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Member since: Tue Nov 16, 2004, 03:14 PM
Number of posts: 7,215

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Enough with the melodrama! I want some news!

Today, I want to consider some of the ways the news business influences us, and themselves, which we may not be aware of. Because forewarned is forearmed. The received wisdom on both sides of the political divide is that news is sometimes biased. We think Fox is, and they think the New York Times is. I think the situation is more complicated than that. No matter which source we pay attention to, we are getting the characters in a drama first, their conflicts and tensions next, and a projection of what might happen to them, or at least their party, next. This week has seen both the NYT and NPR absorbed in, nay, obsessed by, the Kavanaugh/Blasey Ward drama.

First, saturation coverage given to one story is time and attention taken from other stories. As another DUer has pointed out, Congress passed another tax cut bill this week, which went unmentioned on NPR, unless a sentence or so was slipped into a news recap. And the news is usually dominated by a few stories, and those few stories will be played to the hilt for their human drama translated into political speculation.

Second, the political interpretation of all things that happen in Washington is one of the underlying principles of news coverage. This principle subdivides into two subthemes: 1) politics is always being played, every day and in every way, and 2) both sides do it (whatever it is), or neither side is guiltless, or this is nothing new. After enough time having these themes repeated, amplified, and hammered home, we can all be forgiven for nodding our heads and assuming that these tenets of news coverage are true. As alert readers know, none of them is true, much less all of them. The casting of all events as aspects of politics means that other perspectives, like the historical and the scientific, are neglected.

Third, the quality of the drama is lousy. We are getting melodrama instead of substantial, realistic, adult scripts. We are being told, not what to think, but what to feel. And this is dangerous. Having our perceptions of an unfolding story nudged in the direction of finding superhuman heroes and despicable villains is bad for our understanding of what’s going on. We concentrate on the personalities and forget the larger picture. We think that when we’ve spotted the villain and anointed the hero, our job is done. We have loved the hero or heroine, and hated the evildoer, and this is sufficient for our lives as responsible members of a democracy. It is not sufficient. But melodrama is enticing, exciting, and occasionally addictive. To the degree we allow ourselves to be satisfied with locating the heroes and villains, we are users of a powerful drug.

And we should kick the habit—our sanity and political effectiveness depend on it. This means directing some letters, protests, and demonstrations at those who bring us the “news.” We need to tell them what we want, and how important it is. The news I want about Congress is this: Where’s the money going? Where’s the money coming from? Who gets what? Are there any other ideas out there for how to spend money that are not being discussed? Since one of the main reasons for the existence of Congress is to gather and then spend money, how have they beed doing their jobs?

What we get now is an endless saga about how two groups of people are jockeying for power. In America, theoretically, the people have all the power. We have not seized it recently, but, Constitutionally speaking, it’s ours, not the politicians’. Congress and all major office holders are our employees, our servants. If we actually started to think as though they were working for us, a great deal of good could be accomplished.
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