I had a rare and perhaps unprecedented experience on Monday morning at the tail end of a three-day visit to see my sister's family (including two nephews and a niece). I taught a two year old to describe The Scorpions' legendary hit "Rock You Like a Hurricane" as "epic butt rock."
Oh wait. I do crap like that all the time.
What I do not often do is watch any of The Today Show. You know, the Matt Lauer thing. They presented an investigative exposé on an issue that I must admit had not previously been salient to me: retailers re-selling underwear that has been returned (potentially used) by customers. While this seems pretty vile, it is not exactly America's most pressing problem – although I should try telling that to someone who gets crabs and enough yeast to open a Pinkberry from a pre-worn thong.
What struck me about this footage is not the shock value or relevance of the subject but the fact that a fluff factory like The Today Show actually did some pretty good investigative journalism here. They discussed, documented, confronted, and reported. If the lightweights on a morning show can do it, surely the hard news folks at the networks are capable of doing so as well.
It is often tempting to blame the lack of useful journalism among the mainstream media on a lack of brainpower or the failure of journalism schools to teach useful skills. But the problem is simply a lack of interest in doing real investigative reporting on political or economic issues. They'll do exposés on dirty thongs and answer the tough questions like "What is the best value in shampoos for normal to dry hair?" but they take a pass on the heavy lifting. An investigation of Victoria's Secret retail practices could easily be an investigation of the Dickensian third world sweatboxes at which their products are made. But it isn't. In-depth reports on toy fads or ridiculous moral panics (Rainbow parties! Back-masked Judas Priest lyrics! The piggy flu!) could easily be reports about the Air Force's reprehensible practice of using automated drones to hunt and kill Pakistani
terrorists civilians. But it isn't.
I'm not sure which is more pathetic: a media that lacks the ability to do its job or one that lacks the interest. Yet ultimately viewers of The Today Show and anything else on TV bear responsibility. Hard news is inversely related to ratings, so we are locked in a downward spiral of more garbage fueling the desire to see more garbage.