*Disclaimer: This is completely off the cuff. I was spurred to write this following images I viewed only moments ago that both shocked and outraged me, even more so for the lack of regard they’re shown.*
The news media industry is fickle at best, we’ve all heard this. We’ve known it for years. Indeed, some of the greatest satirists are those that can reveal the biases and miniscule attention span of the media (such as Colbert with his classic “Blood in the Water” segments). Don’t buy that the news tends to focus on the flashy, new story and ditch the old content?
How often have you heard the words “Breaking News” and perked up in interest? I know I do, I’ll admit that bias. The whole premise of the news is to bring you new content, hence the name. I get that. But this runs into problems when the media focuses on solely new stories and forgets overnight anything of impact that didn’t happen in the last 24 hours.
Take, for example, the Arab Spring. Sure, everyone was rushing to bring experts and analysts onto their shows to discuss the potential for democracy in the Middle East, and discuss the potential dangers this could mean for Americans, both abroad and at home. But do you hear anything about the tumultuous state of Libya now that Gadaffi’s dead (gunned down by rebels)? Does the news take any time to discuss the continuing four-year civil war in Syria, except to provide context to the new threat of the Islamic State (of Iraq and Syria)?
Back when the fighting first broke out, there was huge coverage. A war, what better way to attract viewers than to showcase potential threats to their lives? Now, barely a passing mention to a conflict that has claimed over 220,000 human beings and shows no signs of stopping (Huffington Post). In fact, this problem has become so absurd that when researching “Syrian Civil War death toll” on Google, the most recent stories the engine showed were published in August of 2014. That’s seven goddamn months ago, but nobody thought to update that in all this time?! It’s telling, how far I had to dig to find that 220,000 figure, and even then I had to turn to a seedy source just to back that number up. They don’t care, they just don’t care at all. Suffering and humans’ rights violations aren’t newsworthy if it doesn’t bring up ratings.
I applaud the BBC for attempting to bring attention back to this issue by featuring an article showing images of the massive devastation the conflict has produced. Their work inspired this post. But one decent news source doesn’t cure the mass pandemic that has afflicted the rest of the vast news industry.
My friend and I mock “Good Morning America” as the “gossip news channel” each day that it shows while we’re getting breakfast. Similarly, the entire news media has been coined the “fear industry” and I believe this label applies right to the present. They report important events as a general point, but what do they focus on most? The next Winter Storm Deathocalypse 2015, the next breaking war, the newest instance of terror in the Western world, the next looming Hurricane Oswald, the newest case of Ebola/West Nile Virus/Mad Cow Disease/Bird/Swine/Regular Flu. Unrest, turmoil, disease, threat, war, crime, anthrax. How the news anchors must salivate at these words.
It’s like they thrive off our fear, and for a very simple reason. The simple purpose of life across all creatures is to survive (and go on to reproduce and preserve the species), thus it behooves every human to pay attention to things that could threaten that survival. This is how the media operates, they continually present new threats to keep us afraid and coming back to them to learn what to watch out for now. Take “Danger on the Escalator” as a ludicrous example. Why don’t they talk about a war in Syria? Because it’s not new, it can’t create hysteria, we’ve all come to rational conclusions and understanding of the conflict with time (or just forgotten about it). Thus they need new sources of fear, and when the event isn’t terrifying enough by itself, they use their tools to blow it up into an apocalypse.
I recall a news story back in February when I was having a cavity filled. The NBC channel was reporting on the seizure of another town by Islamic State fighters (I apologize for not being able to find the clip). Bad news, never good to hear more land is under their control. But instead of focusing on the implications for the Iraqi people now under occupation, the anchor continually pressed their expert from Army Intelligence about the danger to US servicemen stationed at an airbase ten miles away from the town. For his part, the rational expert repeated over and over that the danger to these advisers was minimal. This wasn’t satisfactory to the interviewer, however. “How secure is the base?” “If it is attacked, will these soldiers participate in fighting?” Anything, absolutely anything in her power to exaggerate the threat to the US personnel at the base.
It’s not the issues that matter, it’s the issues that scare. So what do we do? Awareness is the most powerful tool any human can have, blind faith has been used to manipulate the masses for thousands of years. Blind belief in the threats that are portrayed to us is a dangerous path, but most dangerous is to block yourself off from the events beyond your daily life entirely. Be informed, watch the news, but seek sources that are most rational, most unbiased. If you can find no such nirvana of information, then watch the hysterical channels, but be aware of their ploys, be able to question the true scale of their disaster stories. Think for yourself.
One of my personal mantras that speaks deeply to me is, “Question everything.” The power of this quote is not that it inspires the proletariat and exploited masses to rise up in revolution, but that it inspires awareness. Understand how things are “just the way they are” without accepting the “just”, for that implies that it’s inherently right. Understand how these trends and behaviors came to be, how they survive despite not all being considered “right”, and how we as citizens can bring change. Through awareness, the educated, rational, responsible citizens the 21st Century desperately needs are created.