CNN recently described the move of Katie Couric from her position as co-host of the Morning Show on NBC, a position she has held for 15 years, to CBS as the anchor of the Evening News as “historic.” While her position as the first woman anchor of an evening news program in the United States is significant, it hardly rates as historic. Women have been anchoring evening news programs in Europe for years.
It is a little disturbing that the events surrounding media personalities could be termed historic. Unfortunately, it underlines the superficiality of the American media when it comes to covering the news. We are raising a generation who thinks it alright that as much time is spent on talking about the births, deaths, marriages, divorces, etc. of media personalities as is spent on world affairs. Indeed, news about media personalities threatens to top the sports news in time spent on irrelevant information. The price of gas is approaching $3.00 a gallon, yet more time is spent on where the cheapest gas can be found rather than giving consumers in-depth analysis of the reasons behind the precipitous price increase of the past couple of months.
On-the-street interviews unintentionally point out our ignorance of what is happening as people shrug, smile ruefully and ask rhetorically “What are you going to do? We have to buy gas.” The news interviewer does not ask the key question, “what do you think is the reason for the increasing price of gas?” What the interviewer inevitably does ask is “what do you think of the gas prices today?” It is sort of homey as interviewer and interviewee bond over a common complaint. It fills time but leaves us no wiser.
This has been described as The Information Age. A pretty, self-important title coined by ourselves and intended to confirm that as a people, we are better informed than our ancestors. Certainly, a wealth of information is at our finger tips and can be viewed with a few key strokes. Not all of the information available to us is correct, however. We have reached a point where it is becoming increasingly difficult to discern between real news, for example, and infomercials. To an increasing extent, local news stations are editing and showing infomercials as hard information. The viewer can be excused, for example, if he or she thinks that the blood test for allergies is a medical advance rather than a veiled commercial for a medical testing lab. We have been softened up for ploys of this type by the number of medically-related ads which bombard the airwaves daily. Drug companies push pills shamelessly and I feel sorry for doctors as they must deal with anxious patients who want this nostrum or that because the ad describes perfectly what they believe ails them.
Despite the number of these ads, the drug companies do not apologize when a drug they have been pushing especially hard is suddenly found to be harmful, maiming or killing people; people who, in all probability asked their doctors for the drug in the first place. Instead, a new miracle pill takes its place. Sure, all of the ads are complete with a list of side effects, but the side effects are spoken rapidly, sotto voce. This warning voice is given over a backdrop of happy people going about their lives, apparently because of the drug which, “occasionally causes …, ” made it so.
Information is the key to knowledge. An obvious statement but a point, nonetheless, which is getting lost in the noise. As the media continues to pander to advertisers as it peddles stories of irrelevant events, we become poorer as a people. As a society, Americans face a global society which they do not understand. Except for 30 second sound bytes, they haven’t a clue as to what is going on in Europe. They do not know of the millions dying in Africa from disease and war. The only historic pronouncement they received recently was that Katie Couric was moving to CBS. The Romans called it ‘Bread and Circuses. Keep the masses entertained and you can pretty much do anything you want. The old saw notwithstanding, ignorance is not bliss.