Category Archives: Media Sensationalism
“In a very real and terrifying sense, our Government is the CIA and the Pentagon, with Congress reduced to a debating society. Of course, you can’t spot this trend to fascism by casually looking around. You can’t look for such familiar signs as the swastika, because they won’t be there. We won’t build Dachaus and Auschwitzes; the clever manipulation of the mass media is creating a concentration camp of the mind that promises to be far more effective in keeping the populace in line.”
-Earling Carothers ‘Jim’ Garrison
JonBenet Ramsey suspect cleared after DNA test!
So the whole thing was a big fucking hoax. Yet another hoax on us all or more appropriately a tragic comedy for sardonic cynics. Once again Karl Rove plays the media like a Stradivarius and the media plays everybody else for chumps. The swarm and rush to be the first to ‘break’ the story is yet another embarrassment for this pathetic excuse of a news media. Remember the feeding frenzy over the Sago Mine disaster back in January when cable networks in their rush to beat each other to the punch for the prized recognition of breaking the story prematurely jumped on inaccurate snippets of overheard conversations to report that in the true feel good tradition of our Pollyanna nation that all of the coal miners had indeed been spared from a lonely death in a dank and cold place for a company with an equally dank and cold heart, a company that piled up safety violations as quickly as greedballs in the Republican Congress piled up illicit money from Jack Abramoff and other corporate graft. Once the overwhelming cheer went up for the triumph of the great American spirit and the accompanying faith in the almighty that had saved so many from death the inconvenient truth emerged as it so often does that the celebration was premature and that all of the miners had died with the exception of one survivor. As a wise man named Winston Wolf once put it “let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks just yet” and although painful, Sago was not a lesson well learned by the shills.
Cable and network executives were as happy as pigs rolling in shit when the Karr fraud erupted, they must have been clicking their heels over the good fortune in finding a story that would finally provide the much needed juice that could dominate news cycles for days. Hell, if was lurid enough there would be a long trial and enough newly minted ‘legal analysts’ to milk the sleaze for months and maybe even into the new year or longer. Nothing like a child-murdering pederast to keep that bummer of a war in Iraq and the egregious criminal behavior of the Bush administration relegated to its rightful place as an afterthought while they pimped sleazy tabloid scandal. Then there was always the new fall season would begin and the newest version of that insidious reality television spectacle ‘Survivor’ starts – this time there will be an additional allure as the contestants will be broken down into teams according to their race. The new format is thoroughly appropriate to the divisive times in which we now live and it will likely be bigger than the Dukes of Hazard and an event equal to Southeastern Conference football down south of the Mason Dixon Line.
There is one thing that Americans have come to hold most dear and precious of all. It is sweeter than mothers milk, more important than breathing, more desirable than such abstract concepts as freedom and liberty, more precious than life itself and more thirsted for than salvation. It is the all-encompassing allure of tabloid trash, glorifications of wealth and superficiality (Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and The Apprentice), the culture of celebrity and the soothing narcotic of living vicariously through entertainment that provides both an escape from the ugly and inconvenient intrusions of reality. There is nothing like a nice big hit off of the electronic crack-pipe to ensure that all is right for most in Der Heimat and the fear can remain at bay while the consumer crawls into a cocoon of denial and the exploits and exploitation of others.
The outrageous saturation coverage of the alleged killer that rejuvenated the dormant JonBenet Ramsey media circus is the perfect example of how beloved that scandal and tabloid sleaze have come to be prized in our tawdry,gauche and narcissistic post-industrial culture. John Mark Karr instantly became a household name as the nutty Ramsey case obsessive allegedly ‘confessed’ to the heinous child murder of the one time beauty pageant princess when he was nabbed by authorities in Thailand set the stage for a mass media bonanza that would have provided cover for the Republican mafia in the run up to the mid term elections. In an amazing testimonial to the power of scandal the Karr apprehension even knocked the fear mongering over London ‘Airplane Plot’ out of the headlines. Now that was truly an accomplishment in a land where fear and dread are so predominant that even terror is trumped by trash and the stimulation of subconscious prurient interests.
