Friday, September 14, 2012

Dumbing Down, Chapter 962

By Reginald Johnson

Just when you think the news media can’t get more irresponsible with its focus on the silly and the superficial, it proves you wrong.

On Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11th terror attacks, the NBC Today show decided to present an interview with Kris Jenner, mother of Kim Kardashian --- from the reality show “Keeping up with the Kardashians --- instead of going live to the “moment of silence” at Ground Zero and Washington, D.C. for the nearly 3,000 victims of the tragedy.

The 911 attacks were not only hugely important because of the death and suffering they caused here, but also because 911 set the stage for the war-mongering foreign policy that followed, with the American invasions of both Iraq and Afghanistan and all the massive death and destruction that those wars have caused.

But the people at NBC News don’t get it.  Pop and celebrity news is the order of the day. If they had been doing their job last Tuesday, they would have covered the memorials live, and also did a report on the overall significance of 911.

NBC is not alone, of course, in favoring superficial entertainment news over real news. Other large media operations and newspapers around the country are doing the same thing.

The show “Nightline” from ABC News used to be pretty good, with daily reports on major issues of substance. Occasionally, conservative bias showed up in the reports on foreign policy or domestic issues. But overall, it wasn't a bad show.

The night after the end of the Republican National Convention where presidential candidate Mitt Romney and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan spoke of their desire for major changes in policies governing such things as health care and taxes, "Nightline" apparently decided it wasn’t worth doing a follow-up. No need to do, say, an analysis of what impact there might be on the American people, should the Republicans win in November.

Instead, this was the lead story on "Nightline": a report on Evelyn Lozada, star of the VHI reality show “Basketball Wives” and her break-up with football star Chad Johnson. The second story on the show was called “Diving with great white sharks.” Need I say more?

So this is what’s become of a once well-regarded news show. Fluff and nonsense. Dumbing down anyone?

The emphasis on entertainment, as opposed to news, is also becoming more pronounced in local newspapers.

In the Sept. 1 issue of the Connecticut Post, just after the GOP convention, the Post’s lead story, splashed on the top of Page 1 was: “Eastwooding’ goes viral.” The lighthearted story reported that there was terrific interest on the Internet in actor Clint Eastwood’s talk with a chair at the just-finished convention. Eastwood had a humorous, though rambling make-believe discussion with President Obama sitting in the chair. Most pundits panned the performance.

The Post reported that “Eastwooding” --- or posing (as if to harangue with a chair) --- “had joined the vernacular and become a social media craze.” Some 80,000 tweets were reported during Eastwood’s performance, the story said.

Also on Page 1, just below the Eastwood story, was a feature on the Hood Blimp. The Hood (as in milk company) Blimp normally flies over Fenway Park in Boston during Red Sox games. Readers were told they might see it flying overhead while they were out and about over the weekend.

OK. Blimps aren’t exactly a common site, so there’s nothing wrong with having a story on the arrival of a blimp. Kind of a cool thing to see.

I really don’t have a problem with either of these stories per se. My beef is with their placement. They lead the paper.

The paper came out just after the convention. You would think it would be useful and important to do a follow on the convention, some kind of political spin-off that would be prominently placed on Page 1. What do people in the area think of Romney after his speech? What do they think of the GOP platform?  What are Romney’s prospects? Anything. After all, this guy could wind up being president, setting in motion policies that will affect all of us.

Or heaven forfend, the Post might do an important local story that would get top billing. The Post is based in a city (Bridgeport) with a high poverty rate, huge educational problems, widespread foreclosures, sky-high tax rates and surging crime. Delving into those issues might yield a story or two. Here's another idea. Find out what the mayor is doing about these problems.  Does anybody know? Does anybody care?

Ah heck, it’s so much easier to run fun stories about blimps and “Eastwooding.” It’s all the craze you know.

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