5 Things The Media Loves Pretending Are News
Reporting the news is really hard. We've seen those poor guys standing in the hurricanes, trying to hold on to their microphone while debris flies by. And it's a good thing we have them; blogs and Twitter are nice, but to find out what's really going on in the world, at some point you need good old-fashioned journalism.
So can you blame a news outlet for using shortcuts and falling into the same old mistakes and cliches over and over again, just to fill space?
Yes, yes we can.
Let's Ask the Idiots About Science
When it comes to matters of opinion or personal beliefs, it is absolutely the duty of the news media to report both sides (and any extra sides there may be, on those rare odd occasions when there are somehow more than two). It doesn't matter which one they agree with, they need to acknowledge the fact that some people think gay marriage is a right and others think the gays are forming a unicorn army that will kill us all.
Image courtesy of Faithmouse.com
When it comes to matters of fact, however, they absolutely do not have that duty. Particularly when it comes to technical or scientific matters where it takes somebody with training to speak knowledgably on the subject.
If we're talking about if, say, vaccines cause autism, we need to hear from scientists. That's a scientific issue. We do not need to hear from Jenny McCarthy or Jim fucking Carrey, in the name of giving "both sides." Jim and Jenny don't get a side. They have no background in the subject, and it's one that requires fucking background.
Once this happens, your opinion on medicine doesn't matter.
Sure, they can talk about poisonous vaccines to Oprah or whoever is sitting next to them at the Lakers game all they want. They have freedom of speech. That freedom does not guarantee them a seat on a panel of experts.
Yet, this kind of stupidity happens constantly. You get articles like this one from the Toronto Star, explaining how an investigation revealed how World Trade Center building 7 collapsed:
Scientists with the National Institute of Standards and Technology say their three-year investigation of the collapse determined the demise of WTC 7 was the first time in the world a fire caused the total failure of a modern skyscraper.
The organization they mentioned, the NIST, studies how buildings collapse so that they can make sure future buildings don't collapse. But instead of going into further detail on their extensive investigation, we get this:
Mike Berger of the group 9/11 Truth said he wasn't buying the government's explanation. "Their explanation simply isn't sufficient. We're being lied to," he said. Ah, yes, the conspiracy nut. Again, we would never deny a crazy person the right to be crazy.
They just shouldn't get a voice equal to that of hundreds of highly-trained experts. It can't be done that way. After all, there is a contingent of conspiracy kooks drifting around every subject. You don't stop every story about AIDS in Africa to hear from the John Bircher who thinks AIDS is a secret government population control project spread by fluoridated water.
But we can't just disregard their opinions, can we? Yes. Yes we can. If you're going to weigh in on a scientific matter, you need to bring data, gathered by people who know what the fuck they're talking about. If the subject is medicinal marijuana, we're not going to quote a stoner who has suddenly realized his hands can talk.
The first rule of modern journalism is that everything has to have a cute nickname. When celebrities are dating you mash their names together (Bradgelina!) and when there's a scandal, or anything that sort of looks like a scandal, you tack "-gate" onto the end.
Obviously we can thank the Watergate Scandal for this, which was only named that because it involved a break-in at the Watergate hotel, which itself was named after a planned reception area on the shore of the Potomac river that oh by the way, does not exist.
We get another "-gate" about once a year these days. The Clinton administration had like five different -gate scandals (Troopergate, Travelgate, etc). But now? Janet Jackson's nip slip at the Superbowl--Nipplegate. Tom Cruise mad at an episode of South Park that makes fun of Scientology? Closetgate. Someone crashes Obama's party at the White House? Gatecrashergate. Soon we expect to learn Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is using public funds to buy himself a new gate in Gatesgategate.
Pictured: Gate's gait.
You can also thank New York Times columnist William Safire, who started 'gating every scandal starting all the way back in 1974, when Watergate was still going on. Thanks to him, journalists get a Bonergate every time they think there's a gate-worthy scandal, and political pundits are always eager to hang a -gate on the other side (see the "climategate" emails).
