Lots of exciting things happened in the world of media the past two weeks. One a radical right wing “guy” convinced enough people of some minor bureaucrats failings that he got her fired. Then everybody realized that the video on which such allegations were based was doctored and the bureaucrat was a really swell person. Then the president goes on, Oh My God, The View. He talks some meaningless points and all anyone remembers is that he didn’t know who Snooki was. Of course he had made a joke about Snookums at the White House Correspondents Dinner so he must be lying. OOh scandal. As for Snookums herself she got herself arrested the day after her show’s second season debuted with three times the ratings of Mad Men. To quote the Double Rainbow guy, what does it mean?
At the time of origin of the term Fourth Estate in France, the other three estates were the nobility, the church, and the common people. Today in America, the church is a much less organized body, the nobility are not defined by birth but by wealth, and the common people are much more stratified. The media has changed as well. It is no longer a separate estate. It has been divided into two factions. One faction is most definitely an agent of the American nobility. This is on both sides of the aisle. You have Fox, Rush and Breitbart on the right. You have MSNBC, CAP, and Journolist on the left. Both sides merely spouting the party line as gospel. They have no duty to report anything accurately and everything is spun so that their most favored politician looks good. There can be no middle ground where on one issue one side is right, but on another issue the other side is right. These media outlets create the stories instead of report them.
The second faction in new American media is the populist faction. This is where the masses and ratings drive the story. Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan, and Snooki drive these stories. This is the reason that anytime a blond white woman goes missing it is front page news and Nancy Grace is doing a live remote. The large media entities are looking for ratings. This is the problem. I have seen the enemy and it is us. Because people still watch this schlock that is what the news will continue to put on. If it bleeds it leads.
The big question of the past week in the media world was whether the president should have gone on the View. Really, this is what people were talking about. Everyone from Meghan McCain http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-07-29/obama-on-the-view-meghan-mccain-doesnt-care-about-obamas-ipod/ (I really wish I knew how to hyperlink that) to Gawker http://gawker.com/5599717/obama-flip+flops-does-he-know-who-snooki-is-or-not?skyline=true&s=i to Sarah Palin http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/29/sarah-palin-obama-the-view_n_664467.html to Opie and Anthony http://twitter.com/OpieRadio/status/19821573068 were talking about it.
Twenty years ago if Obama had a sit down interview with Barbara Walters no one would have batted an eyelash. Maybe this says more about Barbara Walters than the media but isn’t a good thing that the president is trying to reach out to a constituency that may not follow his policies closely. The View is part of the second faction of the media. They are looking for ratings. And they accomplished that mission http://sify.com/news/obama-s-the-view-appearance-sets-ratings-record-news-international-kh5mOcafiag.html
The problem with all of this is that there is very little in the way of reasoned analysis or balanced debate. Too many people and news organizations are too inflexible in their opinions. It is a cult of personality. The people that get ratings are the ones who are the most volatile. The ones who provoke the most fodder for the other side. Both parties get entrenched in their views and its like France from 1915-1918. A stalemate. The question is what is the proper role of media today? Could a Watergate happen today. I don’t know that it could. Because it was printed in the Washington Post any such article would be blasted by conservatives and Fox and the people who watch and listen to those shows would dismiss it.(Even though the Washington Post op-ed page is a bastion for conservatives)
The other part of this new media is really the scope of the issue. In reality what is the daily average ratings for Fox or MSNBC? How many people really read all of the blogs? What maybe ten million total for cable news and the blogs? Almost two and a half million watched the Mad Men premiere and almost six million watched the Jersey Shore premiere. There are three hundred million people in the country. Those people are working and living and being rationally ignorant of all of this. Maybe that is for the better.