Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Virginia Tech Tragedy and the Media

I haven't said anything here about the Virginia Tech shootings. I wanted to wait a week and gain a little perspective. I don't know if there's a way to say anything that really makes any sense of this tragedy, other than to say that your heart aches for everyone -- the students and faculty who passed, their families, all the students who attend Tech, the Hokie alumni, anyone and everyone who was effected by this traegy. I even feel sick for the family of the killer -- I can't imagine how those folks feel today.

It's pretty clear the killer was mentally deranged. I'm not sure about the media, but plenty of people feel they might be lacking any sense of logic. Airing the killer's video... well, let's just say that I didn't think I needed more reasons not to watch NBC News. But before I go too far down that path, let me point out a terrific article from last Friday by Peggy Noonan, sent to me by the Lord of Truth. There's a reason she was a terrific speechwriter for Reagan, and she showed it in this piece...
There seems to me a sort of broad national diminution of common sense in our country that we don't notice in the day-to-day but that become obvious after a story like this. Common sense says a person like Cho Seung-hui, who was obviously dangerous and unstable, should have been separated from the college population. Common sense says someone should have stepped in like an adult, like a person in authority, and taken him away. It is only common sense that if a person like Cho leaves a self-aggrandizing, self-celebrating, self-pitying video diary of himself to be played by the mass media, the mass media should not play it and not publicize it, not make it famous. Common sense says that won't help.

...I wondered about the emptiness of the phrases used by the media and by political figures, and how pro forma and lifeless and cold they are. The formalized language of loss hasn't kept up with the number of tragedies. "A nation mourns." "Our prayers are with you." The latter is both self-complimenting and of dubious believability. Did you really pray? Or is it just a phrase?

And this as opposed to the honest things normal people say: "Oh no." "I am so sorry." "I'm sad." "It's horrible."

With all the therapy in our great therapized nation, with all our devotion to emotions and feelings, one senses we are becoming a colder culture, and a colder country. We purport to be compassionate--we must respect Mr. Cho's privacy rights and personal autonomy--but of course it is cold not to have protected others from him. It is cold not to have protected him from himself.
Now, as to the media... I think Don Surber actually makes a very good case for why people are outraged at the media in general...
NBC should not have shown it. This video was a peep show, not news. There was nothing to be gained in showing it.

There was much lost. Dignity, for example.

And airing the video now gives some other cretin an incentive to kill a bunch of people so he can get on TV. Maybe You Tube can give these creeps an outlet.

People do not like the news media for all the right reasons.

We keep failing to say “please” and “thank you” and of course, “I’m sorry,” even when we are not the ones who made the mistake.

As a member of the mainstream media, please, accept my apology for the airing of this video. I’m sorry. Thank you.

You’re the customer, I’m the store.
In a nutshell, that's why the mainstream media outlets are struggling. Newspapers and television networks can't dictate to their customers anymore, because customers can seek out the news on their own. Thier business has shifted, and they can't keep up.

I think I've watched the network news on television about five times in the last three years. I've purchased newspapers for the sports sections when I'm flying or on a train, but I doubt you'll see me subscribe to one anytime soon.

Lest you think this is a continuation of past behavior, I grew up watching the network news every night, and used to read the Philly Inquirer and the Wall Street Journal every day as a kid. The Journal still gets read every day on-line, as does the Philly sports section... but even the latter is becoming a thing of the past, since there's often better sports coverage available on sports blogs.

The mainsteam media still thinks it excels at covering big events, but I'd disagree even with that point. They can bring a lot of resources to the table, but the coverage usually misses the point. For example, the coverage from Blacksburg featured tons of reporters descending on a small, grief-stricken college town, and accomplishing nothing but irritating the local residents and the students. I learned almost nothing from the reporters in Blacksburg after the first forty-eight hours, yet the local news networks here in DC still have reporters in Blacksburg as of today. Jonah Goldberg summarized this well...
To be sure, it’s difficult to see the line between enough and too much when journalists go wild, “flooding the zone,” competing with each other like starving dogs for the slightest new morsel of information they can then put on a permanent loop on cable TV, until the next fragmentary detail is pried loose by a reporter desperate to be first, for 15 minutes.

Because there isn’t enough new information to fill the infinite void allotted to these stories, the press quickly succumbs to a kind of emotional vampirism, feeding off the grief, fear, and anguish of victims clearly incapable of understanding their own feelings or of finding meaning in events that defy either understanding or meaning.

Just as with the Columbine massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing and countless other slaughters whose names tug at our memories - as well as our guilty consciences because we cannot quite recall the details of those “unforgettable” events - we can be sure the media will continue to milk their role as remorse voluptuaries for as long as conceivably possible.

You see, Americans don’t watch news that much anymore, preferring Oprah, The View, Grey’s Anatomy, and other soap operas fictional or otherwise. So long after the shelf life of the facts has expired and the news is no longer new, the networks will try to keep their swollen ratings by making their “extended coverage” as engorged with mawkish sentimentality as possible before giving way entirely to recriminations, self-congratulation and navel-gazing about how they handled this latest challenge.
It probably says a lot about America that we would rather watch CSI: Miami than the evening news. But right now, David Caruso has more credibility than Brian Williams -- at least Caruso appears to know he's just a bad actor.


Blogger Vixen said...

At least Caruso appears to know he's just a bad actor.

I'm NOT sure HE knows that (or admitts that to himself - but WE do...

12:07 PM  

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