Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What is the Role of the Media?

I’m sure everyone knows at least one person who either watches Fox News, listens to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage or any of the far right mouthpieces.  I know one guy who gets so pissed off, he’s had severe health problems from it, leaving his wife to worry about whether or not he’s going to die young.  It’s a distinct possibility.  Imagine leaving behind a wife and family because you got so angry over a bunch of “news” reports, you actually died over it.

I got to thinking about that today, when I was thinking about how different the media has become over the years.

Journalism has one goal…or at least, it should.  That goal should be to give you the unbiased, unvarnished facts.  There’s a huge difference between opinion and fact, by the way.  Fact is unchangeable, incontrovertible, cast in stone, that thing that stands as a monolith and, like it or not, it is what it is.  For instance, if you shave off all of your hair, that is the fact.  It doesn’t matter if your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/aunt/uncle/etc think you look stupid (especially if you’re a woman)…what people think about that buzz cut is not a fact.  That’s their opinion.  The fact is that you shaved off all of your hair.

We always hear that there are “two sides to every story.”  This is completely untrue.

There are not two sides to every story.  Let’s talk about that aforementioned buzz cut.  So you shaved off all of your hair, and that is a fact.  You are bald.  That is a fact.

The “two sides” to that story come in when Aunt Jane says you look incredibly stupid, like a freaking walking cue ball.  Uncle Bob has a different take.  He likes it!  He thinks it makes you look older, as the 18 year old you are, rather than like a 16 year old trying to look like a man.

Opinions are not facts.

The problem occurs when people put their own spin on things.  I remember an Odd Couple episode (A Night to Dismember), where Felix, Oscar and Blanche recall how Oscar and Blanche broke up.  Of course, the person telling the story is the “sainted” one in all three versions of what is supposed to be the same story.

The role of the media isn’t supposed to give you everybody’s different spin on a story.  Of course everyone has an opinion, but opinions aren’t truth and truth isn’t opinion.  When Harold above shaved his head, again, people’s opinions differed, but it still didn’t change the fact, which was that despite how anyone felt about it, he still was quite bald.

When you watch the news, the job of a good newscaster is to inform you, first and foremost.  The way they must do that is with facts.

If, instead, that newscaster is saying things that rile you up…hint: s/he isn’t stating facts.  The facts may indeed rile you up, but the person stating them should never rile you up, because the person stating them should be impartial.  And the reason a true journalist is impartial and just states the facts is this: you are supposed to form your own opinions, and there’s no way in hell you’re going to be able to do that if you don’t have all the facts at your disposal.  Unless you’re a total idiot, you’re going to be able to do that yourself, without the so-called “help” of a so-called “journalist.”

A true journalist never tries to piss you off about something-or-other, sending you on a wild goose chase over something you think is fact, which really isn’t.

Let me get back to Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and the rest of them.

For instance, let’s look at Rush Limbaugh.  In particular, let’s look at a particular case, the one of Sandra Fluke.

This, if you don’t recall, is the statement Limbaugh made about Sandra Fluke:
“What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.”

Limbaugh here made the statement that a) Sandra Fluke went before a congressional committee and said she “must be paid to have sex.”

Those weren’t even Ms. Fluke’s exact words!

Sandra Fluke asked that her insurance company be required to cover birth control.  Women take these pills for a variety of reasons, only one of which is birth control.  Many women take them for truly health-related problems, such as Ms. Fluke’s friend, who couldn’t afford birth control pills for her ovarian cysts and lost an ovary.

So not only did Limbaugh call Ms. Fluke a “slut” and implied that she needed birth control pills to have sex, but in order to opine in such a way to get his addle-brained audience angry over the “misuse” of “taxpayer dollars,” he made the statement that Ms. Fluke wanted the pills so she could “have sex” (I had no idea Ms. Fluke’s doctor had been consulting with none other than Rush Limbaugh on this!), but also (in his opinion), he equated insurance with “taxpayer dollars.”  It wasn’t that Ms. Fluke was paying for insurance—the actual fact, in this case—but that Ms. Fluke instead was requesting a taxpayer handout for the purpose of covering her birth control pills.

I’d like to go to my young acquaintance (who is under 25 years old and has been in and out of hospitals for actual surgery after stressing himself out, much to his wife’s chagrin) and ask him if he would agree that the insurance company should pay nothing for his surgery and medications.  Of course, he wouldn’t agree.  Why should he?  He pays for his insurance!  So why should Sandra Fluke get something less, just because she’s a woman (my acquaintance’s wife is a woman!)?  What makes it our place to tell insurance companies that they can deny certain things to certain people?  And what, in particular, makes it Limbaugh’s place?!  Let’s not forget, Limbaugh has had Viagra covered by his insurance, and frankly, a limp dick isn’t a life-threatening issue, so why should “we taxpayers” (by Rush’s own addled opinion) pay for his Viagra?

Instead of admitting that insurance should cover birth control pills just as much as they cover Viagra, good ol’ Rushie boy sat in front of his microphone and his audience of misogynists who care little for their own wives, girlfriends, daughters, granddaughters, aunts, nieces, etc, and doubled down on his statements in order to piss them all off, over the fact that (in his opinion), “we the taxpayers” fund birth control pills, rather than insurance companies, who are paid to cover customers’ medications.  (The fact that they get away with not doing this is yet another story, and it’s certainly not opinion, sadly.)

