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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Shopping for Truth: Problems with the media

Published: February 1, 2008
Section: Opinions

Is it just me, or is there something terribly wrong going on with the media in America? Now, I know I’ve previously expressed my complaints regarding the media (Sinking in a sea of stupidity- September 21, 2007), but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ve come back with some fresh examples of the media’s failure to do, or bad execution of their job.

It’s a fact of life that people are prone towards following gossip-especially gossip about others. From the time we were all little in elementary school, our peers could be found whispering into each other’s eager ears the latest gossip on the blacktop. And though we have grown up physically, the media of our society seems to be stuck on that playground swing set. Why can’t we leave suffering or grieving people alone? In the real world, if someone followed me around with a camera 24 hours a day, they’d have a restraining order coming their way, but somehow the media justifies this behavior on their own behalf.

Most everyone who’s taken a journalism class, or even pays attention to journalism in general will know that the justification used by journalists lies in the fact that in becoming a celebrity, a person forfeits certain privacy rights. Living in the spotlight opens your life to scrutiny and celebs know what they’re getting into-or at least they should.

In one way, I agree that celebs need to put up with a certain amount of media coverage because they are public figures. It is this coverage which is quite dichotomous in that it makes and breaks celebs-sometimes in the very same day! But there is a fine line between a journalist’s right to know, and a celeb’s innate right to privacy. And journalists have an obligation to act responsibly, which means not endangering the lives of others.

Take the recent tragic death of Heath Ledger. Whenever a person as young as Ledger dies, the public sighs sadly simply because of the potential that youth holds. And it’s not just celebrity deaths we mourn. We grieve for local victims of crimes or fluke accidents also. But we generally don’t harass their families and friends in the way that the Hollywood media scene does to celeb’s families.

Every journalist knows the perfect quote, or picture to draw in the viewer. But does that make it right to air/print these? Recently, in my ethics in journalism class, we watched the film Absence of Malice. In the film, there is quite an interesting quote uttered which underlies a difficulty facing the media today and always: ““I know how to print what’s true. And I know how not to hurt people. I don’t know how to do both at the same time and neither do you.”

The truth often harms, to put it simply. Though something may be real, or true, it doesn’t make it right to print it. For example, the fact is that Heath Ledger’s family is obviously distraught and grieving their tragic loss. But printing pictures of his grieving ex and young daughter does not prevent harm-it causes it. There are always going to be people who feed on other’s pain and like to watch it in a public arena, but I have hope that the good people will realize that this is an invasion of privacy.

In addition, the public wants to know what happened to Ledger, but constant coverage of this tragedy will not help his family to grieve. Yes, they could just not watch TV, but they can’t live in a bubble and escape it because the news is everywhere now in our technological world.

The media has exhibited shortcomings recently in the midst of the Patriots frenzy. I found it sort of sad this past Sunday to discover that there was no news to be found besides coverage of the Patriots leaving for their trip to wherever it is they’re going for the Superbowl (just kidding, I totally know they’re going to Arizona-). Ok, we get it, people are glad that their favorite team is doing so well and has a perfect record and blah blah blah. But lets think, is coverage all morning of the Patriots boarding a stupid bus, plane, whatever (I wouldn’t know because I couldn’t watch that “news”) more important than real news? I’m sure somebody died, somebody did something amazing, etc. But that morning the Patriots outshined these “nobodies.”

We all know that this Sunday there will be all day coverage of the Patriots just leading up to the game and then the game’s coverage will invade the airwaves. People expect this, but it doesn’t make sense to waste so much time covering airspace with shots of people waiting around for the Patriots to arrive and leave.

Now I don’t want people to think I’m taking away from the Patriots’ success. I, like any other New England resident, cannot ignore to some degree the fact that the Patriots have had a perfect season-simply because it’s all over the news. And I know some people will think me ignorant or crazy for this, but I wouldn’t care otherwise because I’m not a sports person-never have been, never will be. But I get that it’s important to other people, so let them have their fun. But don’t take away from the more pressing news to cover trivial sports news. NESN and other specialized sports news channels will always be there to update the fans, so why insist on making that the focus of local news?

You would think that Tom Brady was the president or something. The poor guy has an injury. In any other case, people would be curious so it’s understandable that the public wants to know how he’s doing and if he will still be able to play. Okay, I’ll give them that much credit. But the media needs to take a step back. Though inherently a celebrity because of his great record and status on a winning team, Tom Brady is a person, like any of us, who is vulnerable to injury. I know I wouldn’t want my vulnerable moments plastered all over TV and magazines, so stop harassing him. We’re actually smarter than the media gives us credit for sometimes. The average person can probably deduce that he might have an injury, but the media somehow thinks that constant coverage of it will beat it into our heads.