London Calling: A Media Rant

Well, this Thursday was a rather sobering one, as I watched the news on and off most of the day about the bombings in London. It really made me think about how ridiculous some of our media coverage is. Like many previous major tragic events the networks interrupt regularly scheduled programming to bring us live news coverage as it happens. Unfortunately, the reality is very little happens and next to nothing is known, at least initially. So we get force fed the same pabulum every ten to fifteen minutes, with the complimentary loop of video footage with the some of the most dramatic images. The whole thing serves to do little other than serve up a whole lot of noise, with very little information, and induces a kind of aimless panic.

What has always most amazed me during these kind of news events is how routinely the media, in an effort to be the first or exclusive, gets things wrong. I can’t count how many times the television news media has made statements or claims that were proven to be false, once someone actually does know something. Occasionally, we get that weak qualifier from the anchor about what is confirmed. Even worse is when we get some face on the television saying, “We don’t yet know…” or “officials have not yet released…” It’s all rather absurd. Yet, every time some significant event happens this same beast rears its ugly head and must be fed.

What I have found most interesting is that here in Boston at least one local anchor had to fly to London to “cover” the story. So there he was, live in the middle of the night with Big Ben in the background, with generally not a mush to say in his less than two minutes of air time. Wait, he did offer up the same sound-bite banter that reduces and stereotypes nearly all British people to their stiff upper lips. Even more interesting is how quickly the London bombings have been finding there way further down the headline lineup. It is already old news, in a way. In fact, we have got a hurricane about to rip through the Southeastern Gulf states. So there was all kinds of attention paid to an event about which we know very little, while all kinds of assumptions and “expert” analysis is proffered. The cameras roll and audiences are treated to a kind of grand violent tease. Then it is time to move on, because there are new stories to “cover.” All the while, the massive amount of misguided assumptions and misinformation are rarely rectified. When something more is known it will be old news and probably used as a footnote to get to the weather, because “all new is local.”

The whole thing made me understand why some of my friends don’t own a television, for anything other than a monitor for videos and games. More than that, it made me think what a disservice the news media is to most of us, generally. I think nearly sane individual saw the images coming from London and immediately felt sympathy and grief. In lieu of nothing to say, why can’t the news media be more of a reflection of that, rather than a voyeuristic, violent peep show with a predatory taste for blood and drama. What’s more do it without reducing all involved. The sight of the same bloody young Londoner, head wrapped, dressed in the remnants of his finely tailored suit, being helped to his feet, while he briefly stared into the lens of an on looking news camera, as if to say, “What are you doing?” grew grotesque, to say the least. Finally, how about keeping the reports simple and short, until someone knows something. That way people aren’t left to create their understanding on a bunch of half-truths and idle speculations. People don’t need any help in that area.

Just some random thoughts, prompted by a truly horrific incident, which I fear will become more the norm, even on our side of the pond. And as cliché as it may be, may all of our thoughts and prayers be with those victims and their loved ones. It is a wonder and a miracle more were not killed or maimed. To London.

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