16 May 2005

Media Too Liberal, i don't mean politically (CS)

I'm starting to get more and more wary of these polls and surveys and studies, but here's yet another one that disturbs me regarding the general public and their feelings on reigning in the press...

In one finding, 43% of the public says the press has too much freedom, while only 3% of journalists agree. And just 14% of the public can name "freedom of the press" as a guarantee in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, in the major poll conducted by the University of Connecticut Department of Public Policy

It's not like we can't see where the idignation comes from. Most recently, Newsweek has retracted its story on the desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo, a story that incited riots across the Muslim world which in turn got several people killed and around 100 injured (and clerics threatened delcaring a holy war on the US, but is that even news anymore?). Ah, The power of words! And of course there was Dan Rather's flub with the supposed documents that would have proven that GW Bush did not serve in the National Guard. Even Dave Chappelle doesn't seem to be safe from the media's choking on its own tongue as it was reported by The Drudge Report originally that Chapelle had admitted himself to a looney bin in South Africa (eventually Newsweek again got in on the crappy reporting on this story too, saying even that he might have been smoking crack. Bad week for those guys). Time was nice enough to actually get an interview with the man and it turns out he just saw a shrink for a 40 min meeting and is staying with a friend. Measured response to stress, i'd say.

What's really the problem here? It's complicated, of course. The internet and technology making information so readily avaiable (and demanded immediately), oversaturation of media outlets, specialization and bias and an atmosphere of sexiness and sensationalism where the only way to tear the public away from the latest episode of American Idol or Lost or even Lettermen is to tell them that missing tonight's report "COULD KILL YOU!!!" Mass media, be it internet, televised, or print, is business and they're all trying to stay alive. They play to their audience.

More importantly, what's really the solution? Dissolving the freedom of the press? I have an ever so slight notion that that might be a tad extreme. Maybe it would just be smarter to be aware of what's good reporting and what's sensationalism, develop our own filters to innevitable bias. Maybe it'd be smarter to pay attention to wise critics of the newsmedia (ala John Stewart) and appreciate good journalism where we can find it.

One note, however, you might have missed while reading the article on the poll. Apparantly "only 23% of the general public" interviewed had a college degree. Hmm, i wonder if maybe that had a bit to do with their ignorance of the importance of a free press? Or their blinders towards the idea of "fascism"??? .....i wonder how many of these people are the type to vote for our current administration..... (Surgeon General's Warning: Correlation does not necessarily mean causality). All the same, even without a college degree, one should at least friggen know about the protections provided by the First Amendment.
In the end, the only way to truly safeguard ourselves from all the bullshit and get the press to straighten out and play UP to the public rather than down is to make ourselves wiser. This doesn't necessarily mean having a college degree (1. Our president has one and it doesn't seem to do him much good 2. you should be smart enough without a college degree to know that the 1st Amendment is important) But let's just try not to be mindless drooling morons either.

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