Thursday, January 24, 2013

You Can't Turn Off the News

Breaking News!

This has been a hot topic on some popular TV news stations lately. No, not on ESPN, E!, TMZ, the Daily Show, Bravo, Oxygen, HLN, TLC, or any other Reality show channels. CNN, MSNBC, and FOXNews have been following the developments of this 'story' very closely. Because nothing else is happening in the world.

I grew up with CNN on the TV, so that's what I turn to when I want noise in the background, hoping that some bit of information will make me more informed or worldly or something. Not the case. Useless prattle is expected from MSNBC and FOXNews, but CNN? You were the last hold-out.

Are they required to plaster 'Breaking News' on everything?

Let me cite Jeff Sorensen's opinion piece in the Huffington Post:

"Fast forward to when CNN came about. It seemed fresh and convenient. CNN was the only newsgroup reporting live on the ground when the United States attacked Iraq at the beginning of the Gulf War. They were cooped up in a hotel reporting through a Four-Wire circuit while the Anti-air weapons fired outside the window of their hotel room. It was one of the greatest moments in journalistic history. As stated in the film Live From Baghdad, it was "the journalistic equivalent of landing on the Moon."
CNN was no longer considered the experimental network; it became the basis for everything that followed. New 24-hour networks appeared on the scene and further saturated the market by jacking CNN's format.
Now, major networks are fighting over who is more non-biased than the others. Each network tries to show how they report both sides equally, but it's the worst kept secret ever. It's not even a secret. It's so easy to recognize when something is biased, unless they aim the content at your ideology. Confirmation bias blinds people to the bias because it supports their point of view. Hence, the content is correct to those supporting the bias aimed toward them. ... The more they argue their points, the more extreme their point of view goes toward their bias. This happens on 24-hour news all day. Both sides argue their views to the point that neither listens to the other side. They'll sink into their beliefs even if there is no evidence supporting it. This tends to happen in most belief structures."
Except CNN hasn't chosen to spew extremism, but mundane moderatism. They latch onto the pseudo-political popular stories, gnashing into a story calling it a 'dissection of facts' when really it's just maiming factoids into a grotesque pile that you're told is important, interesting, or breaking news.

It ain't nothing new.
Piero Manzoni, Worth more than its weight in gold.
Yes, the news stations report on important events such as women in combat, gun control, and Obama's new cabinet. The discussion that follows the annoucement of the headline, however, are still just biased babble with few or no factual grounding. The news fails to enlighten us about the events happening beyond our own line of sight, but feeds us, as Sorenson said, our own bias.

It makes sense really. Why should news organizations invest in investigative reporting? 'New' news may be original and authentic, but it lacks the credibility of popular consensus. It's looked at with skepticism, it's easily judged. Whereas the communal news that reinforces our already established beliefs is easily swallowed, and easily regurgitated (I'm looking at you Facebook Debaters). Reporting on the same subject with different commentators makes viewers feel good and learned because 1. They already know the subject; 2. They are on the 'inside' of the developing story; 3. They can tell their non-news watching friends about everyone's opinions. The viewer gets the 'credit' in the real world while the news stations get the ratings.

2010 : Haiti

Anderson Cooper was the first big news anchor to go to Haiti after the devastating earthquake that hit there. Investigating reporting right? Let me rephrase the question: What do you remember about Haiti's earthquake? Specifically  what did Cooper uncover that you remember? He says in this clip that he believed this was a fluke looting, that he happened to be in the right place at the right time, ready to look heroic and for everyone in the states to pause and say, hey, that Cooper guy is heroic/hot!

That might be a bit of an exaggeration. But he is a celebrity news-anchor, and not like Walter Conkrite. Viewers watch his shows not just because he's a good reporter, able to ask the right questions, but because they have an emotional investment in him. Perhaps it's better to quote Cooper himself:
"I think the notion of traditional anchor is fading away, the all-knowing, all-seeing person who speaks from on high. I don't think the audience really buys that anymore. As a viewer, I know I don't buy it. I think you have to be yourself, and you have to be real and you have to admit what you don't know, and talk about what you do know, and talk about what you don't know as long as you say you don't know it. I tend to relate more to people on television who are just themselves, for good or for bad, than I do to someone who I believe is putting on some sort of persona. The anchorman on The Simpsons is a reasonable facsimile of some anchors who have that problem"
Cooper admits it. He wants the audience to realize he isn't all knowing, and in doing so allows the viewers and himself be on equal ground. Ah, Equality. Not in the sense of 'All Men are created Equal, Under God', but in a way that says, 'We have equal access to the same information, let's be friends'.

Cooper made friends with this little guy while investigating Planet in Peril
Question he's asking right now: Would you rather be me or the sloth in this picture?

This is all a round-about way to say that Walter Benjamin has, once again, reared his head. The most obvious connection with Mechanical Reproduction and today's news stations: repeating/reproducing the same news story over and over and over and over again gives it more importance (a bigger aura) than the event on its own. Case and point: Manti Te'o . Who gives a crap about how a 21 year old guy that fell in love with a fake girl? Okay, maybe a few people, but at reserve that for Lifetime Movies or SpikeTV. Or, at the very least, for the 'Entertainment' portions of the news. But nope. Wolf Blitzer will continue to report on this very serious American event.

Point two taken from Benjamin truly characterizes the 21st Century. The idea that everyone deserves/has the ability to access information. It does away with the enlightenment's compartmentalization of subjects and the scholar of one subject. Instead everyone can become amateur-expert in any and all subjects. Your snide comment on annoying-liberal's facebook status is just as valid as Rush Limbaughs (or more so). Citing John Stewart as an authority on the socio-political? Legit. The fact that your uncle owns a gun store gives you the power to make broad statements on gun control. And that's what the news stations are doing. They find random people to act as commentators on the show. (You'll note, that's exactly what the Daily Show does, but with the cast.) If the news stations disregarded this shift in America's intellectual hierarchy, they would come off as pedantic, and few people would watch.

News stations have traded investigative, feet-on-the-ground journalism for mass-dialogue and equality. These are not mutually exclusive; everyone has their feet-on-the-ground. The problem is that the news stations can sift through every person's blog, twitter, or feed. Our connections, whether followers or friends, limit our ability to spread news. I mean don't we all swell with pride while counting the number of Likes on our latest photo as if they were peacock feathers. Unfortunately we're not all friends with Cooper, nor do we have the luck of being a both a Star Trek star and very clever like George Tekai. We can only hope that our pet or family gathering is entertaining enough for America to share.

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