Thursday, November 3, 2011

It takes a village to raise an idiot

And we're the village.

Yep, us. Wanna know why the public is so uninformed? Take a look at the garbage in many local newscasts.

I say this now because the media seems to be falling over itself over the marriage/quickie divorce of a certain woman who is famous for being famous. We won't mention her name because that's what she wants; people in the media to keep talking about her.

Yet stories about this person creep into local newscasts all the time. And if it is not her, it's the ditsy hotel heiress or the actress who keeps her train wreck in a constant state of derailment. They're front page news. Why? I have no idea. What these people do doesn't affect anyone.

And when we feed the public a steady diet of fake news, we're raising idiots. Oh, don't tell me this quickie divorce is entertainment news either; the woman is not an entertainer. She simply exists. She lives for two things: money and fame. And we're stupid enough to give it to her.

I've seen a few network talk shows the past few days talk about her, one host asking, "Why is America fascinated by her?" My answer: Because you keep talking about her. If the media stopped, we could move on to more important issues.

Stuff like this never would have been news years ago. But now a local newscast often offers viewers a steady diet of faux entertainment news, YouTube clips and convenience store crime videos.

Then, inevitably, Jay Leno goes out and asks people to identify the Vice President, showing how stupid the general public can be. And you wonder why people can't answer correctly?

It used to be every village had an idiot. Now the village is overrun with them. They can't be informed if we don't provide real information.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Legwork or lack thereof: the new bias in the industry

There's obvious, in-your-face bias that the general public can spot a mile away. There's bias by omission, by which you don't cover stories that go against your agenda.

Welcome, boys and girls, to the latest tangent to the omission condition: legwork bias. Or, to put it in simpler terms, how hard do you really dig for a story that doesn't support your agenda?

Let's say your News Director is a card carrying member of one political party and you're a member of another. He assigns you to look into allegations concerning a candidate you really like. Are you gonna turn over endless slips of paper like Redford and Hoffman in "All the President's Men" or just phone it in? And if you're assigned to dig up skeletons in the closet of a candidate you despise, will you pull out all the stops?

Many news organizations think they're being fair by covering both sides, but very often the effort is not equal.

I'll give you two examples: the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. Watch coverage of either of these groups on a variety of stations and you'll come away with very different viewpoints. Right now Occupy is often the lead story... but are you getting the full story? I have friends in NYC who tell me the movement is just a few hundred people, but I've yet to see an aerial shot of the group, like the one we got of the Tea Party rally in Washington, DC. It reminds me of the time we showed up to cover a protest and there were about four people. I called in and told the desk we had no story, and was told to "shoot it tight."

So is Occupy a growing horde of people, or just a few hundred "shot tight?" We've seen plenty of shots of people being hauled away by cops, but where's the police point of view? And why are reporters saying both groups are similar? Do you remember any arrests during Tea Party protests? Confrontations with police? Did any Tea Party gatherings create a health hazard?

These are separate stories, very different stories, but both provide evidence of bias on both sides. Underestimating or overestimating crowds, pointing out the whack jobs or sympathetic figures, or using one protest sign to symbolize the entire group are easy means to a biased end. And in regard to the latter, does one protest sign mean all Tea Party members are racist and all Occupy members are anti-Semitic? If you're covering a group, you can't just focus on one person.

If you're going to dig on any story, make sure you keep using your shovel until you hit paydirt. If not, you're just digging yourself a hole.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Too many treats, not enough tricks

I remember getting my first apartment, and the feeling of being on my own. Sorta like being a homeowner without having to cut the grass.

Anyway, Halloween rolled around and I got home around seven. Suddenly a knock on the door.

"Trick or treat!"

Aw, hell. I mean, what bachelor living in an apartment expects kids to come knocking on the door?

I was stuck. I couldn't exactly break off a piece of the giant Cadbury bars I bought at the time. There was nothing remotely close to a "fun size" chocolate bar around and all I had in the fridge was some leftover linguine. Meanwhile, the kids were getting impatient. I needed to throw something in their plastic pumpkins.

I found a few ketchup packets left over from a fast food run, wrapped my hand tightly around them, and placed one in each pumpkin, making sure to bury it in the bottom. The kids took off and I turned out the lights.

I know, I'm a big meanie, but it was either that or get egged. Maybe all the bad Karma I've endured is the result of some poor kid dumping out his pumpkin and having his mother say, "Some SOB gave you ketchup?"

I related this story years later to a friend who thought it was hilarious. He decided to incorporate it into his Halloween stash, spending the year saving every packet of duck sauce, ranch dressing, and honey mustard dip for October 31st. When he recognized the obnoxious kids in his neighborhood, it was condiment city.

Trick. Where is it written that only those who prowl the streets in costume can play tricks?

Which brings us to the concept of payback. It's the same in life as it is in costume on Halloween night.

Be nice to people you work with and they'll give you the equivalent of chocolate when you ask for something. Trample the rose bushes and you go home with expired hollandaise sauce.