information, this trend will only continue. We need to tell the networks that, as much as we enjoy our mindless diversions like Can You Dance Better Than a 5th Grader, we also require just an hour a day of serious, unbiased information about what's going on in the world. They can fill it full of commercials for the other mindless drivel that I love so much - just fill in the rest with actual reporting on issues and events that have an impact on our lives.

If they won't, we might start to get the feeling that they don't want us to be informed. After all, an uninformed populace is much easier to manipulate and control. But I'm sure that's just a coincidence...

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