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As Long as We Remember...

June 14, 2007

Coming Up Fast on the Rail...

Tony Soltero

Last Friday afternoon I stopped at a local health club after work, as is usually my routine. When I was getting ready to mount the elliptical, I noticed that the nearby TV was tuned into one of the cable news stations, spewing out the latest blow-by-blow on the all-important Paris Hilton saga.

So, I asked the lady on the neighboring machine if I could change the channel. And she quickly replied, "YES!!! PLEASE!!! MAKE IT STOP!!!!" I happily obliged.

I've had serious concerns about our media in recent years, but the "events" of this past weekend have finally confirmed the complete collapse and intellectual bankruptcy of the fourth estate. That the self-promoting antics of a spoiled, empty-headed drama queen with a sense of entitlement the size of the Himalayas would actually merit lead placement in heretofore "reputable" news outlets is one of the most powerful condemnations of the state of American "news" coverage there could be. Heck, I doubt a more scathing indictment of the media could even be invented.

After all, it's not like there are any other stories worth covering. It's not like Vladimir Putin is making moves to re-ignite the Cold War.

It's not like the war in Iraq rages on, with no resolution in sight, and our leaders completely oblivious to the reality on the ground as they mouth transparent spin and happy talk.

It's not like K Street lobbyists are in complete control of Congress, severely hampering our legislative branch's capability to affect any real reform in the public interest.

It's not like we're importing poisoned food from China.

It's not like our attorney general has been busy politicizing the Justice Department, and lying about it. Never mind that a high-level administration official just got convicted of obstruction of justice.

Oh, no; none of that stuff is important - what's the latest on Paris Hilton's ankle bracelet? Is it copper or stainless steel? And any new runaway brides turn up lately?

News anchors used to be actual professional, knowledgeable journalists like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Now they tend to be vapid toothpaste-commercial rejects with the IQ of packing foam, who think Shiites and Sunnis are exotic ferret breeds. It's gotten to the point where the average viewer watches the news at the risk of winding up less informed than he would have if he hadn't turned on his TV at all. If Katie Couric is a journalist, the Amazon is a desert.

And as offensive as our media's focus on asinine banalities like Paris Hilton can be, that's not even the worst of it. On those rare occasions in which cable networks cover real issues, it's usually done in the shallowest, most superficial way possible.

Who cares where John Edwards stands on NAFTA (and what's NAFTA anyway?) - check out his haircut!

So what if Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on just about every social issue over the last five years - isn't he just dreamy? And why should we report on Hillary Clinton's campaign contributors - she's so inevitable! Campaign coverage is all about who has the most money, and not about which candidate stands for what issue.

That's why I chuckle whenever our mainstream media outlets launch their periodic attacks on political blogs. The best coverage and in-depth discussion of actual issues is almost exclusively found online these days.

Every now and then a mainstream outlet will run a strong investigative piece, like the Washington Post did with Walter Reed a couple of months ago. But this is the exception in the mainstream media, while it's the rule in the blogosphere.

Make no mistake; the legacy media attacks blogs because it knows blogs are eating their lunch at journalism and analysis - the Scooter Libby trial, expertly covered by the Firedoglake blog, is the best example.

And blogs, which are characterized by multi-directional communication and free give-and-take, are far more amenable to accountability than the legacy media. Any political blogger who treated Paris Hilton as a subject worth worrying about would be ridiculed out of relevance.

So, in that vein, it's revealing to cite the results of a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive in seven western countries, including the United States. The poll, which examined the news-reading habits of over 8,000 people, shows a rapid increase in the number of news consumers who are turning away from TV (and to a lesser extent, newspapers) in favor of online news sources. And the pollsters predict that within five years, online sources will overtake TV as the primary fountain of information for most news readers.

That day can't arrive soon enough for those who don't live and die by whatever Paris Hilton is up to these days. And if the reaction of the lady at the health club is any indication, there are a lot of us who fit that description.

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