Never mind that Karr’s ‘confession’ and caveat that it was an “accident” were vague and unsubstantiated the jackals in the paparazzi swarmed much like they did during the Sago Mine fiasco once again stirred up a tempestuous freak show with misleading and inaccurate information in a race to be first to break the latest lurid developments. If it bleeds, it leads as the saying goes and call me a conspiracy theorist but it was yet another fortuitous coincidence that the coverage and resulting media swarm came just in time to downplay Federal Judge Anna Diggs Taylor’s ruling that George W. Bush had violated the law by using the NSA to illegally conduct sweeping surveillance on American citizens for reasons that have never been honestly explained. And there was the strange detail that was largely passed over and unexplained of the involvement in the Karr matter by the Department of Homeland Security.
To further interject celebrity into the national discourse Paramount Pictures also cut ties with the much maligned although once adored Tom Cruise although it still didn’t knock John Mark Karr out of the news although it did further relegate war coverage to the back burner again. Maybe people are pissed off over Tom and Katie’s selfish desire to their privacy over the mysterious baby Suri. Maybe it’s because Cruise practices the much maligned and mocked religion of Scientology which arguably is no more of a cult than Tim LaHaye style Rapture Christianity is, or was it when he dared to defile the temple of Oprah last year or to suggest that feeding Ritalin to children therefore creating lifetime pharmaceutical industry consumers as well as nurturing a generation of doped up little zombies wasn’t exactly the best idea. Who the fuck knows and really quite honestly, who the fuck really cares? It’s only more tabloid trash that distracts from the real problems of the country and the world and provides another hit of e-crack.
The blowback resulting from the failure of the mainstream media to present an accurate and relevant storyline on issues that truly affect issues of true importance is only now becoming evident. The emergence of an unbelievably dumbed-down populace – or at least the majority of it that chooses to live vicariously through television, sports and celebrity – are primarily the ones who are responsible for the crimes of the despotic Bush regime, the growing losses in the relentless but undeclared class warfare that the wealthy have been waging for the last quarter century and the ruinous war in Iraq and god forbid, the glorious appearing of the upcoming one in Iran that the neocons and the Rapture ready lumpen Republicans so heartily advocate and live for.
When the media corporations began to focus on profit at the expense of news and more frequently cave in to right-wing activist pressure to present public relations spin under the guise of providing balance and the reduction of information to product they failed and failed spectacularly in providing the free press that is instrumental to a functional democracy. Video News Releases (VNRs) and public relations are present in nearly every newscast, the sound byte has replaced reporting and stories are condensed into smaller chunks for our chronically attention deficit affected citizens. CNN headline news in my personal opinion was one of the worst of all possible things to have emerged from the cable-satellite boom of the 80s as it boiled down complex stories into bits easily processed by the brains of Americans who could then feel informed and free up time for more important pursuits like working, being good consumers and being entertained. Hey it was the American way, leave the heavy lifting to our benevolent and well-intentioned corporations and public servants.
Providing product selling ‘infotainment’, manufacturing news and providing diversions are now the primary function of the mainstream media, a modern day form of bread and circuses that will serve to distract, divide and conquer the masses and enable the looters and hegemons to go about conducting business as usual. If there was any one event that would provide the metaphoric final nail in the coffin or the jumping of the shark it is arguably the elevation of ‘America’s Sweetheart’ Katie Couric to fill the seat once occupied by truly dedicated and legendary newsmen the likes of Edward Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather. The ascendance of the fluffy and unthreatening Couric and the imminent race to the bottom once the other three major networks inevitably look to follow the ‘visionary’ actions of CBS in overhauling their evening newscasts to more resemble their morning infotainment shows does not bode well for any who hope for a resurgence in real journalism that informs the public and holds power accountable. Those days are rapidly receding into the rearview mirror as America progresses along the highway to hell that is to be our destiny unless a mass awakening occurs and occurs soon.
