Friday, October 2, 2009

The Problems of "Info-tainment"

Though I used to watch a fair amount of "talk television" in the realm of of Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity, I now avoid the white noise of talk television because I discern, beyond the ranting, that the goal is not to inform, but simply spark suspicion and even anger, for the simple purpose of ratings and revenue. However, that does not mean I an uninformed. I read more news than ever before. But I avoid the idiot box more and more. For, nothing new or insightful is offered on these shows. They simply "comment" on the news, and generally it's more inflammatory than anything else.

Lately the focus on Glenn Beck has challenged the "edginess" of these shows, arguing Beck does his job in a far more insidious manner than the others, or than he used to in his original show and first two books, which I read and actually enjoyed. That criticism is the focus of a piece of print commentary (generally more rational and not built on soundbites) that came from Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News. While Dreher is more critical of Beck than some others - and while he in my opinion goes on a bit of a tangent - there is much to consider about the increasingly dangerous world of (mainly) Fox News commentary.

From ridiculous charges of FEMA concentration camps to charges of Manchurian candidates to shameless accusations of subversive muslim congressman to a million people at the tea party in D.C. cited by a "university" that Beck "couldn't remember the name of to a "deep seated hatred of white people that one was a minute before Beck said "I'm not saying he doesn't like white people" to Vancouver losing billion dollars on an Olympics they hadn't held yet, Beck has fallen so far off the road of rational thought, that his anti-government fearmongering has actually become dangerous. And I would argue that I used to listen to Beck and agreed with much of his points. I've read all his books, and until his last one, had little criticism. However, his current arc is what leads Dreher to wonder where the William Buckleys of the conservative party are.

Well, they might be in South Carolina. At least that might be inferred from the recent statements - and consistent rational pragmatic conservatism - of Senator Lindsay Graham. From his evenhanded and just criticism (but ultimate vote for) Justice Sotomayor to his denouncement of craziness and cynicism in the conservative media, Graham is one of the few Republicans left that I could - and would - vote for on a national level. He might just be stepping up, in a Buckley-esque way to defeat the madness and extremism that has taken the microphone of his party.

This hope is, incidentally, supported in the New York Times today by one conservative voice I can trust and support, David Brooks. Brooks reminds us that, for the most part, the crazy voices of the conservative media aren't all that influential, as they'd like us to believe. While 15 million or so viewers and listeners will follow these guys each day, that doesn't turn into a reliable voting bloc for their far right, neo-conservative agenda. Instead, pragmatism still rules at the voting booth.

Or at least I'd like to hope.


Daughter of Eve said...

Glen Beck is just stating his opinions, not saying this is "News with no bias." Right? We never really watch tv but I did see a video clip of him on the computer (Dad showed it to us) talking about that video of children singing praise songs to Barack Obama. WHO WOULD NOT THINK "UH-OH" WHEN KIDS ARE WORSHIPING THE PRESIDENT????? That is utterly insane and frightening. I'm not saying everything he says is good, because I don't know much about him; but people have a right to an opinion, and if other people want to watch those opinionated shows and agree, that's their choice. There IS something called Free Speech. Besides, all the other media SUUUUURE is biased, and people who rely on them for REAL news sure are in trouble. :P "Oh, the wonderful Barak Obama did this..." "Mr. Barak Obama is so amazing..." on and on and ON! I DO get sick of yahoo headlines. :/ Why did Obama win? Well, PARTLY because all the media they read/listen to slammed McCain and Palin and praised Obama and Biden to the sky.

~Queen Lucy~

mmazenko said...

Well, yes, that video is about as strange as the one of a group of kids at a camp "worshipping" a cardboard cut-out of George W. Bush, as they are encouraged to "praise the president" and "touch him" and "bless him." It's on youtube as well, but Beck didn't bother to show that video, though it would have been the fair, non-biased thing to do.

Glenn Beck is not just stating opinions. He is openly deceiving people and then apologizing when he is caught doing it. Additionally, his last book had openly plagiarized statements which I noted in my book review.

Of course, people have a right to keep watching. My point is that I am not because I've realized these shows don't help at all. They are designed to enrage people. For those who disagree, he enrages them with his outlandish stories. For those who agree, he enrages them against "straw man" targets to encourage a pessimistic, hopeless opinion of American democracy, a president, and half the population.

All media is biased. Conservative Republicans watch Fox and listen to Rush Limbaugh and subscribe to the National Review and the Wall Street Journal. Liberal Democrats watch CNN and listen to Ed Schultz and subscribe to the New Republic and the New York Times. No one is excluded from getting the news they want in the manner they want.

People who want "real news," listen to both sides with a critical ear and then draw conclusions based on their ability to think critically. That is what I teach my students. One of the goals of AP Language is to teach them to recognize bias and the use of logical fallacies. Thus, my students will encounter and judge the news with the most open mind possible.

Obama won because he won the moderate independents, like me, who are neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans but evaluate all political races and issues on the individual merits. Obama won because McCain was bereft of any new ideas to respond to the problems in the nation after eight years of the Republicans in charge. I know your opinions of Obama based on one issue, but I look at all the issues, and I don't see that one as a decider in a presidential election for all the reasons I've noted before. By the way, both Obama and McCain were praised by news sources that supported them and criticized by those who didn't.

But the independents saw McCain as preaching tired old ideas, and they saw Palin as a complete idiot. Again, I note, that comes from the exit polls of true moderate independents who decided the election. As David Brooks column notes, the biased people like Beck understand the average American much less than they think. Beck and company only understand about 30% of the population. And that's who they preach to, and that's who they manipulate. They are believed by the "uninformed."

That's why my piece was about how "I" have stopped watching them. Perhaps others will as well, especially when they realize that "all the information in an hour of television news can be found on one page of a newspaper."

Lucy said...

Like I said, I don't know much about Beck. If that is really what he is doing then I disagree with his tactics. Also, I said that was ONE of the reasons Obama won. There were a lot. But if you pull up your email and the first things you see are news headlines praising Obama, and you are the type of person who doesn't dig deeper, just listens, of course you're going to vote for Obama. Do you get my point? And it makes me sad that you think I dislike Obama for one issue. If I made it sound like that, I didn't talk the right way. :( I HIGHLY disagree with him on abortion, but also on pretty much everything else. :P Just to make that clear.

mmazenko said...

As you noted, you don't know much about Beck and don't watch much TV, so you've only heard about biased news praising Obama. However, just as many people received emails praising McCain the same way, and if those people don't seek more information the same result is true. Do you see my point? You're implying that a bunch of voters only heard praise for Obama, and nothing about McCain intended to sway undecided voters. (I was, in fact, undecided until the week of the election.) Each party spent the same amount of money trying to elect their guy/agenda. But Obama won because of the moderates and because of mainly financial and foreign policy disasters of the previous eight years.

In terms of biased news, since you don't watch much, keep in mind that Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News, said the presidency of Obama is "the Alamo for the Republican Party" and Fox News is "the voice of the opposition." That is the head of a major news organization saying that his"news" company is now a political organization that considers itself in a metaphorical battle with the President of the United States. That's ridiculous and bizarre and really quite sad.

In terms of Obama, earlier postings made your position on one issue seem to be the reason you oppose him. If you have informed criticisms of his foreign policy and economic issues, that's great. Just make sure you get both sides of the issues, and read extensively from both perspectives.

Perhaps that's why you check in here from time to time. :-)

And your comments are always welcome.