Open for debate: Integrity in US media
Carl Sagan once said “The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media”, even going on to say it presented: “a kind of celebration of ignorance”.
The problem is that much of what is presented in the mainstream US media today is short, bright and loud, so is it designed more to attract attention than to inform?
The beginning of the ‘dumbing down’ process started with celeb news. Flash cars, beautiful women and rich men make this type of news very viewer friendly, if not content heavy. The result is the rest of the news then looks rather drab and dull in comparison. This in turn has led to the addition of ‘interesting’ little details and commentaries slipped in to current affairs.
A good example of this is was in late 2013. Fox psychiatrist Dr Keith Ablow came on air and said that President Obama’s difficult early life had “led him to feel victimized, hurt and injured” and went on to say “There’s a real victim mentality here, and it really explains the president’s whole mentality and many of his policies.” Whilst his early life no doubt had an impact on the man he is today, this was a piece of supposition and sensationalist guesswork.
This sense of dramatisation of the news increases the need for stories to have baddies, drama and embellishment (like a Hollywood film), even within stories that are already quite exciting to begin with.
When reporting the capture of Joaquin Guzman (Mexican drug lord) in 2014, the Washington Post decided to add that instead of being caught in the mountains with his wife, he was in fact with his secretary. They then said: “An earlier version of this story erroneously said that Joaquin Guzman was found in bed with his secretary. He was found with his wife. This version has been corrected”.
So with the viewer’s attention becoming so hard to grab, it seems the integrity takes a back seat while drama drives the content. So is media is becoming less and less fact based, and more opinion, guesswork and supposition?
It’s not all bad of course: many media outlets are stricter with their content and it is more informative than dramatic.
The real question is, how long will these outlets last in the face of greater ratings for a Kardashian wedding than a civil war?
Publication Integrity & Ethics 30th January 2015