The media is not the message

Now that most of us - non-essential workers - have some extra quiet time, maybe it would be useful to consider the way we crave the nourishment of good information while we spit out chunks of real truth as if it were poison. What do you want the messengers to tell you? All is well? Well it isn’t of course. And you know that. And bad news is still bad. And it can make you feel bad too. And Shakespeare was right when he wrote: “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.” But blissful ignorance is merely a defense mechanism that must be worn by those who feel they have no other protection. It’s easy. It’s right at hand. And it works, up to a point. But is it really safe to believe that “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”? Nope. What you don’t know can kill you. If you’re not convinced, close your eyes while you cross a busy highway. And then imagine that the drivers honking their horns are the messengers. Or call them the media. Information is the best protection. But just like most of the rest of human activity, we have made a mess of it for ourselves. Dividing into camps, deciding what to believe, deriding these who disagree. This is a self-inflicted wound. And its source is our own failure to take personal responsibility - for anything but our positive accomplishments. And our stubborn refusal to work through the data stream to sort and cull what comes at us unless it matches our preconceived notions. We are the failure. We are obliged to discover and discern the truth somewhere in the avalanche of sound bites, video clips, talking heads, giant headlines, and an endless array of charts and graphics vying to push a message through. Hard work. Too hard for you? Too bad. The truth remains whether you like it or not. It does not require your belief or endorsement. If the “left-wing lame-stream US media” are actually at fault, would thousands of people around the world still be dead? Would the world markets still be down 25%? Would seven million workers still be idle? Do you think The New York Times made this up to unseat Donald Trump? If you do, please stop reading here because I am finished talking to you. A fair analysis of the paralysis caused by information overload suggests that the requirement for the proliferate cable news outlets to provide it on a “round-the-clock” schedule demands that their talking heads keep talking whether or not they have anything useful to say. Their job requires them to keep at it. They are not allowed to shut up. But you can simply switch them off. Go ahead. Right now. Do it. Bask in the sweet, soft quiet. And then of course there is the internet. Even Ted Turner did not see this coming. It might be fair to say that formal news organizations like CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and others are at least simulating journalism in a broad form. But you mustn’t give them too much more credit than your old high school pals or distant cousins who are now able to hold forth in the same manner on your so-called news feed. What you must believe is that real reporters actually bear witness to the events they report on. Dan Rather went to Vietnam. Woodward and Bernstein met with Deep Throat. Barry Friedman lives in Lakeland and goes to City Commission meetings. In its raw form reporting asks who? what? where? when? why? And delivers the answers in plain language. But, as the competition for our attention intensified among the media, so did the notion of puffing up the presentation. Make it more readable. More attractive. More sinister? Uh oh. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the unnerving catch phrase bouncing through newsrooms of all kinds to inform the organization of what pays the bills. And now we are paying. And here I will separate the various media forms to stake out two propositions: Cable news isn’t news. It’s just video surveillance of our actions and reactions. Newspapers are being lost and destroyed by clinging to the “paper” rather than the news. There is a wide variety of business models that can provide the resources and returns required to keep a community well enough informed to make the best choices for its own success. If I could convince you that I knew tomorrow’s lottery numbers today, you would let me carve then into your torso with a dull knife. The message is the message. Whether you like it or not. If you kill the messenger you will be mired in blissful ignorance until truth comes knocking and knocks you over. Can you handle the truth?

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