The Media Politics of Applesauce

American society used to hold a place of high esteem for "the media" - or in more genteel and less electronified times - the press. Being a reporter, while never a high-paying job, held a certain cachet. Reporters were fighters for truth. They didn't lie. They wrote things that helped change society for the good. Their papers or stations weren't profit centers, their primary mission was disseminating information. In fact, they often lost money...oh, the horror! And, when reporters got it wrong they did an appropriate amount of navel-gazing before fessing up and trying to fix the problem.

Today, reporters have a lower approval rating than politicians and gasp...lawyers. The change didn't happen overnight and it was as much the fault of a changing society as of the reporters themselves.

The change began - as many recent wrenching changes did - in the 1960s. The world was roiled by hot and cold wars, rapidly advancing technology, and a diminishing fear of government leaders. At the same time, television burst on the scene and politicians began to make such spectacularly huge mistakes they could no longer be ignored (see Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, both Bushes, et al).

The advent of instant media, coupled with an intense drive for profit and the public's demand that they be "entertained" by the news, were all nails in the same coffin. News in it's traditional sense began a long, slow, and painful death. Today the idea of "the media" is so diluted that no one can even define what it is anymore. Is Rush Limbaugh part of the media (the pompous windbag never stops telling you he doesn't think so)? Wonkette? Michelle Malkin? Homespun bloggers like you and me?

The sad fact is that "the media" is as divided as the country it serves. There are hard righties, hard lefties, and few middle of the roaders. While true reporters try to preserve balance, it is sometimes an impossible job. As likely as not, both the left and right will charge bias, each saying their "view" was left out or twisted. In many cases, what they are really saying is the story doesn't represent their view exclusively. Many news consumers only want to hear the things they agree with, just ask Dubya. That doesn't make it true, it only makes it their perception.

Much like buying apple sauce, you can get a clearer picture of the news you consume with a little effort. For example:
  • If you read or watch something obviously biased (Fox News comes to mind), remember to balance the vitriol with some vitriol from the other side. Keep your mind open to both sides and weigh their arguments on their merits rather than on how loudly they scream.
  • Always choose more than one news medium. Media is a plural word, remember that. Anyone who only watches TV news is going to have a much different appreciation for a story than someone who reads it in a newspaper. Each medium has its forte. TV news is fast, newspapers are more thorough, radio gives an entirely different point of view. But a word of advice. Always take e-news with a huge grain of salt. It is much too easy to pass off stupidity and invective as news on the Web...just look at us for living proof.
  • Remember that not everything the media does is supposed to be even-handed and fair. It seems a little shocking to us, but we're heard a zillion complaints about editorials being slanted. Editorials ARE slanted you morons! They are supposed to take a position and get people to think and participate. If you only want to hear your view, dial in Rush Limbaugh or Randi Rhodes.
  • Remember that everyone can participate in media. There are plenty of venues from e-mail to letters to the editor. Better yet, call the local paper or TV station and give them a story idea or two. You see, the thing about news is that it can't be covered if the media doesn't know it exists. Throw them a frickin' bone and clue them in if you know about something of interest.
And finally, always be skeptical about what you read, listen to, or see. Check the quality. Check the price. Because we're telling you it's just like buying applesauce, except way more important.

Good night and good luck.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Thursday, January 12, 2006

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