In all of my years as a journalist, few words have seemed as annoying as "the media."
Maybe it was because I grew up in the age of Marshall McLuhan, or maybe it was that I overdosed in college courses offered by the communications department that seemed to revolve around the chicken-egg question of whether the media reflected society or society reflected the media.
Only later did society seem to pick up McLuhan's message and begin -- with a little help from Spiro Agnew -- attacking "the media."
What irked me then, and still gets my hackles up, is use of the term that's as broadere than Times Square, and which has only become more so since McLuhan went off to that jumbotron in the sky.
Just who are we blaming when we assail the media? And what exactly are we blaming this favorite mislabled whipping child for? As McLuhan offered, the medium is the message, and if we're shooting the messenger, where exactly do we place ourselves in the picture?
Long before newspapers, my love was with cinema. For some reason, I was dragged as a child to see Fellini, Bergman and Truffaut and came under the spell of the moving image years before I could describe what I was seeing. I also got a much-too-heavy dose of television in its early days -- my early days -- and was as captivated by vinyl recordings and nonstop radio of the musical and talk variety as anyone in my g- g- g- generation. And let's not forget books and photographs.
All of those count as media. As did magazines, from Life and Look to Time and Newsweek and National Geographic, all of which poured into our home and seemed to be everywhere.
Just complaining about the evils of TV alone back then could have alluded to everything from David Suskind, the Bell Telephone Hour and Playhouse 90 to The Untouchables or The Beverly Hillbillies The gamut, of course has widened exponentially, as the number of channels and offerings have become seemingly endless with virtually no additional quality.And then, as if the galaxies opened up entirely, came the computer age, exploding the universe entirely with the Internet and realm of social media.
In all of this proliferation of media, newspapers -- the single daily chronicle that can provide in-depth reporting and analysis in a form that you can hold in your hand and then go back to, to read and re-read
-- has been all but threatened with extinction. (And, of course, we can try subdividing "the media" across other lines, to include news media, entertainment media and advertising media, or broadcast versus print versus online media, but then there are the blurring perversions like infotainment and advertising disguised as entertainment. Viewer discretion advised. )
We're left with those who cast aspersions on "the media," and I've longed to try to imagine Terry Gross or The New York Times with "Animal House," "Infowars," Tucker Carlson or Dan Bongino and the right-wing Parler platform.How can anyone lump Heather Cox Richardson's blog with Sean Hannity?
The truth is, discerning the truth has grown much more difficult in The Information Age, when everyone including this writer has access to creating the last word with websites and podcasts, blogs and mini-documentaries. It's all "the media."
And so, it's grown harder than ever to ferret out propagandists from journalists, news from opinions, reality from infomercials, documentaries from mockumentaries, true biographies from biopics. We need to distinguish true journalists from bloggers and pundits.
Yet it’s the propagandists, who dress as legitimate journalists, who deserve our absolute condemnation. There are those who essentially promote outrageous lies knowing full well they're doing so, simply for money … and those who actually believe their own lies, who should be forced to shovel and eat the dirt they spew continuously in their hellish echo chamber that directly threatens what remains of democracy.
I pity anyone growing up in this environment trying to discern the truth in a curriculum controlled by states so intent on stifling teaching that history as a critical inquiry into what constitutes our actual history.
Those who simply believe in condemnation of "the media" without understanding which medium is being assaulted, and why, and who controls it, and what's actually motivating them, is swallowing a tub of hogwash.
And with each swallow, we're that much more mired in our collective confounding quicksand as we choke on trying to discern truth.
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Posted: to Poor Richie's Almanac on Fri, Feb 25, 2022
Updated: Mon, Mar 7, 2022