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Published:May 21st, 2006 04:48 EST

Redneck Drops Infant/That Whole Middle East Thingy

By Justin Brandt

I was going to write an article about a subject that was analysis on something meaningless and asinine and entertaining, (an article I will eventually write, just not today) but I was forced to change my tactics after remembering the headlines on my computer from the night before.

Basically, I can no longer afford not to address the sheer imbalance of intelligence between the news stories headlines on MyYahoo, or whatever I am reading at the time, listed under ‘World News’ versus ‘Most Read News’. One of which usually has a strong focus on political and natural disasters or amazing discoveries, the other; a generally scatterbrained unholy column of celebrity dysfunction, consumer non-necessity price changes, and ‘Cute Blonde Still Missing after Police Scour Sleazy Night Spot’. Somehow I was misguided into thinking that the most read stories would also be the most important ones…                                   

The big space before this sentence is to give my readers time to finish laughing at me before I start saying anything else.

            You’re welcome.

It is bad enough that in order for an American to get any story straight, they have to read articles about it by multiple sources and use their own fried out angry brains to sort the facts from the various ‘spins’ and ‘edges’ and other metaphorical PR jargon that is short for “What I want you to think”. Now, on top of all that, we have damaged our senses further by not even reading news stories to begin with, in favor of yellow print (or 72 pixels per inch) versions of tabloid droolings.

‘Britney Spears Stumbles, Almost Drops Baby’. Not newsworthy. People stumble. People fall. Rednecks drop their babies. It happens. The fact that Britney Spears is a redneck blonde who once made mind numbing albums, and 3 minute soft-core fantasy porn clips, does not change the fact that this is NOT NEWS. Actually, I tend to think that it EMPHASIZES the fact that it is NOT NEWS.

In its defense, this internet news story popularity contest that tells me who is in the lead minute to minute, has managed to educate me on at least one other issue: the nightly news ratings war. I am finally privy to the information that gets studied by news station market researchers (doesn’t that sound like a job that really should not exist? Maybe they give it a more PC sounding job title) Essentially they have peered into the hearts and souls of Americans, and discovered that running a daily soap opera about one blonde missing girl will get ratings that would outweigh the usefulness of instead, filling that same time slot with pictures of the ugly men who are wanted in relation to the ignored other thousands of missing girls in this country. Naturally, making the audience think is a definite no. Bored viewers may change the channel if they think you expect them to memorize someone’s bushy eyebrows and double chin. The same viewers who you could keep glued to the screen with a simple ploy like “Tune in tomorrow for more riveting details in the next exciting episode of CUTE CO-EDS: M.I.A.!”

I am starting see a pattern where maybe it is just me. Maybe it is my fault for not being as hypnotized by vacant looking blondes as the rest of the country. But somehow I still entertain hopes that if they start reporting every minor slip-up Halle Berry makes, and the next nightly news serial drama is about a clever looking redhead, I will still think it is a waste of my time.

Of course boring stories get buried. It is human nature to delete the mundane. Deciding what is mundane and what is important is where we seem to be flawed, but we are flawed further by advertisers’ ability to bury stories based on political or social agendas. There has to be freedom of speech under the government, but not necessarily under the owner of the network. And if the government is very friendly with the owner of the network, America is constitutionally fucked. Listen to the radio long enough and this is clear as glass.

Talk radio DJs will talk to any moron or nutcase as long as they can drag it out to fill time with something laughable, even humor the poor imbecile, however, as soon as a guest or caller turns out to be a bit far-gone conspiracy theorist who wants to talk about government lies, he or she is immediately called a lunatic and hung up on. No humoring, no jokes, no elaborate insults, intentionally no time for their views to be spoken, no matter how ludicrous and laughable or even rarely insightful. The bottom line is not to piss off the producer who does not want certain views expressed, no matter how moronic the person expressing them is made to seem.

Radio announcers are given a long list of issues they are not allowed to express their personal opinion on. No disclaimer about how the opinions of the announcer do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the station in general, just simply they are not allowed to voice certain thoughts.

