One of the biggest takeaways from the reading for this week was this weird idea that entertainment has become an important part of news and that now, instead of facts presented from a neutral (at least in attempt-we will always reflect some sort of bias) position where the reporter tries to best explain a given story, we get news stories that go for edginess and gusto, often spewing out an opinionated narrative that presents a story from a very specific position. The problem with this, especially when you consider how partisan the news has become, is you get talking heads trying to get ratings rather than report stories. What this does is allow pop-culture/entertainment stories to get priority over less “exciting” news stories that actually affect people on a day to day basis.
In order to prove this point (for me personally) I decided to check out 3 news pages today to see what stories were highlighted. After looking at Fox News, CNN, and NBC news I could say there were some important differences that sort of get at this partisanship and entertainment based pundit-media that Manjoo was getting at in his book.
Here are the headlines of each website:
I find it really interesting that CNN and Fox both have the Mardi Gras story on the front page of their website, but the language CNN uses is much more muted and lacks the sensationalism that Fox has. It says “Car plows into band in Mardi Gras parade; 12 people hurt
The Fox story decides to focus on the violence and highlight the fact that this happened before. However, when you read the story it sounds as if today’s situation involved a 73 year old man who was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol and that the incident was not intentional. The first time it happened (28 days ago) the person was highly intoxicated.
The CNN headline uses a word like plow, but other than that doesn’t really have a slanted tone in terms of sensationalizing the violence.
However, this is not to say that the CNN site was neutral and lacked sensationalism. It did. The entire left column had to do with Trump policies and how they are affecting people. The right column had to do with hate-based crimes labeled “Hate in America”.
NBC’s headline also takes an angle as it uses a word like “Troll”.
I think these are all good indicators of how partisan-based and sensationalized our media has become and I thought Manjoo’s line on page 148 was a great example of this as he said, “But Lou Dobbs is not a raving idiot. He just plays one on TV. Given the circumstances, he’d be a fool not to.”
This idea that entertainment is more valuable in media than an attempt at non-biased analysis has grown with social media as every news outlet aims for a catchy attention-grabbing headline. So much so, that we have an actual term for it: click bait. Now, I know that a lot of click-bait articles are that way because they are paid by clicks, but mainstream media is not above the click-bait headlines, as I hope the 3 examples above indicate. I think we can all think of these moments. I chose the Anchorman 2 poster for my featured image because this is a subject in the movie where they realize they need to be entertaining most of all.
Feeding Our Biases
The second theme in these chapters that is important to discuss is the concept of perception in media. I thought the examples he gave on the Palestine/Israel conflict were really interesting because I do think we are all stuck in our views most of the time. I think the concept of rhetorical listening is incredibly crucial when it comes to trying to maintain a level head (at least as much as possible). For example, yesterday I came across a story about Steve Bannon saying that “marriage lets us do all the other things we can’t do in a regular relationship” and that “it’s ok to slap your wife around a bit if it’s done out of love and I think some women even love this because it shows they care”. Based on the type of individual Bannon is in my mind, the only part of this I initially found surprising was that he would say this openly in an interview. However, something like this, even if it fits the perception of who you think he is, needs to be checked. If such an interview existed it would be easily verifiable. It was 100% fake. Even though I think Bannon is an immoral human being doesn’t mean that I should accept any story that “fits the preconceived narrative”.
I think this step is the single most important part of making progress and working together, but it’s also the hardest. It’s so difficult to put these biases aside and try and analyse the situation because like Manjoo pointed out, people see media as being biased against their opinion/side, and they view things through a lens that reaffirms their beliefs.
I don’t have an answer as to how this can be fixed, but I hope we can all try.