Shamu-1, American Apathy- 1069

March 1, 2010

In light of the nearly continuous media coverage of the tragedy last week at Sea World in which Dawn Brancheau was killed by an orca, one might almost be excused for assuming that accidental deaths at Sea World are an ongoing crisis.  If the breathless media coverage were taken as any indication- this situation with killer whales is one of the most pressing issues facing our country today.  It is however worth considering that in the space of the last week at least 1069 people died unnecessarily due to events and issues that are a direct result of the apathy of the American people.  8 US soldiers died in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Approximately 95 servicemen committed suicide.  As many as 27 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in a NATO air strike.  21 Iraqis died in a suicide bombing. 17 died in suicide bombings in Afghanistan.  And approximately 901 Americans died preventable deaths for lack of access to health care. 

How often to you hear an expression like, “…it seems like every day on TV you see [whatever].”  What do we see on television every day?  We see a parade of useless trivia, a circus sideshow of dysfunctional celebrities, advertisements for products masquerading as news stories and endless rounds of talking heads giving us the talking points for whatever economic and political point of view they represent.  We are being manipulated not informed.  We are distracted by spectacle, confused by contradictions and deceived by those who promote the interests of the wealthy and powerful people who run this country (and I don’t mean the jokers we cast votes for every couple of years).

The freedom of the press was enshrined in the Constitution to safeguard citizen’s access to information so that Americans could make the informed decisions necessary to the functioning of a free and democratic society. In the early days of the American republic, the postal costs for newspapers were almost completely subsidized by the Federal Government.  Thousands of small, medium and large newspapers across the country sought to inform the American people.  Today, it is profit that drives news coverage not purpose. 

 The bottom line dictates two primary objectives for news coverage: viewers (or readers) and costs.  Sex, violence, scandal, famous people, controversy- these subjects attract the interest of consumers.  Cost is the other factor that dictates coverage.  Investigative reporting or extensive research takes time and costs money.  Exposing frauds and conspiracies, covering complex issues requires investments that cut directly into the bottom line.  From a dollars and cents perspective, coverage of the aftermath of the death of Michael Jackson is far more profitable than extensive reportage of events in Iraq or Afghanistan. 

Whenever possible, coverage of news stories requires little more than lining up a few talking heads or even “experts” who are happy to pontificate on television for little more than a 60 second opportunity for some shameless self-promotion.  Even on the most serious issues of the day we get little more than he said, she said with scant fact checking and even less historical context.  We get the expert opinions of retired generals with ties to defense contractors, political partisans and lobbyists who serve other powerful interests and academics (with who knows what actual qualifications) who work for corporate funded “think tanks.”  And we should know that whether it is news anchors or talking heads, each one is acutely conscious of the fact that if they say something that upsets the powerful people in charge, their services will no longer be required.

This he said, she said style of reportage allows the illusion of objectivity to be maintained without actually providing the viewers with anything more than the opinions that reinforce whatever preconceived beliefs they may already have.  One can disregard the facts or opinions that don’t coincide with one’s own values.  Facts have become a matter of opinion and ideology an article of faith.  Global Warming is either a serious crisis or a complete hoax.  Terror trials in New York are an expression of our values or a dangerous failure to take the “War on Terror” seriously.  Banks either need to be regulated or they have been over regulated already.  If you find all of this frustrating, perhaps you would like to watch some reality television.

Can I offer you some Wonderbread with you Circuses?


One Response to “Shamu-1, American Apathy- 1069”

  1. Michelle Smith said

    Kill your television. I’m not joking.
    Corporate “news” is designed to attract an audience for advertisers. Abandon all hope of getting what you need to be an effective citizen from corporate media. As soon as you deny corporate media influence in your life, you will quickly find the information you need to take action on behalf of yourself and future generations. Just kill that stupid box and get on with real life.

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