01 April 2008

The Media, Inside Out

Well, it's been nearly a month since I last posted. I suppose my mind has been busy for more productive purposes.

Today, I shall focus on that brilliant entity that we all love, the media. The lovely Chelsea Clinton was at Butler University (my home) last week campaigning for her mother. Many are likely familiar with the incident that proceeded, the asking of the question about Monica Lewinsky. Likely because of a slow news day, this question and analysis of the question was everywhere.

I think that we students here have had an interesting opportunity to take a fine look at the media now. We have seen a simple little question blown into a huge national topic of discussion. We were also witness to all sorts of reaction to and reporting of this issue.

I think previous blogs here have shown my distrust and utter contempt for the media. Perhaps I'll reiterate anyway: far from informing us, I think the media does more to lull us into an ignorant acquiescence, where we are at the whims of emotion and sensationalism. And sensationalism, my friends, is exactly what we had here in the few days following the Chelsea question. I will not attempt to either refute or justify the question, it was asked and that's all we can really say about it. But suddenly the student who asked the question was being interviewed all over and CNN had the best political team on television picking over these words and Chelsea's words. For what? Because we need something to clamber over, something to divide, something to provoke empty rage and sympathy.

I also have another excellent perspective. I am a member of Butler's student newspaper, the Collegian. In one small report, the Associated Press reported that the student who asked the question was an editor for the Collegian. This is untrue, and I believe the confusion arose because one of our editors appeared next to the offending student on an interview. Nevertheless, we suddenly became the student's secretaries and we received hundreds of calls and emails from all the major new organizations as well as from citizens all around the country. Some were local Hoosiers who scolded us and said that they would never send their children to such a university. Others were full of praise for the student's bravery to ask the tough question.

What we see here is threefold. First, we see how an innocent mistakes occur can cause far-reaching consequences. I might also mention that our university was named incorrectly in numerous reports of Butler College, Butler in Pennsylvania and also Ball State University. Second we see the unruly reactions that we the people have been conditioned to have. How could this one student's moment of clarity (or lack thereof) in any way reflect on the education, environment and credibility of this institution? Were this the case, we must realize and take responsibility for the actions of our dear President. We didn't elect him you say? Well, we certainly did not choose the offending student to speak for our university. I am not contenting that we shouldn't have opinions and reactions to the things we see in the media, but we must consider the source of the material and why it has come to the media's attention in the first place before we attribute great value to our reactions. Finally, I combine these two insights and learn to further question the media in every way. We have seen how details become mixed up and changed, however minute they may be. After Chelsea left campus, life went on as normal, we certainly took note of the question, but we never expected to find it on national websites within hours.

Sensationalism. From a string of 20 words grows an unruly bush of misinformation, bad reporting, over-analysis and overreaction. In this world with the web, sensationalism breeds a careless sense of urgency, where it seems that fact checking is being passed up. I've gained new perspective on how realities are created within hours, realities that often vary drastically from creator to creator, person to person, news station to news station.

Think it out for yourselves. Realize that 90 percent of what you see on TV and read on any news source is bullshit, produced with corporate, political, personal and cultural agendas. Realize that very little of what is presented as fact, can be considered any sort of objective piece of information. For instance, from all the reports on the Chelsea question, I can assertain two things. One, that the question was asked. Two that Chelsea said what was quoted. That's about all the trust I put into this sort of thing. Any conclusions I come to are my own, perhaps to be shared, but not necessarily and certainly not to fill space on a dull day on the plant earth.

Perhaps most importantly, I beg that before we become emotionally charged over travesties, breeches of decency, tales of woe and of evil, that we consider the impact of our reactions, the far reaching impacts that your comments may have on a small collegiate newspaper bearing the brunt of a nation's outrage. These are consequences I have never considered before. Share the enlightenment.

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