Television works in similar ways. The news ticker that has permanently adorned the bottom of every news screen since no later than 10 a.m. on September Eleventh, 2001, has been the tool of choice in fact burying on every news screen since no later than 12 noon on September Eleventh 2001. It seems now that if there is an important story that a producer is uncomfortable with, but is too large to be buried completely; if a vague statement about it is run on the ticker once during the news hour, they can get away without making an actual report on it. The difference between what is on the ticker versus what the newscasters are actually bantering about solemnly has lately become as big as the difference mentioned above about the ‘World News’ versus ‘Most Read’, in much the same way.

During a 90 second piece on a graveyard keeper who removed American flags that he felt were becoming worn from headstones, without permission of the families who put them there; the ticker will brush over the latest incriminating documents about the president, a newly discovered planet, and the death toll in Africa. Try to remember not to blink during the next segment about over-priced lawn furniture; you might miss a story on North Korea testing nukes in Pacific islands. This tactic is also a good deal of the reason the average American does not fully see the relevance of the security footage from outside the pentagon on 9/11 being finally released to the public. Or why it’s discomforting that the footage only shows a blur, but was still kept under wraps for five years.

In Orwell’s 1984, a person could have a career in backtracking through the news and correcting any mistakes so that if anyone wanted to check the archives, the government had always been right, even about the weather. I doubt the USA government has ever gone that far; I’m not quite that paranoid, but frankly, if a president ever tried, the first thing he would learn is that most of the time he would not need to. National ADHD is hard at work. No one remembers the mistakes or confusion reported on the news once a crisis is over. In fact everyone seems to only remember the final result and completely forgets that there was ever a period of not knowing exactly what was going on. This became most evident to me when talking to people post 9/11 about how they were feeling at the time. Almost no one ever mentions being afraid the attack was not over. No one remembers that there was a period of hours when the news was reporting various numbers of other planes that had not landed yet, or were not contacting headquarters. Few people remember not knowing it was the work of Osama Bin Laden (which is reasonable considering it only took the news about fifteen minutes to start speculating whether it was Bin Laden or not every 180 seconds without mentioning guesses at who else it might possibly be, which I personally found creepy and suspicious on more than one level)

Americans cannot even remember the last stupid news drama they were following before the latest one came out.

            “Remember the Run Away Bride?”

“Oh yeah, I hadn’t thought about that in a while, wait, was that before or after Terry Schiavo or whatever her name was? And I forget, was West Nile and SARS the same thing or what?”

It is hard to think about the tapes that proved President Bush was warned about the level of disaster that Hurricane Katrina was going to be, when Iran is starting to act so much like Nazi Regime Germany circa 1939. That is somewhat reasonable, but I would appreciate it if we could learn to multitask with our worries and outrages just a little bit.

The way sensationalistic news invariably puts a specific spin on absolutely every story can be one of the most destructive factors of all. It is not quite to say that every news story is laced with someone’s political agenda, but plenty of them are, and the rest are given a specific theme to make them more interesting, which eventually becomes a spin. Working in film and screenwriting I get to see exactly where this comes from. To make a good story in film, you need to find a plot, a theme, an angle, and a character arch, and all of these things must stay consistent for the story to work. Now that the news has become prime time drama, the same principles are applied to all the real life stories long before they are even reported.

When this is done to a story in progress, while the facts are still being learned (which accounts for 90 percent of situations including ones that center on a specific short incident; the full set of facts on any story rarely are publicized until long after it is forgotten) this setting up a plot and theme only damages the integrity of the reporting. The media comes up with facts and theories and a theme behind what is going on, and becomes self-obligated to keep the theme and plot even as the known facts change and are revealed to be very different than the first glance. 10 points to anyone who can remember the last time they saw a retraction on television.

The ratings battle fuels this misinformation yet further by insisting that the stations continually make sure to run the same stories as each other in order to keep up. For those ill informed of the news audience, you may be surprised to learn that on any news set there are multiple people whose entire living and purpose is to monitor what is being shown and said on the competing networks and make sure that the same story and footage is shown on their own channel. It becomes an endless cycle of ignorance; every channel inherits the same useless story, the same half-developed facts, and the same horribly inaccurate spin. And when Americans see the same idea being presented on all the channels, the misinformation becomes solidified. Most news channels are dangerously close to causing a complete media catch-22.

One of the most frightening examples of this phenomenon is the much misunderstood situation revolving around the Columbine High School shooting back in 1998. Within 32 hours the entire nation knew the plot and theme of the story was angry gothic atheists threatening violence to the good righteous Christian Americans en-mass. Within 32 hours the entire nation was dead wrong about everything. This was the new face of Christian martyrdom and propaganda for a god-fearing nation for the next three years running strong.

All this happened because the news stations rushed to get the developing story out first, at the expense of getting the story out accurately. Student rumors and vague information floating around the scene was reported as fact, and then re-run on every other station to keep up. Based on the tiny pieces of information that were gathered from barely reliable sources, someone came up with a plotline, a theme, and an angle, and though it was the absolute wrong story, it became solidified as the gospel truth to all of America.

This may seem trivial to some readers who feel it is not important why the shooting occurred so much as the fact that we heard about it, but these people do not fully comprehend how such minor misinformation can turn an otherwise democratic country completely on its ear. The fundamentalist Christian propaganda was phenomenal from that point on. Everyone wanted to point the finger, and everyone wanted to know who to watch out for, and the unfortunate, inaccurate spin made it very clear who to point the finger at.

Within a week, a country that was built upon the ideals of freedom of religious expression decided unanimously that unofficially, the national religion was Christianity, and the national uniform was light colored clothing, and any non-believer was a dangerous snake in the grass. Fingers were pointed at any individual or group that questioned this national religion or was deemed an enemy by fundamentalists like Pat Robertson, and the news did nothing but fuel the fire.

The boys were not atheist mercenaries, they hated music by Marilyn Manson, only one of the two was unpopular, and he was not the mastermind, and the parents were neglectful and aware of their sons’ violent nature without any care, despite never being publicly blamed for the state of the boys’ mental conditions.

No retractions were issued. False sob stories that made for heart wrenching news bits about a girl who was killed because she said she believed in god were flooding the airwaves without question. Her parents even wrote a book about her entitled “I Believe in God”, and it was important to absolutely no one that in reality, that girl was never asked that question, and the girl who had been asked, lived to see another day. Still no retractions. Three years and still no retractions.

When the true facts of the incident were finally revealed to the public, the damage had already been done, and the vast majority of the population was permanently set in their prejudices (setting them up easily to have the same reaction to Muslims on a larger scale after the attacks on the Trade Center) and of course, without fail, the detailed story was buried. Freedom of religion has been permanently scarred in this country because of the mishandling of facts by the media on nearly every occasion of terrorist violence. Unreported are the stories of transit workers who had to prove that they were Christians after 9/11 in order not to be detained for undetermined periods of time, and therefore, unheard are the stories of the same transit workers who were not Christian, and were or still are detained simply on that suspicion. Unfortunately I cannot report names on this subject due to respect for the safety of the source (who was of course the victim).

Essentially my concern is for the mental well-being of the people that surround me, and when the people that surround me are ill-informed and ignorant and afraid, or worse yet, complacent; things are going to be very messy. I hate to watch a nation destroy its stability and values by ignoring facts in favor of sensationalized eustress entertainment. News should be news, not entertainment, and not an opinion. (I should add that this is an opinion article and not a news article since these days the line is so blurry) Americans need to understand that freedom of speech and religion were given to us as a group by our founding fathers, but not so that we had to be free to say and believe everything as a group. America was built on individual thought and the questioning of authority. Believing every word that comes out of a paid newscaster is truly un-American activity, and blindly following any leader or even the country itself down whatever path without questions, input, criticisms, and suggestions, is not living the American dream. Wake up and smell the sensationalist bullshit.