Friday, June 01, 2007

Blaming the Media?

Al Gore's new book, I think, makes a lot of good points (mine is on its way, but I've seen him talk about it on Charlie Rose and a number of other places). One of them is that the media has contributed to our current political crises by being unwilling to tell the truth, or to take the time necessary to do so. Network and cable news is not really news -- it's entertainment. Gore presents some disturbing facts about the amount time spent on Anna Nicole Smith (or some other dumbass story) compared to the time spent on actual news.

Of course, the alternative media complain about being lumped in with the infotainment industry.

I'm going to pull together a few different viewpoints here. The first is Gore speaking about his new book. This is long, and Gore can be a little dry, but it's worth checking out.

Via: VideoSift

The Columbia Journalism Review defends Gore against a recent attempt to paint him as the stiff, boring, elitist politician -- the same thing that was done in 2000.

Compounding his sins, according to Milbank [Washington Post], Gore mentioned too many historical figures: "Imagine the Iowa hog farmer cracking open "Assault on Reason," and meeting Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine, John Kenneth Galbraith, Walter Lippmann, Johannes Gutenberg, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson and Marshall McLuhan -- all before finishing the introduction." Milbank--who has made a career of skewering pomposity--lets his own elitism get the better of him here; he might be surprised to find out that even an "Iowa hog farmer" might have heard of one or two of these guys. And if they haven't, well, since most people read books to learn stuff, one can assume that they picked up Gore's book for a reason.

The whole article is a brief defense of Gore from the attempts to make him a one-dimensional caricature.

On the other hand, The New York Observer defends television from Gore's attacks.

And so Al Gore blames the messenger—i.e., the media, and first and foremost, the reliably hateful medium of television: “The replacement of an easily accessible, print-based marketplace of ideas with a restricted-access, television-based realm has led to a radical transformation of the nature and operation of the marketplace of ideas in the United States.” He also suggests, leaning on some speculative-sounding research culled from former adman Jerry Mander’s Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, that the act of viewing television contorts the physiology of our brains so that they become soft-pated panic centers: “The physical effects of watching trauma on television—the rise in blood pressure and heart rate—are the same as if an individual has actually experienced the traumatic event directly. Moreover, it has been documented that television can create false memories that are just as powerful as normal memories. When recalled, television-created memories have the same control over the emotional system as do real memories.”

Sorry, but no. If this were “actually” the case, as Mr. Gore insists, we would all be severely traumatized by the continually broadcast footage of the World Trade Center attacks. Or permanently scarred by the compulsive broadcast of events such as “the Laci Peterson tragedy and the Chandra Levy tragedy ... Anna Nicole Smith’s death, embalming, and funeral plans”—the vacuously ghoulish fare Mr. Gore justly derides as symptomatic of a terminal “strangeness of our public discourse.” TV footage can be harrowing or trivializing; Mr. Gore wants it to be both at once.

There’s another problem with the well-worn claim that TV has lobotomized a once-vigorous, civically engaged citizenry: The country’s “marketplace of ideas” has always featured lots of cut-rate demagogy and lethal propaganda. From the Salem Witch trials down through the anti-Masonic party and the Ku Klux Klan, from the McCarthy era and the War on Drugs to the invasion of Iraq, we Americans have often let ourselves be ruled by spasms of hatred and ignorance while spurning the counsels of reason.

In the end, the review agrees with Gore as far as Bush and Iraq are concerned.

Finally, Lewis Black offers a humorous viewpoint, suggesting that cable news is why Americans have ADD. This is NSFW.

Via: VideoSift

I know I'm relying on you readers to have more familiarity with this topic than I have offered here. So, is it fair to blame the media, as Gore does, for the decline in the American political system? Are the various news sources in this country complicit in the current decline in democratic values?

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