The dumbing-down of the population with sound bytes and McNews makes us a joke throughout the western world. Has anybody ever taken the time to watch or listen to the BBC? My God the depth of actual news coverage outside fortress USA is mind blowing in comparison to the crap that passes for news here. Other than miniscule snippets of spin delivered by bobble heads as well as the constant flow of lurid sex offender tales, child abductions, weird ‘news’, fantastic pet feats, animal attacks and celebrity gossip that isn’t real news at all our media is a disgrace. Our networks routinely broadcast in the guise of ‘news’ nothing but tabloid fare so foul and cheesy that to say that it more fittingly belongs in grocery store checkout stand racks is a disservice to the National Enquirer, National Star and World Weekly News. Even these publications have some small degree of redeeming social value or merit mainly as parody and satire to those who are on to their jokes or are avidly into following astrology and let’s face it, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in awhile as the Enquirer did in striking gold with their Rush Limbaugh drug peddling scoop.
When the rapacious pursuit of profits trumps the duty as serving as guardians of the public trust the institution itself has lost any legitimacy that it once had. The fear of offending the wrong people and subjecting sponsors to economic terrorism in the form of boycotts (the zealots of the ‘Christian’ right are masters at this tactic) drives coverage away from important and provocative issues like war, rumors of war, the uninsured, the collapsing housing market, global warming, the destruction of the domestic manufacturing sector and the cancer of corruption that eats away at our political system and selling ad spots keeps profits healthy and the stockholders satisfied while maintaining the stupor of the electorate.
Advertising functions on the maxim of being able to reach the largest possible amount of potential purchasers for any given product or service that is being hawked either through print ads in the nation’s newspapers or in commercials on the electronic crackpipe. In order for this to happen the programming in the given medium must be specifically targeted towards the individuals who would be most likely to be tuned in at the time that a commercial, VNR or product placement insertion is aired. Given that the majority of the public in current post 9/11, cable television saturated America are to be kind, not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer then it is only logical that programming content must be of a nature that they are able to understand or would otherwise attract them.
Therefore you have at least some reason for the general dumbness of television content, it is the classic bell shaped curve and much to the misfortune of all non-idiots, the vast majority of Americans fall into that extremely large pregnant portion of the graph that represents the dumbed down mentality that is so prevalent throughout the land. Therefore programming must be directed at ignorant, easily amused doofuses with the attention spans of gnats and the cognitive abilities of a retarded turnips because that is where the money is at! And that is what it is all about when it comes to advertising and keeping those stock values high. Combine this pursuit of advertising dollars with a secretive and repressive government with an agenda and there you have it: 2006=1984+22.
The problem of media consolidation made possible by deregulation as well as an increased rightward drift into an incredibly narrow minded and short sighted focus on laissez faire neo-liberal economic policies of the mythical ‘free market’ which is in actuality only free to the extent that the bigger fish are able to freely feast on the little fish who are in increasing danger of becoming. The ultimate result of deregulated and unaccountable markets are monopolies of the sort that would not be possible with the presence of an informed and active public. Therefore it is essential for those conditions to cease to exist. It’s not necessary to completely eliminate an educated populace only to make it increasingly difficult to stay informed.
This has led to not only the ascendancy of the infotainment industry but also to the near complete elimination of any sort of real investigative journalism that would offend advertisers and politicians who write favorable legislation to perpetuate the ongoing media power grab as news organizations are forced to cut back on actual journalists in favor of the charlatans needed to transform legitimate operations into brothels of the bogus. The great 1976 movie Network was absolutely stunning in it’s visionary ability to predict the future of news and television and I would strongly recommend that everybody see this, it is truly a masterpiece! Don’t bother to look for it on television though, it is far too uncomfortably close to the truth to merit taking a risk that viewers might be able to break through their immersion in the electronic fantasyland in order to bother to take their brains out of the dusty old box in the cranial attic in order to jump start the critical thought processes that have been abandoned.
Rabid attack shows such as CNN’s Crossfire that was more about allowing demagogues like Pat Buchanan to launch into anti-liberal diatribes against his overmatched counterparts and eventually the shows of shock jocks like Morton Downey were pioneering offerings that fed simmering public rage and slowly began to transform news into freak shows and caustic, think tank distilled opinion into supposed ‘news’. In examining today’s media culture an integral part was played by the right-wingers in ensuring that their daily talking points would be disseminated over and over again, it was classic Eddie Bernays who incidentally was a huge influence on Joseph Goebbels. The witches brew of toxic invective, right wing spin and tabloid television is what the majority of Americans now have come to believe is real news.
