The capacity of this nation's collective psyche to be manipulated, persuaded and convinced by what it sees and hears in the news media amazes me. There is no better example of this phenomenon than watching news reporters cum newsmakers push pins into the fragile bubble that represents national economic confidence. I recall thinking to myself last fall, "here we go again" as I listened to network readers begin to spout the recession cometh mantra. That was September.
Sure enough as we move into the New Year, the economy is leading the nightly reports and front pages of papers as predictions of doom are rabidly reported. Is it me, or does anyone else see a self-fulfilling prophesy of sorts at work here? Sure, the economy is a complex thing. There are many external forces that affect the southward bound numbers. But I suggest some amount of the severity is attributable to fear mongering by media looking for any hot buttons that will attract an audience to feed an ever-expanding airtime appetite.
Typically the so-called news we see consists of watching and listening to a bunch of reporters sit around a table talking to each other about the current economic situation. To my mind, this is not journalism; it's entertainment. Foisting these klatches on the public as genuine news sources is, I believe, tantamount to fraud.
In Journalism 101, a student learns that reporting the news is about listening to sources not talking. This basic rule of the profession seems to get discarded when the journalist reaches a certain level of celebrity. Suddenly, he or she acquires the power of analysis and insight. Who needs sources anymore? Well, there's one important problem with this situation: Along with that power should come accountability. But it's simply not there. Look at election night 2000 if you have any doubts.
Why should you or I care about this? It's simple. Because too many people are influenced by what they hear in the mass media, economic confidence can be affected. Consumer confidence goes down, it's reported, goes down further, it's reported—a vicious circle. People tune in to find out about the sagging economy and ratings go up. Nothing sells like bad news.
So, am I suggesting we scrap the first amendment? No, but perhaps we should consider tuning out of the easy, passive news sources and do the mental lifting necessary to be better informed.