Ken’s Take on the World

Cirque du Media

As I, along with millions of others, watched tragic events unfold across the country this past week I was disturbed, disappointed and, at times, disgusted by the failures of broadcast media in their ability to maintain basic standards of professional journalism.  These failures ran across all outlets from the standard ABC, CBS and NBC to the cable giants CNN, Fox, and MSNBC.  On reflection, I am reasonably certain these failures are a reflection of the vast majority of people who are unable to think and digest information.  At least in America, we have grown so familiar with sound bites and morsels of information, that too many of us are unable to process anything more than this tidbit of sound or image.  Major media outlets have had to adapt and act more as a for-profit business than an information-sharing service.


I was at work when I heard about the Patriot’s Day bombings at the Boston Marathon.  Curious, I watched the news and listened to the raw analysis that was being given on the three regular networks and Fox and CNN.  None of this was news, per se, but rather it was speculation at its most basic.  Footage from one or two initial film crews was replayed in a continuous loop for several hours.  Various experts were paraded onto the TV screen to offer their opinions on whether this was a crime or an act of terrorism, was this a domestic or foreign terror attack, what were the motivations of suspects not yet identified, what was the race, ethnicity or religious background of the bomber(s), what was the type of explosive, and, in the end, all this was, was a voicing of uninformed opinion. 


Within 24 hours they were talking about “dark-skinned” suspects being sought or someone of “Arab” descent being sought in connection with this which simply served to heighten the fear of “others,” Rumors circulated of an Arabic man with burns seen running away after the blasts and being treated at a local hospital. 


For a brief moment we were distracted by an unfolding tragedy taking place in the small town of West, Texas.  One of the TV people wondered aloud if this explosion was related or a copy-cat event.  Back to Boston where every comment on Police scanners was reported as being a fact by the TV talking-heads without taking time to verify the accuracy.  A guy drove 100 miles to drop some Ricin-laced letters into the mail.  Back to Boston where they had the suspects cornered.  Or, not.  They know who the suspect(s) are.  Or, not.  A Penske rental truck might be a truck bomb.  Or, not.  It is an al Qaeda cell.  Or, not.  A constant barrage of misinformation and incorrect information presented as current facts by the media.


On Thursday night, my Twitter-feed and Facebook news feed were lit up with pictures of two alleged suspects in the bombings at the Boston Marathon four days earlier.  Within hours, police had the suspects and managed to kill one of them.  The other escaped.  On Friday morning, I am watching news footage of a home and listen to the reporter talking about how police negotiators are at the location where the second suspect is holed up and they are trying to talk him into surrendering.  They are also reporting that police are still conducting a door-to-door search for the suspect.  This inconsistency did not seem apparent to the reporters or to many of the people watching this spectacle, apparently.  For several hours, nothing.  Suddenly, reports of police engaged in a firefight with the remaining suspect.  Finally, a Tweet from Boston Mayor, Tom Mennino, “We got him!”


Now, I am not a professional journalist.  I am simply someone who likes to receive factual information from reliable sources.  While what happened in Boston is extremely newsworthy, the way the story was handled turned the importance of the story into the plot of a reality show.  I understand, from friends I consider to be professional journalists, that the reporter is not the story and that each story that is based on facts must be corroborated and the veracity of each claim must be confirmed prior to presenting the story to us average folks.  Journalists did not used to spin the story.  They presented the information, generally free of bias, and after taking the time to check the authenticity of the information and they allowed the people to make up their minds about the information.  What I witnessed this week was shameful!!  


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