Sunday, November 16, 2008

It's like a witch hunt! (but with Old West theme park theatrics)

I caught Anderson Cooper's "Culprits of the Collapse" segment on CNN a few evenings ago.

I was surprised at how over the top the graphic treatments were. Western-style parchment sheets with burnt edges featured silhouettes of the "Ten Most Wanted" individuals in America's current economic collapse. Given the gravity of the situation I would have expected a less sensationalistic visual treatment from CNN. Anderson Cooper usually goes to greater lengths to present his self as a serious journalist. He might as well have had on a cowboy hat, a vest, sheriff's badge and chaps.

"Blame game" is a phrase I am hearing repeatedly from mainstream news sources reporting on the current economic crisis. It is usually invoked to deny participating in playing "the blame game" just prior to discussing reasons and responsibility for the crisis and, well... playing the blame game.

Don't get me wrong, I am a firm believer in responsibility and accountability, but I suspect that the media's handling of the issue, instead of helping to uncover facts and ensure that those responsible are taken to task, has quite the opposite effect.

More and more it seems that the institutions and systems that were set up to perform particular functions in society no longer do. For instance, the decision to go to war was once in the hands of Congress but that power was seized and remains in the autocratic grip of the Presidents office. I would assume that finding those held accountable for misdoings related to the financial crisis would be the job of the U.S. Attorney General, but I haven't heard anything to indicate any action being taken by that office. It seems that this will be handled largely by the media.

When the news media wraps the reporting of issues in sensationalism it has a very specific effect. It loads the delivery of that information with emotional impact and that information is received as a charged sensory experience. Thrill rides in amusement parks and rich ice cream are both designed to deliver heightened sensory experiences and they both go through a similar arc of consumption. You burn out on them really fast. The first few rides and bites are fantastic, but it you keep it up long enough you just feel sick. This combined with the relentless bombardment of messaging causes burn out and apathy. Take the Iraqi war and Gitmo for instance. Most people just don't want to hear about it. People are actively tuning out news about both "stories".

The current media witch hunt regarding the economic crisis is mostly theatrical. Whether its intentional or not, the end result is that no one will be called upon tho answer for their actions. They will slip away under the media's air cover. Taxpayers, numbed out, will suffer in silence.


Kathleen said...

Not to nitpick, but Congress handed its power to the executive branch. It wasn't seized.

Thomas Sherman said...

Im not so sure. Given the level of misinformation and manipulation I think its fair to say that it was covertly seized.