Stronger and harder than a bad girl's dream. (lost_angel) wrote,
Stronger and harder than a bad girl's dream.

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To Observe is To Change - Media Bias - A Response

This started off as a response to mandis13's post about how both the media and the people who believe the media are biased. It's a good post. You should go read it. I agree with him about most of it, but my comment started to scroll far beyond its little text area. So I moved it over here and made it into a real post.

To summarize mandis13: Both sides of the media are spewing biased reports that play to their constituents in an attempt to politically influence people. Truth in the media is so tenuous that if you really wanted the "truth", you'd have to go to New Orleans to get it. He's also critical of the people who actually put stock in the information they get from the media:
If you want the TRUTH, GO TO NEW ORLEANS. That is where "the truth" is. The media no longer even pretends to be unbiased. Frankly, I'm kinda shocked that so many people are taking what they read or see on TV as "the truth."

Personally, I think that the response was slow because, as we can all plainly see, our military resources are stretched thin due to our continued presence in Iraq. We had to wait until Katrina had done her dirty deed before we could move. Then we had to evaluate where to send help. Then, as it turned out, we had to post additional security on the help, because the people down there had gone pretty much crazy from desperation and despair (although some were just plain bad people with guns). When help was on its way, a few bad apples caused evacuation, rescue, and relief to become too dangerous to do without armed escort, which took more time to mobilize. Certain parts of this whole thing WERE blown, both by the federal folk and the local folk, who went just as crazy from the aforementioned grief and desperation (and a healthy amount of Southern police corruption!).

I formally hate the media now. Both 'sides' of the media have proven that they don't give a crap about truth in any way, just coverage. I knew that was the case, but to have it so openly displayed... SIGH. Enjoy your show, folks. Have fun on your e-soapboxes. Because we are watching the end of our nation, and its getting GREAT ratings.
I'll repeat again that I agree with mandis13 about the majority of his post. But it got me thinkin' about how people get their information and how they interpret it. I know that mandis13 is secure enough in his intelligence and opinions that he won't see this as a challenge, but merely dialogue...a comment that got too big for its britches and had to be made post of its own..

1. The Media® is the only source of info for most people.
Sadly, for 99.9% of people, the media is their only way to access information about an event/location/situation/person. Particularly in this case, most people physically can't get into the areas affected by the hurricane because those areas are off limits to non-relief, non-media, and military personnel. Normal modes of transportation are shut down: roads are closed due to debris, streets are filled with water, and you can only get in if you have a helicopter, really. Twenty-four hour curfews were set for coastal towns, and only recently have areas like Hattiesburg had theirs lifted. For people who have the money, transportation, and permission to personally investigate the situation, they'd have to sacrifice their personal lives, jobs, and responsibilities to "get to the truth".

Regular people simply can't get information directly from the source. Most "important people" don't answer questions from Joe Schmoe who "wants some answers, damnit". First, they won't take your calls or won't let you near them. I've noticed the difference myself when I'm interviewing business people about digital rights management. If I just call and ask if I can talk to them about their decisions about x,y,z, I usually get ignored unless I tell them that I run a news website. If I wanted to talk to a humble person who had experienced all the trauma of the hurricane, I'd be sure to get some stories, but that requires me to talk to hundreds of people and string their examples together to gain any sort of understanding of the larger situation, and it still doesn't answer my questions about government decision-making, budgeting, neglect, over-sight, and preparedness.

In reality, most people's only source of information is the news. It's one of the consequences/qualities of liking in a highly-specialized, developed society. I'd argue that the majority of people will acknowledge that the media is biased, but many of those apply that mindset to only their political opponents rather than within their own camp. But I do think that our generation and the ones after us have been raised and acculturated to being skeptical; we've grown up so inundated by news and rhetoric overload.

