Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obama-mania vs. Non-Critical Thought

Howard Kurtz takes a somewhat bemused, somewhat cautionary look at the excitement swirling around Obama:
"Here we are," writes Salon's Rebecca Traister, "oohing and aahing over what they'll be wearing, and what they'll be eating, what kind of dog they'll be getting, what bedrooms they'll be living in, and what schools they'll be attending. It feels better than good to sniff and snurfle through the Obamas' tastes and habits. . . . Who knew we had in us the capacity to fall for this kind of idealized Americana again?"

But aren't media people supposed to resist this kind of hyperventilating?
I've been one of those convinced that the media has lost their objectivity. But in reading this article it occurred to me. It's not necessarily that media has lost their neutrality. It's that they've lost their focus on news. Somewhere along the road they decided that the public wanted commentary along with the news. The result is that you can read a newspaper from cover to cover and not find a page without an editorial, whether official or not. Online news especially thrives on the "reporter-as-personality" model.

To be sure, even when media tries to report straight news they still have the potential for bias in what stories they choose to report. Consider how long media sat on the John Edwards affair compared with the rumor of a Sarah Palin affair. One was surpressed for half a year until a tabloid broke the story, the other was plastered coast to coast before any real verification had taken place. There is media bias.

But there is also a serious lack of critical reading. Far too few readers (myself included sometimes) pay attention to whether what they're reading is true news or commentary. And even in straight news stories, how many of us take the time to ask critical-thinking questions about what we've read?

There is media bias, to be sure. There has always been media bias (in "State of the Union" (see below) our hero was practically hand-picked for candidacy by a media mogul), and there always will be. Certainly the degree and direction of bias changes from source to source and over time. But we do need to take at least a little responsibility for what we read and how we read it.

1 comment:

Dan Stratton said...

Need to get my vision checked. As I was reading, I could have sworn I saw "Reporter-ass-personality" and have to admit, my mind bought it without question...