As early as the second grade, I had an idea what I wanted to be, or rather I had two ideas. Having visited the United Nations on a previous trip to see my grandparents, I was certain I wanted to be a translator. My mother put me immediately into French classes. In retrospect, Farsi or Russian or Mandarin would have been far more useful, which is to say I didn’t have a prayer of working at the UN. Probably just as well and in any case I can now order off the menu in a French restaurant with reasonable confidence.
The other career I wanted to pursue was in journalism. Then again, I grew up in an idealistic time, in the era of Woodward and Bernstein back when they acted like journalists and the New York Times published “The Pentagon Papers” instead of erroneous stories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Those were the days but my desire to work in that “noble” field has disappeared faster than you can say “reporter.”
These days, our news delivery system is chaos, all noise and bluster and so falsely “fair and balanced” that every opinion and every story carry equal weight. In a world where we are all so enamored of our own opinion that listening to others or even sharing the same viewpoint as others is less important than getting noticed, the bizarre proliferation of opinions spewed across cyberspace (some backed by some sort of intelligence, thoughtfulness or consideration, others apparently backed by nothing other than anger, agenda, an ax to grind, what have you) become news. These opinions are given equal time and, worse yet, equal weight. The media mavens grab a story from the blogosphere, work it to death and regurgitate it back into the web. The same story gets recycled over and over again, skewing opinion even more. For example, Obama’s relationship with his ex-pastor Reverend Wright continues to be a hot topic but John McCain’s with another religious leader and supporter, Pastor John Hagee is not (Wikipedia carefully states that Hagee “has incurred some controversy for his comments regarding Catholicism, Islam, homosexuality, women, blacks, and hurricane Katrina.”). Good journalists, by the way, are caught in the middle.
Actually, I care less about who the candidates are hanging out with (yeah, yeah, I know, goes to judgement and all that) and more about their plans for health care. No I haven’t heard enough or I don’t understand it well enough. I’d like the media to help me but apparently, the media isn’t in the business of helping us stay informed anymore.
There are other people making noise about the state of the news, thank goodness. For starters, catch Elizabeth Edward’s op-ed piece on what the media does and doesn’t cover (for those of you with really, really short attention spans, she’s the wife of the “third” Democratic candidate, John Edwards, who dropped out of the race). Seriously, go read it; she makes some hugely important points about corporate control of media outlets and what kinds of stories those outlets chase. It’s depressing but worthwhile. Then read this article by Michael Ventre that addresses the John Stewart issue. While “traditional” media critics and “real” journalists have been lamenting the fact that the under-thirty set have been getting their news from a comedian, said comedian, apparently aware of his influence, appears to be putting more thought and, yes, analysis into his interviews and “reporting,” displaying more than a rudimentary understanding of the issues at hand. If he brings a certain detached irony to his delivery (he is, after all, still out to entertain), that is far better than the gonzo showings of some of more “esteemed” mainstream media colleagues these days (yep, I’m referring to the Democratic debates on ABC).
It’s small comfort, but comfort nonetheless, to know that I’m not alone in my despair over the way news is made, made important and then delivered. As much as I might like the sound of my own voice or the appearance of my own words, I really do want to hear what others are thinking about a particular subject. If they are as upset as I am or as I hope you readers will be, even better, especially because lately I’ve been feeling alternately isolated, afraid and mad as hell.