The roaring nineties were the decade when infotainment and sensationalism finally ascended to a place above serious and honest reporting minus the accompanying spin, the post cable/satellite explosion and the MTV generation gave way to celebrity and scandal, outright yellow journalism and an array of competing tabloid television magazine shows the likes of Hard Copy, A Current Affair and let us not forget the great contribution to modern ‘journalism’ Inside Edition which served as a primary national vehicle for one of today’s loudest and most bellicose propagandists Bill O’Reilly who has the dubious distinction of quite possibly being the only man in America more full of bullshit and self righteous pomposity than even George W. Bush himself and dare I say an even bigger horse’s ass if that is possible.
The culture of celebrity reigned and there is no better example than the unbelievable orgy of live coverage that was broadcast of the police pursuit of the infamous white Ford Bronco containing alleged murderer O.J. Simpson as it wound through Los Angeles and cheering mobs lined the route. A culture of celebrity powerful enough to cut into the coverage of game five of the NBA finals provoking announcer Bob Costas to remark in disgust that the Simpson orgy of adulation was “not just tragic but now surreal.”, a very fitting statement that could also serve as a testament to the state of America itself as things began to slip away nearly six and one half years prior to the even more tragic and surreal Republican one party government that exists today.
Of course the O.J. Simpson saga and mass media feeding frenzy was not a matter of serendipity for the tabloid television culture, it had been years in the making before the former pro football hero and marketing crossover became an accused double murderer. Before the O.J. phenomenon there was Amy Fisher, the ‘Long Island Lolita’ who shot the wife of her sleazy white trash lover Joey Buttafuoco in 1992. Don’t forget Loreena Bobbitt who cut off a piece of her abusive husband John’s penis in 1993. Then there was the attack orchestrated on ice skater Nancy Kerrigan by the scheming of envious competitor Tonya Harding who orchestrated an attack on Kerrigan with the intent of disabling her during the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. And of course thereafter between the glove that didn’t fit and the cigar that did there was the poor little brutally murdered child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey which brings us back full circle.
The agenda driven attacks on every aspect of the life of Bill Clinton until he finally was buried under an avalanche of sex scandals gave us the thoroughly repugnant Kenneth Starr and his relentlessly driven inquisition that was dripping with salacious details and graphic sex talk. Monica media masturbation was the rage, surpassing even the O.J. Simpson spectacle of schlock and became the magnum opus of nineties tabloid cheese media. The Starr Report was a best seller and that mysterious stain on the blue dress became the greatest matter of national import of that most decadent of decades.
A legitimate argument could even be made that ‘Monicagate’ paralyzed Clinton’s ability to function as president and as a result made the country more vulnerable. After all, when Clinton ordered a missile strike on the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant, a Sudanese factory in an attempt to take out Osama Bin Laden the now war mongering House of Representatives was apoplectic, chanting “No War For Monica” and damning the foreign attack with the vigor of a bunch of dope smoking Berkeley pinkos and the media swarmed like coffin flies. Had Clinton not had to worry about the incredibly trumped up impeachment spectacle then he may have been able to actually bag Bin Laden and therefore potentially prevent 9-11 and the rise of the imperial regime of Bush-Cheney. But we’ll never know will we?
The talking heads who deliver the ‘news’ on cable channels soon were transformed into eye candy as well, attractive young women with big hair, nice tits, vacant expressions and most importantly the ability to read from a teleprompter. Yet another damning example of our shameful national dumbness is that according to reports the percentage of Americans who actually bother to read newspapers is down at about 11 percent (and I would be willing that at least half of them only read the funnies or the box scores) and the freefall in circulation continues in the land of cheap entertainment forcing whatever newspapers haven’t been swallowed by conglomerates to cut staffing and to rely more on wire stories and corporate public relations puff pieces.
Who is to blame? Look in the mirror. With the bits and pieces of the crumbling and rotten to core system that are beginning to slowly float to the surface regarding the abundance of government scandals involving bribery, spying, abuse of power, market manipulation, petro-politics and war our naïve whimsical and unrealistic view of America as blessed by God and exceptional over all others could be shaken to its roots were any serious investigative journalism in the corporate media to exist.