Katie Couric is not Your Friend

Recently, in one of my classes, I went on a bit of a rant about this.  So I thought I’d share it with my blog because that’s what I do.  I should warn you however, before you read on, that this is one of those things that whenever I say it, people look at me strangely.  Be prepared to look askance at the monitor as you read this. Television news is not your friend.  The job of Fox News is not to inform you of the sorry state of liberal politics.  The Job of MSNBC is not to inform you of the evilness of conservative politics.  And the job of your local news is not to tell you about the neighborhood-altering decision your city council made in the meeting this evening.  They all serve the same function.  Their job is to make you watch commercials.

Watch our CommercialsI am not so cynical as to suggest that Keith Olbermann or Sean Hannity don’t believe what they are saying.  I am convinced that they believe it.  Nor am I suggesting that any of the news organizations are intentionally misleading anyone or making up the news.  (Most bias is in agenda setting, not reporting.) What I am saying is that if the news is accurate, it’s only because they know they would lose their audience if they were untrustworthy.  I am saying that everything these news shows say is done with ratings in mind.  That is why your local news program will show you a story about a murder 12 states away if it is sensational enough, even though it has nothing to do with their audience.  It's also why all networks will lead with weather, even if it's only a remote threat.  People are fascinated with the weather.

Let’s imagine a list of priorities for a news program, any news program whatsoever.  The number one priority on that list is ratings.  If for a second you think otherwise you are mistaken.  And now, let’s imagine the world’s greatest journalist, who always knows what aspects of a story to bring out and always gets immediately at the truth.  If that journalist looked bad on television, or was unspeakably boring so that no one wanted to watch.  There would be no show for that journalist.

A while back I recommended a book, How to Watch TV News by Neil Postman I will again recommend it.  Outrage, whether from the left or the right is a great motivator.  And people will watch to get stirred up because that’s good entertainment.

I won’t say that all they want is for you to watch, but I will say that that’s all their bosses care about.

Jon Stewart = Neil Postman

Oops...I guess I sort of left my regular readers hanging.  I promised this last week.  I found myself to be much busier than I expected last Thursday, and now I have sort of lost my energy for this post.  But since I said it was coming, here you go. Jon Stewart deals in what he calls “fake news.” He is thoroughly self-deprecating, and often laments that he is taken seriously by so many.  In reality The Daily Show is not so much “fake news” as it is commentary on the news.  Most of the Jon Stewart shtick is to point out how terrible news coverage is.  This video I linked to as a prelude to these thoughts illustrates this perfectly.  In it, he shows that CNN did a fact check on a Saturday Night Live sketch, while not even questioning a senator on his views of healthcare reform.  Then there is a barrage “leave it there” quotes.  This is the way that CNN doesn’t bother with fact checking.  They just bring in 2 points of view and debate.  Then end whenever it’s time for a commercial.

The daily show has repeatedly done critiques of the same sort on the networks and each of the cable news channels.

You might say that this is just rampant cynicism and not Neil Postman-like criticism of the news.  But even if it is just cynicism, it illustrates the same point – television news is in terrible condition.  Clearly Stewart is no Postman in terms of gravitas (to use a good cable-news word), and he is much more political, but his criticism is valid nonetheless.

The only thing lacking from Stewart’s criticism is the why.  Postman explained the why. News is terrible because the news organizations exist to make money, not to protect the first amendment.  If it is more profitable to show debates than truly look at the issues being debated, then debates will continue.  And Saturday Night Live is simply more interesting than charts and graphs looking at the financial impact of a given healthcare reform bill.

Prepwork for tomorrow's post

Theoretically I'm going to write an actual blog post tomorrow about how Jon Stewart has become this generation's Neil Postman. What got me thinking about it is this clip from the daily show last week. Enjoy and come back tomorrow. The embed doesn't seem to be playing nice with, so you can watch it by clicking this link

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SBC Preview

I am leaving in the morning for Louisville and the Southern Baptist Convention.  I am planning to write a blog report each night after I get home.  (Most likely the Wednesday update will not come until Thursday afternoon) I thought I would give a bit of a preview of the major things to look out for before I go.  I am sure that I won't do as good a job as some other bloggers but I have regular readers who are interested and I want you to be informed.

Elections - There is really nothing worth mentioning here.  Johnny Hunt will be reelected for the traditional second term.

The action towards Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth, TX - I plan to share a meal with an executive committee member before this action takes place to get hopefully a more full understanding, but it seems to me that this is a pretty clear violation of article 3 of the constitution.  (For a little background about this click here or here or here) (Hopefully I'll one day write a post on welcoming vs affirming views)

All of the furor surrounding the GCR document - At this point no one knows exactly what will be recommended by the newly appointed task force.  I will probably not attend the "meet and greet" session on Tuesday. But almost certainly this is a lot of uproar over something that will not come to a head until next year.  Certainly there are some valid questions raised by the discussion following the GCR document's publishing. Much has been written and there are blog after blog devoted to dismantling it and looking at it point by point.  I really believe that at this year's evangelism conference we will be reminded of the importance of - wait for it - evangelism.  (That was a bit snarky I know, but in reality the Gospel is often one of the first things to fall by the wayside under the demands of church life.  If the IECS taught me anything it's that evangelism must be intentional or it will become secondary.)  Still, I believe that all of the controversial things will not really be addressed until next year's convention.  I'll have plenty of occasions to blog about that in the future

My major prediction - The Broadway baptist issue will sail through the convention with little to no controversy and will surely be the only thing you read about in any national or local newspaper.  In fact here's a preview of the CNN screen crawl "Southern Baptists, nation's largest protestant denomination, ban church for having homosexual members"  Somebody do me a favor and make a screen grab when you see that headline.

CNN responds to TWIT

Last week on This Week in Tech the panel had a prolonged discussion about how the "24 hour" cable news networks didn't cover the uprising over the Iranian elections whatsoever.  Twitter, however, had a lot of first-person information.  (Just have a look at the hashtag #Iranelection) Then today I saw this clip from the Daily Show

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John Stewart is busy making fun of CNN for never being accurate.  (I'm no CNN fan, but it's not quite a fair characterization.)  However, to me the story is that CNN is reacting to the criticism levelled against them by TWIT.  Namely that they have slipped into irrelevance and that the real news breaks on Twitter.  CNN is attempting to be relevant and timely.  They are also simultaneously trying to discredit Twitter and using it as their only source.  Any user of Twitter knows that it is really the quickest place to see breaking news.  It needs to be used as a reference rather than as a source, but when something happens (just look at Iran) you will see it there first.

At least CNN pretends to recognize this fact.  Even if they are being snarky about it, they know that there is news getting out of Iran mainly via Twitter.