Media ship of fools: The First Amendment blues

I had a dream last night that the world was on fire and all the CNN news reporters, anchor people and pundits were trying to put out the flames with buckets of words. Every time they threw their bucket of words on the fire, however, the flames grew larger and brighter as if they were gasoline. Wolf Blitzer emerged from the fire unharmed by the flames and told me he had breaking news for me and that he’d be right back after a short break. I awoke frightened and in a cold sweat. 

I vowed to read the newspaper more.

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Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” He meant that whatever form of media is disseminating information (broadcast news, newspaper, movie, video game, iPhone, telephone, etc.), the medium itself influences how the message is received. 

In the old days Americans picked up the morning or evening paper, sat back, relaxed and read the news, or listened to news on the radio. It was comforting and calming. It was daily entertainment. It was a ritual and there was plenty of time for it. People looked forward to the headlines, top stories, editorials, the ads, the comic section. Your horoscope.

You still see some of this today here in Utah, and in demographic pockets around the country, mostly among the older generation, and among the reading, thinking public. 

The long view was always worth the conversations it espoused. 

Then came television. 1930. Thank you Philo Farnsworth, Utahan!

Then came CNN. 1980. Thank you Ted Turner.

Internet. 1990. Thank you Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreWarren goes local in race to build 2020 movement The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary Krystal Ball hits media over questions on Sanders's electability MORE (not).

Facebook. 2004. Thank you Mark Zuckerberg (eeek!). 

Today, the 24hr. cable news networks have become the public forum extension of mega media corporations where ratings, money and more money rule. Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite are succeeded by Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw, who in turn today are succeeded by on-air people seemingly fresh out of media school, bedazzled in jewelry and sexy party dresses with Hollywood GQ coiffures and gleaming white teeth. 

Show business, baby! Celebrity, vanity, ego. And the prop eyeglasses don’t make them look any smarter. 

In all fairness, some of them stand out above the others. And it’s usually the field reporters and foreign correspondents who seem to maintain a journalistic dignity.      

And then there’s Wolf Blitzer. What a wild name! 

“Breaking news” used to mean breaking news...new news that is just breaking out. Now it’s a program bumper title and just a gimmick to hold your attention through the mind numbing commercials. It’s dishonest, and it makes me think they think we’re stupid. It makes the term “breaking news” a lie.   

The ever-increasing gaggle of panel pundit free-for-alls is unnecessary and distracting. Maybe that’s what they mean by breaking news. They are literally breaking (destroying, distorting) the news.      

Print investigative journalism has followed this moral compass in much this same way with too many voices competing for your mind’s direction and final judgement. And your readership.  But it’s nowhere near the volume or capacity of the broadcast media, and online social media.

People just don’t read anymore.

The now short view leads to short conversations that don’t espouse much and have us all jumping to conclusions much too quickly and more often. 

In the most interesting and controversial American presidential election in history, there is concern over losing a presidential debate television audience to a football game. 

This is who we are. Bread and circuses. We the People.

So, do we control the media by what we do, think and say, and what we want, or does the media control us through conjecture, advertising and entertainment, giving us what we want?

Who are these media moguls who seemingly control our thoughts and habits? Who are these mirror makers?  

In News, the reporters and on-air people are just the bottom of the media food chain. They are the shills, the puppets, chosen and groomed to appeal to a variety of audience types. They work their way up from the small markets around the country. Others are placed there by nepotism, advertiser or political connections, and this tends to dumb down the news programs and the general credibility of the professional journalists.

The real power, however, lies with the news directors and the producers. And above them, the managing directors and editors, executive producers, CEO’s, vice presidents and presidents, and the owners.

And ultimately, the advertisers, the ones with the strongest political connections. 

We the People, don’t have a chance. It’s almost my same nightmare. “Deja vu all over again.”  

What is a professional journalist? Who are they, where do they come from?  

To become a medical doctor or a psychiatrist you must go through extensive schooling and training and get a license to practice. There is math involved. There’s the Hippocratic Oath. A lawyer must go through the same educational process and pass the Bar examination. It’s hard, and expensive. Same for an engineer, a pharmacist, or a rocket scientist. 

A writer needs no license to manipulate your mind. Same thing with on-air “talent.” No licensed professional credentials are required to shape your thoughts and opinions. Youth or ignorance is not an excuse for such a critical, influential function in our society.   

An inherent, intuitive responsibility should be evident or instilled in a professional communicator in whatever venue he or she appears. This should be an objective not subjective mandate. 

Shouldn’t this be addressed in the First Amendment? The rules for the online blog comments in the Herald Journal are more explicit regarding civility and intellect. The point being, that there was no broadcast or social media when the First Amendment was written. Just like there were no AR-15’s or Rocket Propelled Grenade launchers when the Second Amendment was written. 

Our Constitution needs a cover to cover rewrite to adjust to the times. We revere it like the Dead Sea Scrolls, but use it as a living, working document. It has outdated itself and it’s getting us in trouble.         

As far as News personalities go, one man’s idiot is another man’s genius. It helps to be a universally likable on-air person. That’s 90% of the job. You’ll be forgiven your mistakes, you’ll be praised for your work. Brian Williams comes to mind. Personally, I never liked his style or look, but millions of viewers do and he just keeps moving forward. 

They all appear to try to do a good job, however, but they are relentless in pushing their corporate bias and personal opinions, forcing a continued controversy which is mesmerizing from a viewer’s standpoint and great for ratings. They interpret and misinterpret what someone has said, or put words in other people's mouths, and generally follow the ambulance or fire truck much too closely. 

I recall my dad watching the TV newscasts at home during the 60‘s. “The idiot box” he’d call it. “Get that moron off of there!” he would frequently shout out when someone would mindlessly drone on. Some things never change. 

I’m reading more newspapers.

John Kushma is a communication consultant and lives in Logan, Utah.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.