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Four Years at the Mount

Junior year

News Journalism: Entertainment in Disguise

Shea Rowell
Class of 2019

(10/2017) What would happen if people stopped caring about what is true, and instead focused all their attention on what is entertaining? What would it be like to live in a world in which facts are sacrificed to fantasy? Questions like this are posed in the film, "Good Night and Good Luck," based on the famous career of Edward Murrow, a reporter for CBS. In his famous "lights and wires in a box" speech, Murrow prophetically addresses the dangers of the use of television, radio, and newspaper for entertainment instead of for education. According to the film, he spent his career broadcasting informative and strongly opinionated pieces which addressed current events controversies in an environment in which many others were too afraid to speak out. He warned in his speech that the delegation of American television to the realm of entertainment would cause widespread ignorance and indifference to the conditions of the world.

In Murrow’s time, it is very likely that television either served its purpose in education or in entertainment. However, the lines have blurred dramatically since then, and now the danger is that viewers can no longer tell the difference between the two. It is clear when "channel surfing" on just about any television that most of the available channels are dedicated to entertainment. Children’s and adult’s cartoons, sit-coms, sports, and competitions appear without cease. There is always another sports season starting, always a new singing show to watch, always a new season of a favorite crime show to catch up on. However, some of the channels on everyone’s television are deceptively difficult to divide: are they entertainment or education?

This issue is particularly apparent in today’s news stations. Any given channel has a political bias; you’ll hear you neighbors and co-workers say, "I don’t watch News Channel A, it’s far too liberal for my taste!" or vice versa. There seems to be nowhere to get information that isn’t trying to push a specific agenda—this can be honest journalism if, like Ed Murrow’s show "Good Night and Good Luck," it is formatted as an editorial. However, if newscasters continue to broadcast "partial truths" or even falsehoods which support their own pre-conceived opinions instead of reporting all accessible factual information, they cease to report news, and their journalism and becomes propaganda.

As a result, these biased broadcasts disguise themselves as educational, while in reality they are a dangerous form of entertainment; they support the opinions and ideals of the viewer. They are like virtual "yes-men," never forcing the viewer to consider an alternative perspective to his own, and never making him feel threatened or challenged. Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence; every form of media partakes in this in some way. For example, Internet searches, pop-up-ads, and social media posts are eavh geared toward the interests and tendencies of the viewer. Technology is so advanced that it tracks your search history, and determines what you are most likely to be interested in, giving you more of what you have already seen. Biased journalism does the same, providing the viewer with the means to conflate his or her own opinion; those who disagree are rarely watching. This is another way of going through life unaware of the views of those outside of one’s own ideological circle. Without actively seeking the opposition, a media viewer can feasibly go through life without encountering dissent.

In his speech, Murrow observes the pattern of the use of television as a mere distraction from the realities of the world; one which numbs the sense of concern for reality and advocates for the perpetual delegation of the important and challenging work of fixing the word to others. Murrow warns that the rising indifference to the state of the world as it truly is will lead us to reject all that is unpleasant, preferring to dwell on the comedic, the joyous, or even the fictitious. This avoidance of conflict and discomfort becomes problematic when it ceases to recognize the unpleasantness and guilt that resides within itself.

However, we live in a very different world than the one Murrow knew. The people of today’s world are not shielded from unpleasant information at all. In fact, we are flooded with it. Technological advancements have allowed our journalists to respond to world events with near immediacy. If there is a storm, a war, or a political election, it will not take long for the dialed-in American community to become aware of it. Our indifference is not based on ignorance, as Murrow presumably imagined it would be. The unpleasantness and discomfort of this information has not been entirely replaced by entertainment; it has become the entertainment itself. Each news story is sensational, attention-grabbing, and often disturbing to the viewer. The latest tragedy holds our attention just long enough for the next one to step in and distract us. The news of yesterday which drove us to rage or tears is forgotten as soon as it is replaced by the equally provocative news of today. We are emotionally invested in what we see, but not for very long. It is as if the news reports we watch do not strike us as reality; they are only empty flashes on a screen.

Who is accountable for this degradation? It is easy to point accusing fingers at the television networks, radio stations, and even newspaper reporters, for their delivery of a sensationalized and politicized version of the truth through the media platforms which claim to deliver facts. However, these organizations are businesses like any other, and they will supply whatever their customers demand. The viewing audience has received only what it has asked for. If, as the viewers of televised media, we desire an understanding of opposing worldviews, we must seek it outside of the sources which parrot our own biases back to us. If we desire deeper knowledge, we must extend our attention to sources of greater depth. And if we desire the truth, we must demand it and nothing less.

Read other articles by Shea Rowell