Attention News Media

Attention news media: see a doctor, your subscription of Ritalin has run out
It was way back in 2004 that John Stewart called out the media on being delinquent on there responsibilities. In fact he pleaded with them to do their job. Sadly very little has changed except him being one of the most respect men in news today, despite his repeated claims that he is a comedian not a newsman. Meanwhile we sit and wish we could have an actual analysis of the problems we are facing. We are mired in editorials and reflexive false equivalencies in the guise of objectivity. I don’t have a problem with editorializing; I’m doing it right now. Having an opinion doesn’t hurt the discussion. In fact there isn’t something necessarily wrong in presenting “both sides.” no, while the prevalence of both of these phenomenon can often slow down a discussion and cause it to veer left and right, they don’t derail the thing.
The problem is our news media suffers from ADD. News is constantly “breaking” so no one can spend any time developing a segment. Today’s news is a lot like following a bunch of twitter accounts (In the case of cnn this is often literally the case). Every segment is reduced into 5 minute bites as a result after the “framing” of the discussion very little is actually said and far less is challenged. Nowhere is this more frustrating than in the Sunday morning news shows. In an hour long show there are generally 2 topics per segment and 4 segments per show. That’s 8 topics in roughly 41 minutes. Let’s say each segment has a minute of setup that brings us down to 33 minutes that gives us roughly 4 minutes per segment. Now lest we forget we need to present both sides. This means you have roughly a minute to frame your argument, a minute for the other side to respond, a minute for you to counter and if it’s “fair” they get a minute for final rebuttal often someone runs over and we have to “move on.”
To me this is obscene. Yes someone can state their argument in one minute but you have to sacrifice a lot. The first thing that must be sacrificed is sourcing. The result is people can site studies, information, and people that have no business being brought up. We’re living in a world where straw man argument stands because there isn’t even enough time to inhale deep enough to blow them away. Take for example this winter storm and the fucks at fox pointing to it as proof that there is a reason to debate the science of global warming. Bill Orielly recently had Bill Nye the science guy debating Joe Bastardi (I’m not making this up that’s his name) a meteorologist from accuweather. Now this was an unusually long segment lasting a full 8 minutes, but let’s see a couple of THOUSANDS of years of science explained in 8 minutes, sounds like a good idea. Some of you might be wondering where I get the thousands of year of science this is because we have to look at the entire data set. Something we are able to do thanks to ice and soil core samples as well as tree data, and a whole host of other data sources, but I digress. Both were given time to present their case and while Bastardi focus on the weather of the US only for roughly the last 100 years or so, Nye looked at the globe as a whole, and all the science associated with climate change. Here in lies the problem, I know where the evidence comes from, I know what both these men are talking about and watching this discussion it was hard to see who was making the most sense because there wasn’t enough time to actually go into the data each was discussing. At one point Bastardi throws out a spurious bit of information about the amount of carbon added to the atmosphere per year only covering a hair’s width on a bridge 1 kilometer long. It’s a powerful statement. It has weight and is convincing. It is also a canned statement designed to distort on every level. First off he is talking about converting a gas into a solid, and anyone who know anything about science knows that gases take up more space than solids, and just to be picky he left out a 3rd dimension on his volume measurement. More importantly though this severely understates the effect minor changes in atmosphere have. If you are going to discuss this you have to realize we are dealing with scales of parts per million. If you want get serious you start feeling the effects of ammonia at 50 ppm, that’s .005%. You begin to be over come by CO2 at 1000 ppm or 1%. What Bastardi put up was a well crafted straw man, one that was not difficult to pull apart, but the amount of time and complexity involved in ripping it to shreds is impossible in 2 minutes of a rebuttal. This allows Orielly to come on at the end and say, as you can see there is enough reason to continue the debate.
The media has us believing that this is the way things have to be. We don’t have enough time. My question is why? We have three networks showing new 24 hours a day, most shows have an hour allotted to them. Jon Stewart is able to delve deeper in his interviews on his half hour show that is shown 4 days a week. There is no excuse for us having to put up with any of it. What we need is to move away from this reactionary reporting, I couldn’t care less what a pundit thinks about how one statement effects the perception of the debate. I want to know whether the statement is true. We have people distorting the truth and all our news media does is show the clip of the lie and then debate it. IT IS A LIE. There is no need to debate it. As reporters you are supposed to show the damn evidence of the lie and call them out on it. Take your time break it down. It is not going to take five minutes; it may take 20 minutes, but site your sources. This is high school paper basics. If you are interviewing someone block out 30 minutes, if they make a statement that makes you pause ask them where they are getting their information. Too many times I see people say things that are based on nothing. You believe torture works point to a report that proves it. You think tort reform is the solution to all our healthcare problems point to a study that proves it. Once the interviewee does this it is the reporter’s job to follow up. Look at their sources verify their claims, if they lied or exaggerated CALL THEM OUT on it. You will make mistakes doing this, if further reporting points out that you were wrong don’t look for a semantic justification, admit you were wrong, apologize, and work harder next time to get the reporting better the first time. Most importantly stop underestimating the attention span of your viewers. Things don’t suddenly leave our memory after a week, Haiti is still a story what the fuck happened to it. It will take years to rebuild port au prince, can we have an update at least once a month? What we don’t need is an army of reporters running from talking head to talking head and sticking a camera on them.

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