A recent discussion in the Columbia College Evening Campus faculty “office” (more like a small, shared space) started with a discussion of plagiarism, ethics and grading offenders of policy, fairness and the understanding of learning. Like most conversations, it meandered for a while until it hit the road of “What makes a person newsworthy? What makes a person 'public' and a target for ridicule and disclosure of intimate information?” This was based on my refusal to write about Sarah Palin as “Sarah,” not in a more formal fashion.
One of those colleagues is an attorney who teaches law classes at Columbia College. Her politics have nothing to do with this commentary, but her observations do. She focused on the treatment of persons she deemed unworthy of all the attention, like Paris Hilton or the “Flying Saucer Boy.”
“Why does the press do that? Why do they ruin lives?” And those, my friends, are very good questions.
My best opinion (remember, this is a commentary) is that the news, as we know it today through the Internet, television, radio and print, needed to become more “pedestrian,” more entertaining and more gossip. Why?
It is no longer about the news, but about numbers. More and more “news outlets” operating 24/7/365 (366 in a leap year) need to fill time, sell ad space, acquire and retain an audience — in short, to make money. Too many viewers and readers want brainless minutia.
New media, whether delivered by dead trees, flying electrons, ether or sheer magic, has reinvented itself to “newsertainment.” We watch reality shows that have nothing to do with reality. We buy tabloids and magazines to keep up with the rich, the famous and the infamous. We know more about the “Twilight” stars than we do about the president or the health care debate.
A few examples:
The chicken ordinance in Columbia. It reminds me of Mike Rowe’s “Dirty Jobs” episode titled “Chickens Gone Wild.” With net in hand, Rowe joined Miami’s Chicken Busters chasing fowl through the streets. Chickens in someone’s yard is a nonissue, one that the city council did not need to fill its time with and waste taxpayers’ money.
However, the press, including this paper, needed something to talk about and took the issue of chickens in backyards way too seriously, blowing the issue out of proportion. The Fourth Estate pushed the council to take action with disregard to more pressing issues, like road repair. The ordinance passed.
Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, whose fortuitous confrontation with then-candidate Barack Obama made him the 2008 campaign symbol for the “common man.” Joe the Plumber did not let it drop but fed on the newsertainment frenzy. Joe the Plumber is a war correspondent. Joe the Plumber is a motivational speaker. Exactly what qualifies him for either is a mystery to me.
The Tea Party, with its motto of “Yell first and don’t worry about the truth,” is a dealer of the trivialization of newsertainment. They create situations catering to the press, with the outrageous and the ludicrous. The news services comply by making the Tea Party the biggest thing since the last outrageous group. Remember Ross Perot and his Reform Party?
We believe in information that has no support and deliverers that have no credibility. In a Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll of 2003 self-identified Republicans, 36 percent believe that Obama was not born in the United States. Another 22 percent are not sure. Yet there is ample proof that Obama was born in our 50th state. I called the state of Hawaii in January 2010 concerning this issue and verified the place of Obama’s birth is Hawaii. There has been no verifiable proof otherwise.
We have become a country of the rule of the ridiculous. The more ridiculous the claim, the more it rules the airwaves. The media is endorsing this theater of the absurd, feeding it to the citizenry and emphasizing that ignorance is truly bliss.
Bring back real local, national and international news. The news is not entertainment. The news is the important issues of the day. However, keep the comics.
Future headlines: Chicken Little for Mayor - 2010. Forrest Gump for President - 2012.
This discussion will continue…
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Read his blog at InkandVoice.wordpress.com. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.