It's fitting to look at these two excellent pieces looking at the dumbing-down of our culture via so-called "news" sources as part of the inevitable year-end retrospectives.
Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress looks at Duck Dynasty and Phil Robertson's homophobic rant to GQ as a perfect storm of entertainment reality, corporate reality and political reality:
We’ve reached a point where the monetization of controversial figure as entertainment, their inevitable line-crossing, the organizations that exists to police that line-stepping, and the outrage that accompanies networks’ moderation of their own business strategies is an institution in and of itself. The relationships between all players in the cycle are symbiotic. But the power to influence culture and determine which political ideas are mass-marketable is decidedly real.
Eric Boehlert has also written an epic piece about how Beltway media has worked very, very diligently this year to make sure viewers and readers receive something very carefully crafted to stir emotional responses while trading away actual facts in the process. Gosh, we don't see any of that here, do we?
To produce journalism and commentary this vapid and pointless takes work. It doesn't just happen. You have to play dumb about a whole range of issues in order to join in the Beltway fun. Coming at the end of the year, the selfie charade represented a sad encapsulation of the Beltway media's shortcomings; of its painfully unserious pursuits.
What is especially maddening is it highlighted that while the press becomes increasingly fascinated with gotcha events and treats them that as news, it's failing in its primary duty to produce reliable reporting about pressing public policy issues. Specifically, the selfie nonsense played out against the backdrop of the Beltway press corps' that bungled coverage of health care reform.
They worked very hard to make sure people knew there was a relative handful of people in this country who were very, very angry about their policy cancellations. When it came to informing audiences that in fact, those same people were finding better policies for less money on the exchanges, they fell conspicuously silent. Unserious pursuits include playing directly into right-wing agendas to undermine the ACA in order to dampen enthusiasm for something millions in this country need.
Instead we get cycles and cycles about a selfie snapped at Nelson Mandela's sending-off, as if it's really something we should all be very concerned about.
I'm old enough to remember when news and tabloids were separate. If you wanted the ridiculous scandal headlines, those were readily available in the checkout line at the grocery store, or there was always some celebrity news and gossip show on TV. But news was actually news.
Both of these articles speak to the larger issue of the tail wagging the dog. Instead of filling a duty to inform the public about important and pressing policy issues, the press is driven by what will get the most eyeballs. That's not how it's supposed to work.
The changing landscape of media as we understand it to be should not mean that policy is sacrificed on the altar of listicles or remain the province of well-oiled public relations firms.
The only media outlet raising the bar right now is AlJazeera America. Their reporting is consistently accurate, important, and delivered factually. Unfortunately, they're not in the business of lighting hair on fire, and so receive the least amount of attention. If I had one wish for 2014, that would change.