2. There is no Golden Age of news media.
I agree, the media on both sides is playing to an audience, and it's hard for me to believe that it was any different, even in the infancy of published news. There is no golden age of honest and reliable news reporting that we can look back on as an example of what news is supposed to be. John Stewart is my hero, particularly after his infamous CrossFire appearance. I'm disillusioned by both the highly-biased interpretation and the gross polarization of news commentary.

I think what really increases their desperation for ratings is that they're trying to support their bloated, 24-hour budgets and at the same time compete against other news agencies with equal demands to financially perform by shareholders, CEOs, and boards of directors. News media also has to fight to retain current viewership and attract new viewers from amongst an increasingly skeptical and critical American public. And we're the changing media environment isn't make it any easier. They're now having to compete with blogs, online news (which has given a bit of a rebirth to newspapers who couldn't keep up with speedy tv news), rss feeds, webcasts, all the while potentially losing revenue from advertisers who fear commercial-skipping tivos.

Believe me, I'm not making excuses for them. I'm routinely sickened not only by the treatment of news as attention-grabbing entertainment, but also by the media's attempts to perpetuate their image of "official" news sources. I don't know how to combat this mindset except to encourage myself and those around me to seek out multiple sources of information, examine the background of the person providing the information, and listen/read critically.

3. I've gained a new appreciation for local media.
What I have learned in all of this is an appreciation for local tv news stations. For general news I'd long shunned local stations, yokels who pander gossip, local politics, and notoriously unreliable weather forecasts. Oxford doesn't have a local tv station, and the last time I watched the Memphis news, they were "reporting" one community's outrage over a psychic moving into the neighborhood. I was so disgusted, I couldn't turn it off until the end of the segment. However, before, during, and after Katrina, the Coast tv stations actually gave me helpful information: storm readiness, where to pick up water, where the shelters were located, what roads were open, alternative evacuation routes, lists of survivors who'd checked into shelters, and places to take pets. WHLT went into all-night coverage about evacuation and weather conditions as the storm approached and never stopped. I sat up at 4:30 AM Sunday morning, knowing I was going to be stuck because of traffic, watching and listening as Katrina plowed through the last few miles of gulf toward landfall. After the storm, WLBT in Alabama flew over areas that the national news agencies (CNN, Fox, MSNBC) were reporting on...the places I gave a damn about.

I've long preferred NPR as my radio news of choice, and MPB reaffirmed my adoration by being my only lifeline after the power went down. They broadcasted continuously long after the storm was over, and still are. The MPB stations are keeping everyone updated about boiled water notices, utility status, donations, school and job openings, reconstruction, etc.

4. We're all biased.
In the end, I'm asking that all of you be a little more understanding of the people who are writing and speaking their minds. Yes, they got most of their information from the news, but it's all they've got. Unless you were right down in the thick of it or know someone who was, it's all you've got, too. Let me go one step further: even if you are working from your personal experiences, that's only one small patch of reality to draw your opinions from, and like the rest of us, you're still relying on other people, be they your neighbors or the media, to bring you that information.

Excluding the irrational and completely unfounded, their opinions are equally as justifiable as our opinions of the situation. mandis13's opinion is that everyone fucked up a little, that the problems are mostly situational, and people are doing the best they can. It makes sense for him to have that opinion since he's a-middle-of-the-road, see-it-from-both-sides kind of guy. He got his information partially from the media, too, and he interpreted it how he generally does, dispensing blame equally on those he considered at fault. However, no matter how intelligent he is or how critically he considered his sources, he is still dependent partially on the media for that information.

To wax philosophical, as I all too often do, just by observing something we're changing it, but we change the situation even more by talking about it. Our minds edit, filter, and reinterpret. We affect change by influencing the opinions of our friends and family and neighbors and colleagues. Yes, the media is biased. We all are. And even with its bias, I'm still thankful to have national and local media that can act as a watchdog to government and to other media sources. But they do us a service and a disservice at the same time. We should hold the media to a higher standard, call it out when it's being unethical (like mandis13 just did), and, most importantly, teach ourselves and others to think critically.
Tags: katrina, media bias

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