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What geniuses decided that celebrity bunk is news?

DISCUSSIONS | May 01, 2004


We were impressed – and also depressed – by four letters to the editor of The New York Times, all on the same day, that tore into TV and the rest of the news media, and also into people's penchant for distraction and their failure to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. We think these are issues reporters and editors ought to be dealing with – must deal with – and we'd like to hear your views on them.

The letters ran on Dec. 21, 2003, under a headline that said, "Truth in the land of the Distracted." They were responses to a column in which Bob Herbert wrote that people liked to focus on Saddam Hussein, Paris Hilton and Michael Jackson, and not on things like poverty and unequal opportunity. Following are excerpts.

Letter No. 1:

"It's worse than just bad priorities…"To the extent that we focus on the titillating, distant and trivial, we often lie and fudge the truth…Most of us don't really care about the truth; we care about entertaining and distracting ourselves, reinforcing our political and social prejudices and justifying the moral compromises that define each of us."

Letter No. 2:

"Television may be the greatest wasted opportunity of our time---and will continue to be until broadcast executives and producers assume responsibility for the 'amusement' they flood over the airwaves. To date, they have evaded responsibility with a common refrain: 'We give the people what they want.'"

Letter No. 3:

"Our consumerist, drama-loving, reality TV-obsessed society must stop focusing on buying useless things and start worrying about our children's education. We must also realize that we are still at war, not only in Iraq, but at home, fighting against homelessness and poverty."

Letter No. 4 (This letter referred to Herbert's column and also to one in which Paul Krugman noted poll findings that 53 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11):

"Stunning evidence of the willingness of the Administration to distort the truth to win popular support for a pointless war; the reluctance of the mainstream media to challenge the Administration's prevarications; and the failure of the majority of Americans to accept the responsibilities of informed citizenship."

The letters were from people in New York, San Francisco and Port Huron, Michigan. – bicoastal and in between. What's your view?

Life in these United States...
Posted by Patrick McGonegal -
06/03/2004, 05:59 PM

There are a lot of factors combining to create the general sense of apathy to which these letters are addressed. One of the most important, however, would be the disenfranchisement of the American voter. As voters feel less and less capable of effecting change, their level of frustration and angst rises. To combat this, they often look to television as a diversion.

I think it is a mistake to try and blame television for the condition of the american public. If the thronging masses would rather watch Survivor than the CSPAN coverage of the 9/11 investigation, why wouldn't these companies take advantage? They are, after all, for-profit industries.

We live in an age where we can circumvent the television and review local, national, and world news through various sources. We, as individuals need to take it upon ourselves to search out the truth. Trying to legislate private companies into giving it to us is a long lesson in futility. Private corporations will always protect their own interests.

In order to effect real change, we need to educate the public in information awareness and evaluation. This can't happen until those who choose to be misinformed decide to change. All the good intentions and media regulations in the world won't make one whit of difference until these people want to become better informed.

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