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.

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16 thoughts on “ATROPHY”

  • I once taught a Chilean 4 year old child one English phrase and an dAmerican child one Spanish phrase both without definitions. T

    Chilean child – "I find this disgusting and masturbatory yet I'm drawn to it like a moth to the flame."

    American child – "Si me continues joder, voy a pegar a la cara de su madre con mu verga."

    The children delighted in this repetition for a full 30 minutes until both of their parents demanded to know who had taught them these phrases. The English speaker told them "El Diablo" the Spanish speaker "The Devil".

    No one has been the wiser to date.

  • Good journalism, like good science, requires that one avoid desiring for a certain outcome from one's investigations. It is thus total crap for people who want to tell a story that reinforces the preconceptions of their viewers, who only tune in for such television-delivered fellatio. So why waste money and lose viewers when you can just take the "news" that's offered by the Powers That Be, and then spend an hour either touting it or screaming about how it's all lies? (Neither result will actually test its veracity–like high school elections, this is all about popularity, not issues.) It's much easier, and it keeps the animals in their chairs long enough to watch the ads for Snuggies and inversion tables.

  • I think it's unfair to blame journalism entirely– the truth is that media consumers in general care more about dirty underwear than the deaths of innocent people in far away countries. I don't know which is more sad, that the media doesn't care to report it or we don't care to hear about it.

  • I used to sell radio ads. My wife used to produce for one of the networks. Sadly, mass media is driven by ratings. Ratings set rate cards. Rate cards set profit margins for the owners/shareholders. Producers and reporters are given just enough slack in what they cover so as to keep them engaged and/or win industry awards. These (engaged talent, awards) in turn, boost the next ratings period.

    We bailed on the business. Now I work in nonprofit arts, and she's an independent photog. We teach our kids that TV and radio are just there to sell you stuff you don't need, and the shows and songs are just there to keep you from turning off the commercials.

  • HoosierPoli says:

    I never got this drone controversy. Yeah, they kill civilians…I hate to disillusion you, but war involves killing a lot of people who don't deserve it. It's not a cuddly thing. What does it matter if it's a 100-million-dollar B1 or a 5-million-dollar Predator doing the killing? I'd just as soon replace our entire military-industrial wetdream with lawnmower-engined drones, then maybe we could afford to actually help out the third world instead of just killing them.

  • I saw that (frankly hilarious) returned underwear expose' and wondered- "who doesn't wash their new undies before they wear them?". They're not usually sealed in a box; the ones at Victoria's Secret are just lying around getting fondled by all and sundry– shoppers, OCD types, perverts, kids with sticky fingers, women who don't wash their hands, people trying them on, etc.– of course you're going to fucking wash them first! BLERGH!

  • And while we're on the subject of the death of something journalism related…

    Ed and G&Ters, have you read about the seemingly innocuous NY Observer article that sparked an eight page searing online kvetch klatch of current and former ABC staffers? It would make for a blockbuster book and movie (if you could get it past the lawyers)- the fall and fall of ABC news (and hey, why not a cheesy metaphor for tv news as a whole, if you're not into that whole brevity thing?) destroyed by scandalously shitty management and Mean Girls style bs. The comments are utterly fascinating, by about page 6, you've got people who are high up and on the inside commenting. The book damned near writes itself and gives you a very good idea of what happened and why. I'm surprised this hasn't gotten more play, but then the House of Mouse has a lot of lawyers.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    I got rid of my TeeVee long ago. I'd imagine many others in my demographic have too, so the networks are now only catering the rubes that are left.

  • I like the whole PC streaming movies/ tv shows trend that is taking a good chunk of the market away from cable and satellite companies. I recently cancelled my satellite service because from my PC I was able to get a service I hadn't had since the 1980s- free TV ( at least very cheap TV if you have a Netflix account). And I get to choose the programming.
    It may not improve journalistic standards but this way I can watch a Chalmers Johnson interview and banish FOX and Friends to the void.

  • I have a difficult time imagining that an exposĂ© that blew the lid off some form of government corruption, torture, financial manipulations, etc. wouldn't get as much airplay as something about dirty panties.

    I have to believe it's more than just laziness or a perception that such good journalism couldn't garner good ratings that keeps it from happening. I think the corporations that own the news know not to bite the hand(s) that feed them, e.g. other huge corporations and the government.

  • In fairness to "The Today Show", they know who their viewers are: people who are a lot more interested in the fluffy scandals of dirty underwear, than they are in the more seriously horrific going-ons elsewhere in the world. And so I'm not too concerned about long-established tabloid shows like "Today" and their ilk. They set the standard for fluff, are good at it, and have been doing it for years.

    I do care about the real news shows, such as the CBS evening news and their ilk, whose viewership I wager would be interested in the deeper stuff, if only the media would deliver it to them. I look at their pathology as not so much lack of interest, but lack of resource to do the work of reporting and making sense of events, and also fear of upsetting the powers that be.

    By chronically abandoning this focus, they've shed serious viewers, and have devolved into a shadow of their former self, a clone of shows like "Today". Their fall parallels the fall of print journalism, for reasons similar and different at the same time.

  • ladiesbane says:

    The curse of for-profit journalism is that it panders to curiosity rather than interest. It has to, to stay profitable. Because we Americans are no longer interested in educating ourselves in order to vote for our best representatives, and only want to hear what supports opinions we already have, no broadcaster is going to risk profits in order to educate us against our will. Especially since we mostly have feelings-based opinions rather than fact-based opinions.

    The people who spend the most time watching TV do not do so to learn about issues too complex to be summed up on protest signs or bumper stickers. Why spend time on anything that presents an alternative point of view? There is no need to think about things that are already black-and-white to people of great certainty and few facts…who watch more television than anything else…to which shows and advertising are geared. Including news. A vicious circle.

  • What ABSOLUTELY makes my brain ooze out of my ears is these stories about celebrities goofing up or losing it at interviews…like they should be kissing the medias rings or something. I get interviewed once and a while, and I have had them so bad I've nearly had to say, wow, at least PRETEND you are interested.

  • party with tina says:

    Information is the same today as it has always been, the educated elite are in the know the uninformed masses still are not. The reason why television news is becoming less and less informative is because of the populist movement by capitalists (whom it benefits) to get everyone a tv and cable (and thusly cable news). As more uneducated masses begin watching television, it becomes important that they get what they want.

    The phrase Demos Cratos truly means "Mob Rule" not "People's power" or something.

    Working people are not normally able to afford themselves the luxury of delving themselves deeply into any current issues which is why they tend to follow more of a dogma, it's simply more efficient to them. This is a culture, long standing.

  • party with tina says:

    Briefly to address the predator drone attacks, it is fairly clear what happened in the media to that story. Right wingers were not at all offended, per se, by the use of the predator drones. President Obama then largely defused the outrage felt by the left wing, especially with that joke of his. That story is over.

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