Darn it, I had another subject planned for this week, but I had to comment on Bill Colley’s May 30 column at greater length than I normally do in the on-line comments section.
He seems to support the notion that the media is guilty of most, if not all, the criticism heaped upon it. Since I have had firsthand experience with the media being critical of people I admire, I feel qualified to disagree with him.
My parents were both the subject of (separate) media mentions when I was a teenager. Among other things, my father took the case of his law partner’s conviction for tax evasion to the Supreme Court as an example of political retaliation (He was the chairman of the Republican Party in Colorado). My mother went to the city council to protest a bus route that ran by our house because she feared it would degrade property values.
Teenage Linda was incensed! How could anyone say anything uncomplimentary about my parents? The Denver Post editor I called explained that people in the public eye are often vilified, and the people who love them must understand that it isn’t personal. Time has proven that to be true. Not only that, but a person’s negative characteristics aren’t their whole personality.
It’s the nature of news to appear less than positive. In fact, in the ‘70s, the London Times printed an entire front page of good news. It was a birthday present requested by Prince Charles. Good reporting frequently adds opposing views to someone’s comments or actions. I may want to get in front of some news item by giving my opinion in a way that I think it will be heard positively, but that doesn’t mean that others won’t have a conflicting view. Good journalism, in fact, requires that divergent thinking be represented.
I am not talking about opinion journalism which has, in a lot of media, become more entertainment than thoughtful analysis. The June issue of The Smithsonian features a story about Joe Pyne, America’s first “shock jock.” He was the precursor of Rush, Sean and Bill, but it seems that he took on all sides. He was very popular for the entertainment he provided along with the discussion of current events.
A limited amount of that type of media may have its place, but there is way too much of it. It has added to the normalization of bad manners. It can lead to support for the candidate in Montana who assaulted a journalist who was asking a question the candidate should have been prepared for by events of the day.
When derogatory language is used too frequently, it loses its power to shock but not to hurt. When obscenities are frequently used as adjectives, they lose their power to emphasize or show exasperation. When all public policy discourse is shouted, nobody listens. If entertainment-centered opinion journalism becomes the only news consumed, rational decision-making is impossible.
If you deliberately confuse all media with serious journalism, you can find ample examples of bias against your favored side. However, all media is not journalism. I believe that some media is simply advertising at best and propaganda at worst.
The good that will come out of this current firestorm, I believe, is that we will all become better able to separate fact from non-fact. Fiction and lies are only part of the non-fact problem. We need to recognize hyperbole, irony, sarcasm and metaphor as well as a host of inarticulate ways of expressing oneself. We will begin to see that even as eyewitnesses often disagree in explaining a common event, so too do journalists. We will become more discerning of the media we choose to engage with.
No, Mr. Colley. I don’t believe that there are any more people plotting revolution using modern media than there were at any other time in history. I just believe that we are being sold the idea that somehow anyone who disagrees with us is dangerous and deserves to be driven from public discourse.
We are not irate teenagers. We can think for ourselves. We don’t have to be overrun. Can you agree with that?