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Monday, February 21, 2011

Media Wars: A Case of Over-Reaching?

During the summer of 2010, as commentators at Fox, CNN, and MSNBC were arguing, they referred to their own arguments as “trench warfare” and “hand-to-hand fighting.”  Real soldiers would doubtless dismiss such descriptors as attempts by children to count as adults—as something more.  The soldiers would be correct, of course. Insulting or criticizing another person does not constitute fighting in the sense of warfare. Someone at MSNBC calling someone at Fox a racist does not come close to shooting someone with a rifle or even slugging someone with one’s fist.  The protesters in Libya who were being shot at by their own government in February, 2011, would shake their heads in disbelief in hearing of the "war" among media personalities.

Lest it be objected that this makes little matter, the propensity of the media “personalities” to over-reach covers their depiction of news.  For example, they use “crisis” far too often.  For example, there really was a crisis in September 2008 on the Thursday evening in which Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson told congressional leaders that unless they showed some intent to act, there would not be a financial system by the following Monday. No financial system on Monday: this is what it means to be in a crisis mode. To call the BP oil in the gulf a crisis more than two months after the explosion (and weeks after the well had been capped) a "crisis" does not compare, and is thus a case of the media over-reaching. By its very nature, a crisis is short-term.  The protest in Egypt, for example, quickly reached a do or die point. Such is crisis mode.  So too, when the planes shot at the protesters in Libya: the resulting turmoil, which can only be sustained as such for a brief period before a decision has to be made one way or the other, instantiated a crisis mode.  For republicans or democrats in Congress to refer to budget talks as though they were at a crisis utterly pales by comparison. Yet journalists perpetuate the verbal inflation and get paid in increased attention.  In the process, "crisis" itself becomes like the story of the boy who called wolf too much and was practially ignored when the wolf finally showed.

Every presidential address is vaunted as critical. “The President needs to say X or the sky will fall.”  No mention is subsequently made of the sky still up there even though the President omitted X.  In other words, there is no mechanism of accountability on journalists and pundits when they over-reach. The media companies themselves seem inert to any need for self-regulation. So the media wars are allowed to intensify even beyond "war."  Fox News and MSNBC must somehow sustain and intensify their "battles" so people will continue to watch the spectacle. In the meantime, the real news is sidelined.  The medium becomes the message and the voters are not so informed.  So goes a republic in decline.  So goes a culture in decline.