Bread and Circuses and Showtunes


A very intelligent young man of my acquaintance asked not too long ago, “Can somebody somewhere tell me where I can find a news source that has the depth and breadth of reporting that I want without the blatant and unabashed in-story advertising for corporations? “

There is, of course, only one answer.  There isn’t one.  There is no one single source where one can find both depth and breadth of reporting or information in the world.  There really never has been, but if we pretend for the sake of discussion that there was at one point, there certainly isn’t any more.  If one is going to be moderately well-informed on one subset of topics then one will have to spend a lot of time filtering out the detritus.  If one is going to be moderately well-informed on a wide variety of subjects then one will have to work very hard, indeed.  And, if one is going to be truly informed on many subjects, then one will have be able to either be independently wealthy in order to devote one’s time to achieving that aim, or one will have to be able to earn a living doing so.

It is precisely this which allows the system to have developed to the point that it has.  Bread and circuses.  Keep the “unwashed masses” distracted with bread and circuses, though truthfully these days it’s more more about tits and asses.  “Mitt Romney and Barack Obama?  No, thanks.  I’m much more interested in Russell Brand’s latest antics and Kim Kardashian’s ass.”

There is nothing wrong with entertainment.  Entertainment of whatever type is a good thing.  It relaxes and eases the mind.  It enables us to refocus on the things that are important.  However, what does become a problem is that all too often, and over the last century in particular, as the flow of information has become more immediate, we have allowed entertainment to become dominant.  The History Channel, for example, presents history and pseudo-history as edutainment.  E!, TMZ and a hundred other shows are devoted to nothing but following the ridiculous antics of people who are famous for nothing other than being famous, or at best, for being entertainers.

Many people do not pay attention to the actual news.  The local and national news shows contain very little actual news, and are more about entertainment and crime blotters.  What little news is there is often lost.  The 24 hour news cycle is a farce, because the little tid bits of news that come out are blasted to the corners by the entertainment of circuses and crime, the modern arenas of sports and tits and asses.  (I have long joked about starting a new news service called, “This is not news”.  I would watch the mainstream news and then send out a report of all the items that they showed which didn’t actually qualify as news.  The problem is that it would be such a long list, and it would bore more people than it would interest.)

Which brings us back to the original question.  Where does one go to find real reliable news?  You cannot go to just one source.  One has to go to a variety of sources.  Demonstrably, one cannot rely on “Fox News”.  Despite recent claims, it has been shown over and over again that they lie to their viewers and fail the most basic test of journalism, which is to inform their viewers.

Quoting from page 19 of the “Misinformation and the 2010 Election A Study of the US Electorate

For each topic, the news source with the lowest level of misinformation among its daily consumers was as follows:

• most economists who have studied it estimate that the stimulus legislation saved or created only a few jobs or caused job losses: MSNBC, 65% misinformed

• among economists who have estimated the effect of the health reform law, more think it will increase the deficit: Public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), 38%

• the bank bailout legislation (TARP) was passed and signed into law under Pres. Obama:MSNBC, 38%

• the US economy is getting worse: Public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), 34%

• the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts: MSNBC, 34%

• the bailout of GM and Chrysler occurred under President Obama only: MSNBC, 32%

• since January 2009 the respondent’s federal income taxes have actually gone up: MSNBC, 27%

• it is unclear whether Obama was born in the US—or, Obama was not born in the US: Public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), 24%

• when TARP came up for a vote, Democrats were opposed or divided: Fox News, 21%

• when TARP came up for a vote, most Republicans opposed it: CNN, 28%

• it was proven that the US Chamber of Commerce was spending foreign money to back Republicans: Fox News, 23%

• most scientists think climate change is not occurring or views are divided evenly: MSNBC and public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), both 20%

In other words, they are all misinforming us, which we knew.  Again, you cannot rely on any one source to be even reasonably well-informed.  We can see though that some sources are more reliable than others.  Further, we can see that depending on the topic, some sources are more reliable than others.  This makes sense, given that it is easier to slant the truth in a particular direction depending on what the topic is.

A lot of people simply do not want to be informed.  They get overwhelmed and give up.  They get lost or  don’t know where to look.  They want the easy way out.  Or, maybe they want that one single source.  If they care, they want a source which is always reliable and always unbiased.  Again, it doesn’t exist.  It doesn’t exist because each news outlet is made up of people, and most of the outlets are now giant corporations with stock owners.  Companies which have as their primary purpose to make a profit rather than to fulfill a journalistic purpose.  While we can recognize and respect a need to return an operating expense so that they can stay in business, at least as long as they are functioning in a capitalist system, as long as a profit motive is ahead of a journalistic motive, we have a problem.  Woodward and Berstein did not investigate and uncover Watergate because of a profit motive.

What does exist though, and is very easy to find are outlets which are what more people really want these days. Outlets which do not actually inform, but that arm.  That arm with partial truths that reinforce what they already believe.  Outlets, in other words, which are biased in the same way in which the listener is already biased.

So, what is the answer?  If you’re going to be informed you have to avoid those sources which are known to be unreliable more often than not.  Faux News being the biggest offender.  NPR is the most reliable mainstream source.  From there you will have to look all over the place.  Al-Jazeera, alternet.org, alternativeradio.org, reddit, various blogs, Rolling Stone, news aggregators like Google, your local newspapers, and a thousand other sources.  And from those sources you will be able to piece together a small fraction of understanding.

Or, you can focus on a 55 hour marriage by a self-destructing pop star, or a 72 day marriage of a woman who is famous for being famous and who made enough for that wedding that she could feed some nations for several years.  Not that she would, mind you.  And, then, you can claim that it is allowing two men (or two women) who love each other to marry that is a threat to the institution of marriage.

Meanwhile, ignore that your government, you, are taking steps to further remove your freedoms, to reduce your freedom on-line, to install indefinite detention, to restrict the rights of gays and lesbians in 29 states, and a thousand other things that you don’t care about because American Idol is on….

Sorry to interrupt.  Please carry on.  How about them Yankees?  Oh?  Not doing well?  Sorry to hear that.

Being an active participant is a lot of work.

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About Just Torch

Author of the SCIAMAGE column a space devoted to American political and social commentary and analysis. It is unabashedly liberal, but makes every effort to present clear, verifiable facts and sound reasoning. It also makes a commitment to clearly distinguish between facts and opinions. View all posts by Just Torch

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