The trouble in front of the teleprompter
MSM Class of 2015
(8/2015) The scene is a classic: beautiful people in black and white, laughing and drinking around fancy tables, women dripping in diamonds with their glamorous elbow-length gloves and dramatic dark lipstick. As Edward Murrow takes the stage, the crowd goes quiet, and the celebratory atmosphere feels wrong. His eyes are shadowy and lips pressed into a
flat line as he singlehandedly, in just a few sentences, completely changes the mood. The drinks appear flat, the jewels and outfits look gaudy, and the red lipstick makes the ladies look like clowns, as Mr. Murrow calls them out for their ignorance, as if scolding a misbehaved child.
"If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge and retribution will not limp in catching up with us," Murrow warns.
Murrow is sincerely concerned with the future of the United States, and with good reason—he sees his country heading down a dangerous path, following the rich and famous into obliviousness. He worries that the United States will only grow more ignorant in the years to come, if Americans indulge themselves solely with the lives of the beautiful people
of Hollywood. Murrow’s conviction is that, without proper focus on the exchange of information and the knowledge of what is going on, the country will descend into a new dark age.
I wish I could tell you that the movie ends with everyone standing up and applauding him as they realize he is right, and that immediately, every one of them runs to their respective stations to reform the use of television to more properly educate and inform the people. But I think you would know I was lying. Change is a process.
I will admit, there are so many channels on television these days that some of them are absolutely aimed at educating and informing the public, but honestly, it is safe to say history could be taking its revenge as I write this. As I watched the movie, Good Night and Good Luck, which is based during Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s communist witch-hunt, I
noticed that the media has absolutely learned something from that time—how to scare the life out of the public. The people of the United States see so much negativity and danger on the news that the fear of violence has crept into the minds of good-hearted Americans and made a nest, and the culprit is sitting in front of the teleprompter.
Murrow’s warning for the United States of the 1950s was that if people did not begin to give information and education the respect they deserved, the country would fall into a rut of pop culture obsession. In actuality, what we are up against is much graver. So much so that it is not just a rut; it is a ravine of disrespect for information.
Newscasters have taken to dramatizing the truth to raise intrigue because honest and pure facts do not improve ratings—they are too dry. News companies have to spice things up a bit to get viewers. They have to have an angle on a story to make it work. So, news channels will pay top dollar for footage that raises ratings, and what they learned from the
Red Scare is that fear raises intrigue. Broadcasting is no longer about providing information for the people. It is all about the stories that will make people watch. Americans watch the news so that they know what is going on around them, but the news only shows what they want people to see. By doing this, they can keep you scared and keep you coming back for more, even if
the fear is only fabricated.
These days, any time one turns on the news, all one can see are the terrible things happening around the country and around the world. The news has become less of a collection of daily events and more of a daily death count. Fires, break-ins gone wrong, terrorist attacks, or serial killers . . . you name it, news stations are reporting on it. Very
rarely are topics discussed positively—even positive events are spun towards the negative, and it is all sincerely meant to scare you. Scared people watch the news. People who are unafraid of the world around them don’t have a reason to.
Think about it; imagine you are sitting on the couch, and you see a commercial for the evening news about a new bill that was passed so that your city can build a park. A positive thing—absolutely! Probably not something you will watch a whole news segment about though. But wait! This new park could potentially attract a rare breed of poisonous ants to
your area—tune in at six to find out more! Now you’ll watch, just to figure out how big of a threat there is, won’t you?
As I said, the problem here is that we have lost our respect for information. But it is not just the news stations that are to blame. It is also Americans who watch television on a daily basis who are responsible. It is the fault of those who turn off the news when the politics come on. It is the fault of the people who watch exclusively Family Feud
and turn off the T.V. when the news starts (guilty). What we have done is cultivated an environment where only shock tactics are used, because it is all we respond to. As a culture, our desire to learn and actively seek out information regarding our world and its future has diminished. Yes, the media is responsible for showing the public what we need to know. But, the blame
is also on us for craving the shock value, and tuning in, only when we have a personal investment. In that sense, we have dropped the ball.
It may seem like it is hopeless: the news channels are controlling what you see and there is nothing you can do about it, right? Well that is not entirely true. Remember, the news is controlling what you see, but we control what they show. The only reason they only show negative images is because that is what we are telling them we want to watch. By
only tuning in to the news when we are scared, shocked, or personally involved in the outcome, we are literally asking news stations to scare, shock, and make us feel invested even more.
News channels can only disrespect information for as long as we are willing to allow them to. The simple solution is that we must make our informants care about what they show us. We must hold our newscasters and journalists accountable for the purity of their facts and the honesty of their segments. We must only support those broadcasters who provide
us with sincere news. We must make them respect knowledge and information. We must bring the dignity back to broadcasting.
Read other articles by Katie Powell