Monday, March 24, 1997

Week of 03/24/1997

Cycle of Sensationalism
The code of media hype has been cracked!
- by David Matthews 2

How many times has this happened - You’re watching members of the media talk about a certain issue that they’re against, and you swear that just last week they were on the other side of the issue. Pick an issue, any issue. One minute the press talks in praise of Bill Clinton, the next they’re about ready to lynch him. They want to legalize drugs one week, the next they’re condemning drugs. A man is all but convicted by the media one month, the next month they consider him to be wrongly accused.

What’s going on, you ask?

It’s simple - it’s called the Cycle of Sensationalism. It’s the predictable pattern by which the media plays their game on the general public. Sometimes it happens over a period of weeks or months, or all in the same story. But no matter what, a good percentage of media-generated issues has been proceeding in the following pattern:

Discovery - The media first has to introduce us to the issue. What is it? Let’s say the issue is Ross Perot. Well who is Ross Perot? Why should we care about him?

Deify - Once recognized, the media then begins the cycle of sensationalism by praising the issue to the level that it can do no wrong. If the issue is Ross Perot, the media will talk about all the good things he’s done as a private citizen. All the issues he’s supported. All the things he wants to talk about.

Demonize - Once the issue has been deified to a point where it can do no wrong, the media then turns the tables and condemns the issue until it can do no right. With Perot, it’s bringing up some former associates who still have a grudge against him. Or questioning one of his past statements to see if it’s true. Every misstep, every fault no matter how minor can and will be used to shoot down the issue.

At this point the cycle is usually over. The issue has been both praised and condemned until there is no credibility to it whatsoever. The members of the media can then turn their focus on yet another issue.

But of late there has been a new aspect brought into this cycle - Lamentation. The media, recognizing it’s potential to mold public opinion and to make or break even the most powerful of politicians and businessmen, then begin to publicly wonder if they "crossed the line." As if there really WAS a line they hadn’t crossed already. This part of the cycle became crystal clear during the Richard Jewel incident, when at first the press was ready to lynch Jewel and complained that the federal investigators were dragging their heels on the issue. Weeks later, after evidence was presented to clear Jewel of any wrongdoing, the investigators had to publicly drop Jewel as a suspect. Only then did the media begin to "wonder" if they acted hastily. Of course they did! I even warned against it on the Internet! ("Media Bloodhounds," 8/5/96) ABC recently began their lamentation concerning their investigation of the quality of food in certain Food Lion stores, but only after the network lost big a civil lawsuit filed by Food Lion.

And it’s not just a national cycle. Even the local TV stations are doing the same thing with local issues - especially an issue they can extend over a period of two or three days and call it a "special in-depth report."

The purpose of this cycle is simple: to convince you that there is NOTHING you can rely on, save for the media themselves. No issue is sacred - religion, sex, relationships, politics, business, children, doctors, lawyers, even the media in general. All are fair game. Even the inclusion of the lamentation phase is a deliberate attempt by the media to cover their tracks when they’re proven wrong or are perceived to be on the wrong side of an issue.

So how have they been able to get away with it for so long? Well, partly because we let them. We hear this clip on the radio or TV and we want to know more. So we watch the show or news broadcast, knowing we’ll probably wait through ¾ of the nonsense before seeing this quick story that will - at best - last five to ten minutes. Just enough for a couple of sound bites, some free (and biased) commentaries from the journalist, and a few cute remarks from the air-fluffed anchors before moving on to the next story.

Another reason why the media has been able to get away with pulling this mind game so long is because they’ve been able to overlap several issues in various stages so that we wouldn’t notice. We’ll hear about the Internet on the "good" side while they concentrate on the "bad" side of a certain government bureaucracy. By the time we hear about the "bad" side of the Internet, the media will be "lamenting" over their investigation of that bureaucracy before "discovering" a new story. Before long you can’t really tell that the media has been playing this big head game on you.

The solution to this, however, is not easy. We all rely on the news. If we have a TV set we’ll inevitably watch the nightly news - if anything just to find out what the weather will be for tomorrow. Even the Internet isn’t immune to the influence of this cycle since all major networks now have sites on the Internet and even have one designed for the Net - MSNBC. But thanks to the Internet we can also CONTACT them and let them know our displeasure. Let them know we are tired of them playing their head games on us!

Look, once upon a time the media had a simple role, which was to provide the news, be it good, bad, or indifferent. The print media - to a certain extent - still does that. But the mistaken belief that televised media has an additional role to "entertain" us has blurred the line of journalistic integrity to the point where it can only be seen through the eyes of producers and high-priced attorneys. Journalists, be they on television, the Internet, or in newsprint, have to go back the role of reporters as impartial observers. Their role is to observe and report the news without judgment either favorable or unfavorable to the issue. If they want to vent opinions they should step off from their journalistic soapbox and vent them like the rest of us ordinary citizens.

Let the bean counters and ratings-staved producers rant themselves until they froth at the mouth like rabid dogs! There is nothing in the First Amendment that says there is freedom of speech as long as it’s a 20-share in the ratings!

No comments: