Media enterprises are in the business of selling access to various forms of information. For example, propriety news stories manufactured in the company’s own sausage factory or licensed (or swiped) from other providers.
And, of course, media enterprises traditionally sell other companies access to their readers in the form of advertising.
Finally, thanks to exponential advances in data capture and management, today’s media companies have substantially boosted revenues by selling a granular level of detail about the personal habits and preferences of their online users.
As for-profit enterprises, it is absolutely normal for management to study their markets and competition, to develop unique selling propositions, and to otherwise look for opportunities to increase their client base and, ultimately, shareholder value.
So far, so good.
Problems arise, however, thanks to the human psyche. Specifically, we humans greatly enjoy stories that break the pattern of everyday existence. Media executives understand this viscerally.
Off the top of my head, I would point to the following examples of the stories we find most captivating:
Chaos/Disaster. Nothing gets our attention faster than the sound of a good crash. Throw in the noise of bending steel and maybe a scream or two for dramatic effect, and there is no human on Earth who will not immediately focus on the source of the commotion. Media companies know this all too well.
Impending Doom. A topic recently covered in this blog. The scarier the prediction, the more we’ll pay attention. Given doom is rarely imminent, impending-doom stories tend to have long legs. The global cooling/warming/change story has been a media staple for a solid 30 years now. In the last couple of weeks, a new story about the universe dying made front pages everywhere, an event that expected to happen trillions of years from now.
Evil. I can still vividly remember reading the account of Richard Speck’s heinous 1966 murders of eight student nurses in Chicago. For me, this was the end of innocence. For the media of the time, it was miles of ink.
Schadenfreude. There are extensive psychological studies delving into the psychology behind our love of seeing the mighty fall. It apparently makes some of us feel better about ourselves. Ergo the truly trivial matters that sent both Leona Helmsley and Martha Stewart to jail for longer than some hardened criminals. At every twist and turn, the media were there, cheering for a “guilty” verdict.
Folly. Ideally involving some rich fool who makes some truly dumbass move that brings him down. Mel Gibson’s doubly disastrous decision to (a) drive himself home while drunk, followed by (b) his racist rant might qualify.
Mystery. Who dunnit and where is he/she? The search for missing British explorer Dr. Livingstone by reporter Henry Stanley in 1871 resonates to this day. As an appropriate aside, you may be surprised to learn that Livingstone wasn’t lost, nor did he desire to be found. Instead, the “search” for Livingstone was dreamed up by the eccentric owner of the New York Herald as a marketing stunt.
Celebrity. Especially when, like O.J. Simpson, they do something totally unexpected… or, like Princess Diana, they shed their mortal coil ahead of schedule. In reality, boobus publica have a nearly insatiable appetite for any celebrity news. For proof, google the word “Kardashian,” which is apparently a family of celebrities, though I will confess to not having the slightest idea the source of their celebrity.
Social Tensions. While this can overlap with other categories just mentioned, few stories capture the attention of the human ape faster than a story about civil unrest and social tensions. “Could it happen here?” we are encouraged by the media to ask, and to worry about.
While I am sure I have missed some popular themes, I think we’ve covered the big territory.
So, back to the problem, or perhaps “reality” is a better word choice: media companies—laboring on behalf of shareholders—focus their energy almost entirely on stories that fall into one of the categories listed just above.
That they do so is entirely logical, because the more sensational the story, the larger the audience and the greater the potential revenues.
Given how important it is to the careers of reporters and media company managers to consistently capture the attention of a large audience, manufacturing news out of whole cloth is never out of the question.
Returning to the enterprising New York Herald, it once shook New Yorkers to their bones with its front-page story about the escape of wild animals from the Central Park Zoo.
According to the article, the escape resulted in dozens of deaths from being gored by rhinos, attacked by jaguars in church pews, etc. The article virtually shut the city down, leaving the cement canyons all but empty save for a handful of intrepid hunters armed to the teeth and hoping to bag big game.
The story, as you already suspect, was a total hoax. (You can read more about it here). However, rather than seeing itself discredited, the publication attracted droves of new subscribers and became one of the largest and most influential newspapers of its era… proving that we humans enjoy the sensational, even when it’s fiction.
The natural outcome of this simple fact is that the media puts great effort into giving the quacking ducks what they most crave—and give it to them good and hard.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that truly original stories of the sort that can capture widespread attention are relatively rare.
Thus, when a competitor strikes eyeball gold, the media enter what is often termed a frenzy in which each news outlet tries to outdo the others in milking the same story of every ounce of possible public sentiment.
The Dark Side
Because of the nature of their work, reporters and their managing editors see the world through warped filters that elevate the most sensational and degraded aspects of humanity to the forefront of their personal realities.
On top of that entirely understandable phenomenon—you are what you eat and all that—it’s an established fact that people attracted to careers in media statistically fall on the liberal side of the Great Political Divide. One credible study found that over 80% of journalists consistently voted for liberal candidates.
Stepping back, we can make a couple of observations.
The mainstream media are basically a waste of time. Knowing that the media are absolutely, positively, always going to look for stories that are sensational (or failing that, can be sensationalized), one has to wonder, what exactly we are hoping to get from our news media?
In most cases, especially when talking about mainstream media, the answers would have little to do with education, self-improvement, knowledge-building, and so forth. Insead, we might use words and phrases like: entertainment, titilation, or maybe just “killing time.”
My candidate for the most inane story in recent weeks appeared on Bloomberg. It had to do with the killing of Cecil the lion, a manufactured story if there ever was one.
Here’s the story, but you really don’t need to read past the headline: “Cecil the Lion’s Brother Comes to Terms with Loss to Become King.” Normally, I’d be tempted to make a snarky comment at this point, but instead I’d like to use the space to suggest someone at Bloomberg be fired the old-fashioned way by being kicked to the curb.
Regardless, why the hell would anyone bother reading anything about Cecil the lion’s demise? In what way, shape, or form would his death have any impact on anyone’s life? If there were any story there, in my view it would be that the hunter in question actually stalks lions armed only with a bow and arrow.
2 . The media are an active threat. Because of the well-documented fact that “news” influences the attitudes of readers, the risk from the Media Rats is acute. Some examples:
The media are an active threat to champions of small government. For the libertarians and conservatives among you, the toxic brew of sensationalism and liberalism can only result in one outcome: sensationalist stories that, where possible, denigrate advocates of small government, self-reliance, markets free of government interference, rational tax policies, and so forth.
This stirs the pot for class conflict and for the government to adopt ruinous “progressive” fiscal policies… policies that are then supported by the brainwashed public.
A classic example was provided when professional golfer Phil Mickelson, by all accounts a man of great charity and compassion, stated publicly that he was contemplating moving out of California because of its punitive state tax policies.
Rather than using journalistic methodology to examine the economic consequences of bone-headed tax policies, or the reason why California’s taxes are so high, the Media Rats sank their yellow fangs into Mickelson’s character and kept at it until he apologized and, disgraced, shuffled out of public view.
The media push for political outcomes in line with their agenda. Likewise, the media are an active threat to economic prosperity—with all the knock-on consequences thereof—by being ever ready to promote a socialist agenda and the candidates who support that agenda.
No doubt you read the recent story about the FBI grabbing Hillary Clinton’s private email server—you know, the one she used exclusively and illegally while being secretary of state—but if you did, you didn’t read it in many of the larger mainstream news outlets.
If they covered it at all, they buried it in the small print. And most incorrectly presented the story as if the Clintonistas had turned over the server of their own accord. They didn’t. Here’s a story on that story.
Meanwhile, every misstep by any of the Republican candidates—especially Trump—is amplified at the loudest possible volume.
Of course, in the interest of fairness, one must point out that this particular door swings two ways. Fox News, for example, is always happy to smear Hillary’s face in the muck. That said, Fox News is pretty much alone as a conservative media operation, meaning it is utterly outnumbered when it comes to swaying public opinion.
The media encourage social discord and even violence. An adage in the media business goes “If it bleeds, it leads.” Well, the media are never timid about encouraging the blood-letting. Quite the opposite, they are always ready, willing, and capable of painting a narrative that sets people against people, perhaps even violently.
Of these narratives, none are currently more popular in the press than the idea of “white privilege” and its kissing cousin “white people are evil.” This should be of no real surprise, because glancing at the earlier list of popular themes, this one represents a potential trifecta, consisting of # 1 (Chaos), #4 (Schadenfreude) and #9 (Social Tensions).
This theme has grown so popular in the media that it is now accepted as a given that white people are evil oppressors of black people. And furthermore, that they are an active physical threat to that long-suffering minority.
Yet, the data make it abundantly clear that’s just not true. Here’s one story dissecting the latest Department of Justice data showing that the vast majority of violent crime on black people— as well as white people—is committed by other black people. Fully 90% of black murder victims are killed by other blacks, and they murder each other at such a prodigious rate that murder is the leading cause of death for black men between the age of 15 and 34.
In fact, not only is the meme not true, it’s the opposite of true. Even though only about 13% of the US population is black, they commit 50% of all murders.
And the latest FBI data shows that 42% of police killed in the course of duty were killed by black people. This is not to apologize for police officers who are far too willing to start shooting, but it may help somewhat to explain it.
Even so, at this point any death of a black person at the hands of a white person is instantly front-page news, with the media narrative invariably portraying the dead young man as an innocent, even though the documentary proof may point to a less flattering characterization.
On the flip side of the same coin, we find the media downplaying black-on-black violence, even when it is egregious in the extreme.
Take the recent case of David R. Conley, for example. Of course, you know who he is, right? What, you don’t? How can that be when, like Richard Speck, he killed eight people? And he did it just last week. Worse, five of the eight were children who, like the adults, had their hands handcuffed behind their backs before being dispatched by Conley.
Sticking with this point, and the consequences, we find the black community has now been given pretty much a free pass from the media.
One of the most startling examples in this regard was a recent speech by Louis Farrakhan, videotaped for posterity, in which he called for 1,000 of his followers to become suicide killers and to kill white policemen.
But Farrakhan and pretty much all of the “popular” black leaders are, truth be told, stereotypical charlatans, kooks, and opportunists. Their cavortings are but fodder to be used by the Media Rats in their steady drumming about racial oppression.
This will have consequences. Take a look at this video of the heavily armed New Black Panther Party laying siege to the jail where Sandra Bland killed herself.
While it certainly appears that Sandra Bland shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place, at this point the media’s storyline that any black person’s death involving white police must be murder ensures these sorts of confrontations will only continue and, in all likelihood, turn explosive.
First, let me make it clear that I have zero problem with people of any race. That may be because I grew up in the melting pot of Hawaii, or because over the years I have enjoyed warm friendships with people from all races. Over the course of many trips to Africa, I became friends with Masai, Zulus, and Ashantis (among others), tribes that culturally prize dignity and pride.
What I do have problems with are the “killa culture” of so many within the US black population, a culture that openly advocates violence, hard drugs, rape, ignorance, and even murder. As with so many aspects of US culture, the world is quick to emulate, resulting in what can only be considered a dangerous dumbing down of youth the world over.
There is a movie now in US theaters called Straight Outta Compton, a biopic about Niggaz Wit Attitudes, a rap group that helped set the cultural cement around the killa culture with lyrics urging the murder of policemen and even Korean shopkeepers.
You can read a fawning review of the film by none other than National Public Radio, which calls it “epic.”
Pushing toward a conclusion of today’s musings, it is worth mentioning that every action has a consequence. Sometimes these consequences are immediate, and sometimes they are delayed.
In the case of the steady sensationalizing and social steering of the Media Rats, the consequences seem obvious.
Certain segments of the black population will find themselves of a mind to heed the calls of Farrakhan and the rappers for violence. And the white people who live in areas dominated by black people will grow ever more fearful and, in time, look to their personal safety.
The New Black Panthers are not the only heavily armed advocacy group… here’s a link to the recent story about the arrival of the Oathkeepers in Ferguson, Missouri. They see themselves as peacekeepers, an armed militia to fill in when the constabulary is no longer able to keep the peace.
Someday, the two groups—or two groups of similarly opposite views—will meet and someone will sneeze, with dire consequences.
Speaking of consequences, the now-default damning of police by the media in every instance where a black person ends up dead at the hands of an officer must wear on morale. In Baltimore, after being thrown under the bus by the media and the local government following the death of a man in custody who had a history of hurting himself in an attempt to sue the police, the police responded by curbing their enthusiasm about rushing into dangerous situations, resulting in an immediate spike in crime.
Another consequence is that people will wake up and start seeing the media for what they are, an entertainment industry that specializes in sick, sad, and sensationalist stories. The Media Rats are, when you think about it, pretty much on the same level as producers of snuff films.
Which brings me to a final comment on what we can each do about this sociopathic enterprise. Per the Constitution, that tattered rag, one must protect free speech, and so the media, destructive though they may be, should remain unhindered.
And, because we believe in the free market, far be it from me to propose limiting their output to stories with kinder, more uplifting stories. If the ducks want stories about tragedy, then as businesses, who are we to cripple the corporate aspirations of the media companies in providing those stories?
The answer, at least to my way of thinking, is to become a lot more selective in the media you consume. Take a minute, even now, to decide what you really want the “news” for, what specific areas of humanity most interest you, and focus your media consumption on those companies that provide what you want.
Put it this way: as adults, we rarely tune into children’s cartoon shows. Well, as a thinking adult, why would we possibly bother tuning into the mainstream media?
Finally, I would like to close on a note of some hope. It is a story about a news anchor for a regional TV station who had an “I am mad as hell and won’t take it anymore” moment when handed yet another story to read about a Kardashian. He refused and even walked off the set in the middle of a broadcast in protest.
A small hope, but hope nonetheless. Here’s the story.
And with that, I will bid you farewell. In the wee hours tomorrow, we are hitting the trail to Puerto Rico for a reunion with a bunch of folks from Cafayate. I have never been to Puerto Rico, so I am looking forward to the experience.
Until next time, may your personal trail be a happy one.
P.S. There is a place below to leave comments. As I know we have a lot of interesting people who read Sendero, why not drop in a comment and see if we can’t get a dialogue going?