Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Liberal Media

Q: What product do newspapers and TV news producers sell?
A: They sell eyeballs to advertisers.

And I'll bet you thought they were in the business of selling information to you!

This fundamental misconception leads to a lot of dashed expectations and consequent frustration and anger. But when you see things as they truly are, you'll feel better. Errr, maybe not.

Your local TV news, cable and broadcast network news, are in exactly the same business as the people who bring you My Big Fat Obnoxious Boyfriend, WWE Smackdown, Celebrity Fear Factor, and the Spice Channel. Come to think of it, not only are they in the same business, they are the same business. They may be in a separate division, technically, but they are evaluated in exactly the same way -- how much profit do they generate for their corporate owners. So why should we expect the content to be any different?

And why should we expect them to spend money on unnecessary frills like people who actually know something about a subject who can report and write critically on the events of the day? That would just be a major downer anyway -- who wants to watch boring shit like that? It's easy, and cheap, to just go out and find the stuff that sucks in those eyeballs -- dramatic conflict, violence, tawdry sex, maudlin sentiment, gross outs, horror, schadenfreude. Even better, there are plenty of people out there who create and produce stories for you absolutely free of charge. Just go out and film them.

Public policy is boring, but political conflict is dramatic. It gives us suspense, tales of vengeance, the elevation and destruction of the famous and powerful, a team to root for and a team to throw your beer cup at. Statistical abstractions like life expectancy and morbidity rates are guaranteed four bowlers, but the story of a struggling, damaged woman and a divided family, that has potential!

So, in between Michael Jackson's porno magazines and the war or the basketball game, take your pick, we get Robert Schindler as Jeremiah crying that we have abandoned God and instituted state sanctioned murder of the weak and useless. Jeremiah is surrounded by a grand spectacle of berobed priests and monks, crowds collapsing in a fervor of prayer, the President of the United States flying to Washington in the middle of the night to rescue the imperiled damsel, and most important, Jeremiah's got film of his own! There she is, gazing beatifically into her mother's eyes. And the liberal secular humanist culture of death conspiracy is determined to sacrifice her to Baal, abetted by activist judges who have hijacked democracy.

On the other side, you have a talking head lawyer explaining that the courts have carefully considered the facts of the case, with repeated appeals and reconsiderations, and have determined based on credible medical testimony that Ms. Schiavo is in a condition called a Permanent Vegetative State. Possibly you have a physician or neuroscientist explaining the cerebral architecture and the relationship between various structures in the brain and specific faculties. But Jeremiah has a neuroscientist of his own of course -- nominated for the Nobel prize!

It's not the TV newsreader's job, and it's certainly way outside his expertise, to sort out whether one of these doctors is legit and the other is a quack. I mean anyway, the guy's been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine! And it would just be a major bring down to have some bunch of egghead neurologists debating the technical issues here. It's much more fun to show people yelling at each other!

Last night my local TV news featured 10 minutes of the Schindler's and the circus of piety outside of the hospice. Nothing else. Why is that? Because everybody else has shut the fuck up and is trying to respectfully leave the poor woman and her husband alone. So the Schindlers and the monks are the only material that's out there to film. It's obviously not the job of the news media to supply an answer to Robert Schindler telling the world that his daughter is "alert and responsive, and she's fighting like hell," even though anybody who has the slightest familiarity with people in her circumstances can tell you that she is now in a profound coma. We're in the entertainment business. Reality -- real reality, as opposed to reality TV -- is a drag.

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