Media is Plural (and the blame game isn't about the news)
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I'm guilty of referring to "The Media" as if it's a single thing saying things like, "The media needs to stop the experts disagree on shape of the Earth approach to unbiased reporting," as if Fox, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and my blog are all one entity.
We can't even separate the "commercial media" as a type of news outlet. Granted, Murdoch owns Fox News, which we often say colors their reporting. But Murdoch also owns Comedy Central, which runs The Daily Show, so just painting a box with a "Corporate Owned Media" label doesn't work.
I'm not going to quibble over the fact that the word "media" is misused as "new agency" and not simply the format the news arrives in. The primary medium I get my news from is an LCD screen -- sometimes I'm watching a YouTube video of a Clinton speach, sometimes I'm reading an article in the Atlantic Monthly. I have access to more formats of more information than I ever had when Walter Cronkite was presenting the news in a pure, unbiased manner.
"The Media" itself is a huge mix of facts, opinions, and cries for mental health support. We can pick and choose what we want to believe because someone is presenting our idea as a fact, and we can get our friends to look at the same stuff and agree with us. Otherwise we just get new friends (which is also so much easier these days with 1 Billion active users on Facebook).
The issue isn't that the delivery system is broken, it's that the way we choose to think is broken. Just because Fox wants to say Obama is the Antichrist doesn't mean people need to believe it, just as we don't believe The Onion. I think the fact that we can get overwhelmed by "facts" is one of the most incredible inventions of humankind. The fact that we can "fact check" in minutes means it doesn't really matter if Paul Lyin' gives a speech entirely filled with falsehoods.
And the statement from Neil Newhouse, a Romney pollster saying "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers," tells us it isn't about "the media" it's about what we choose to believe, and then finding a way to back it up.
If there's any kind of information war going on in this country, it's not the news agencies that are waging it. They're just cashing in on the war that's been being fought since the Founding Fathers barely eked out the Bill of Rights. It's a fight for how we think -- do you accept things on faith or do you question everything? There has to be a balance between automaton and nihilism, between the slavish acceptance and slavish rejection.
We have a process for that, it's called scientific method. Fact checking, peer review, and the ability to admit that you're wrong and, possibly more difficult, that someone else is right. Because scientific method is considered an attack on religion, we've eroded the education process -- textbooks that give equal credence to Creationism and Evolution aren't science textbooks, and they don't teach critical thinking. They teach us that opinion is the same thing as fact.
If you want to spend energy fixing "the media" you need to spend it on the audience. You need to use whatever, ahem, medium, you have available to you to help open minds to new ideas, to give a shoulder when they learn that, maybe, not everything they believe is true, and you need to be ready to admit that maybe, not everything you believe is true either.
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