The fact is that insurance companies are supposed to cover that for which they are paid.  Rush’s opinion was that all women are just big old sluts looking for a taxpayer handout when they ask for their insurance companies to do that for which they are being paid.

I would love to see Limbaugh’s face if his insurance company refused to pay for his Viagra.  “No can do, Rush.  We can’t let the taxpayers cover this for you.”  Can you imagine the apoplexy when Limbaugh finally got it through his Oxycontin-riddled brain that the insurance company was simply doing what insurance companies expect to do these days…to get paid for doing almost nothing?!  Can you imagine the tirade that would come out of his mouth the next day over this, of course (in Rush’s opinion), because this was some kind of fascist, socialist or Communist plot against dear old Rushie?!

The problem is that today, even forgetting extremists like Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, etc, the actual “mainstream media,” entities like CBS, NBC, ABC, etc, all suffer from this same disease.  They all want to “show both sides,” to devote “equal time” to everyone, and in the end, they give disproportionate amounts of time to not only opinion, but also, mostly to only one side of the story.

For example, some of these journalists quote studies by various think tanks.  Unfortunately, there are over six hundred right-wing “think tanks,” and these aren’t so much “think tanks” as they are clearinghouses for “studies” that are written to push a specific point of view, “studies” people were simply paid to make up off the top of their heads.

Everyone has heard the “mainstream media” talk about how “Social Security is” allegedly “running out of money.”  But the fact isn’t that Social Security is running out of money.  As long as we have people working and contributing, as long as Social Security is not privatized, there is money going into Social Security.  Social Security is not allowed to take one cent from any other government program, and had it not been raided to pay for things like war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq and anything else that struck lawmakers’ fancies, it would be solvent for even farther into the future than it is now.

Social Security isn’t “running out of money.”  That’s an opinion, written in an opinion piece by a paid writer, but since it was “published” by a right-wing “think tank,” where people are paid handsomely to write this drivel (under threat of losing their undoubtedly well-paid jobs), if you listen to them—and too much of the “mainstream media” is doing this—you would sure think Social Security is “running out of money.”

Unfortunately, by putting an actual name to it…the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, etc., they make it sound official.  It sounds so good and authoritative on the news, doesn’t it?  The Heritage Foundation did a study and found water is good for breathing!  Let’s all jump into the nearest body of water and take up water breathing!  Most people won’t question the fact that it’s impossible to breathe in water, because an official-sounding entity said it’s great, so it must be great or it wouldn’t be on the 6:00 news, and Tom Brokaw wouldn’t be reporting on it.

Someone in my family recently sent me a BS mailing about how we’re becoming a “socialist” country.  I read this crap and it infuriated me, not because the person writing it intended on pissing me off, but I got angry because I believe in facts, and this was certainly a fact-free piece.  There was zero evidence about how and why the idiot writer was saying we were turning “socialist.”  It was all a bunch of hearsay and anecdotal claims, nothing that would hold up to scrutiny, but also, nothing that had enough fact to it to do the tiniest bit of research.

It brought to mind an email from back when we thought we were going to get a public option for health care.  The email was allegedly from someone in Canada, who talked about “Shirley’s cousin” and “Bob’s uncle,” but there were no actual facts to research.  Anyone can make up a BS claim about how your friend’s friend’s cousin’s uncle’s nephew had a health problem, but something verifiable was completely lacking.

Even worse are the attempts to manipulate people through religious beliefs.  I don’t know about you, but I really, really despise it when someone tells me what I have to believe.  As long as we have religious freedom, I can believe whatever I want (or not), but you’re not going to make me a convert if you must make me believe.  I can’t believe something if I don’t believe it, plain and simple.  If you want to convince me that the Easter Bunny craps chicken eggs, you’re going to have an uphill battle.  If, instead, you tell me the Easter Bunny was made up so children would have an entertaining story about their religion, I still won’t believe in the Easter Bunny, but I’ll at least understand the fact is that the Easter Bunny is a story.

Unfortunately, too many people truly enjoy manipulating others by telling them that various things religious are supposed to be a part of our government at the risk of pissing off God, even though those same people would hate it if some Muslim religious ruling were made a law by which they had to abide.  But they’ll gladly enslave all non-Christians to purely Christian “rules,” because they’re afraid the rest of us non-extremist-Christian “heathens” are going to piss off “God.”  Who, last I heard, was supposed to be a nice, loving guy.

Facts aren’t a case of “he said/she said.”  Facts cannot be changed.  Facts are facts.  If you shave your head, you are bald, and regardless of how good or bad you look, you are still bald.  You can put on a wig, but that doesn’t mean you’re not bald underneath, because you are.  Social Security is not running out of money, regardless of the fact that some handsomely-paid writer working for a big company that’s called a “think tank” wrote it.  I can sit here and write a million papers, all as devoid of facts as any right-wing “think tank” paper, I can peddle it to the media like dog crap, get paid as well as right-wing “think tanks,” retire a multibillionaire and manipulate facts like any other multibillionaire, store my money in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands and memorize a buttload of “talking points” to bushwhack any fact-craving person in an attempt to force them to see things “my” way, but when you get right down to it, it still wouldn’t be fact.

So what is the role of media?  What is the role of a journalist?

The roles of media and all journalists are to bring you facts.  Your role is to take those facts and form your own opinions, not based on something meant to manipulate you through your emotions or your religious beliefs, but something tangible that gives you a clear picture of what’s going on.  A true journalist is objective.

And sadly, that’s entirely lacking in today’s media.