Gotham City already experienced Bonergate.
The only thing that makes us feel better is the knowledge that, in some alternate universe, the Watergate hotel was instead named after John Hancock.
Now for the Weather
You have to feel sorry for weather men and women. These days you can get a weather forecast within five seconds on your PC or cell phone. So there is a certain desperation that comes with a guy who is doing a job he knows is not only obsolete, but a little bit silly. As a result, there are two types of weathermen/weatherwomen: the "Michael Bay" and "Captain Obvious."
And occasionally, the Ron Jeremy.
The "Michael Bays" love to play up any kind of severe storm like it's straight from the Book of Revelation. They've been waiting all year for this, and immediately become the weather version of the sensationalist reporter, knowing that all eyes are on them. First step? Come up with a rad name for the storm. Then stand in front of a graphic that says, "The Blizzard of Oz" or "Snowmageddon" or "The You Gonna Get Stabbed in the Eyeball With an Icicle Like That Guy In Die Hard 2 Coldocalypse of '08."
Now is the winter of your discontent.
One example: A Portland, Oregon news site went on a frenzy calling an upcoming winter storm "Winter Blast." The result? According to this site, Portland got two inches of snow. For the entire month of December. Holy Shit, two inches! Why that's enough snow to build a four inch tall snowman, then look at pathetic said snowman, think of your childhood and wonder if you'll ever be able to feel anything ever again.
Then we have Captain Obvious. "Breaking news, everybody. It's snowing! In Chicago! In January!"
Enjoy this CNN report, with their team tracking the kind of storm they get in Chicago every year at this time. That's a national news channel there, breaking in to let you know that the weather in Chicago is doing exactly what you would expect.
They could take that report, stash it in a drawer and pull it out every year at this time and it would still apply. Speaking of which...
The most clockwork example of news recycling is the "THERE IS WEATHER HAPPENING" stories we just mentioned (in the slow Summer months, the "dangers of the heat" stories will come fast and hard). That is, unless the media has a missing white woman to cover.
You know what we're talking about; in a world where thousands of people go missing every year, the national news will latch onto the disappearance of an attractive, middle-class white woman as if she was the only one that mattered. In 2002, we got non-stop coverage of Elizabeth Smart, then Laci Peterson. Then a few years later the "Runaway Bride" Jennifer Wilbanks, and then Natalee Holloway aka that girl who went missing in Aruba.
About the only thing that can knock a missing white woman from the headlines is MAN-EATING SHARKS. Every few years somebody will get mauled by a shark, and we're in for story after story about shark safety (even though far, far more people are attacked or killed by dogs every year).
Puppies, or "dirt sharks," are relentless in their pursuit of a meal.
The news actually declared the Summer of 2001 the Summer of the Shark after eight-year-old Jessie Arbogast was attacked by a bull shark while wading in shallow water. From then on, every subsequent attack anywhere in the world got immediate headlines. All told, shark attacks during the Summer of the Shark were, uh, down 15 percent from the year before.
Then, once November rolls around we'll be ready for all of those awesome Christmas stories. The conservative outlets will tell you all about the War on Christmas. They'll profile the latest town or shopping mall that has changed its holiday decorations after realizing not everyone practices Christianity, and explain how this will lead to the downfall of civilization.
It's not that surprising that Macy's would contribute to the apocalypse.
Meanwhile, everyone else will have their cameras positioned in department stores starting the day after Thanksgiving to cover the fact that HOLY SHIT IT IS NEAR CHRISTMAS AND PEOPLE ARE BUYING THINGS FOR CHRISTMAS FOR SOME REASON.
Passing Advertisements Off as News
There's so much gray area around advertising that it's practically all gray area. And it almost encompasses all of the media we consume. For instance, as much as we love Conan O'Brien, his show--and all talk shows--are simply outlets for studios to send actors with movies or shows to promote. John Stewart's guests are often there on behalf of their publishers, to sell books. Then you have that show that aired after the Super Bowl, Undercover Boss, that is basically corporate PR disguised as a reality show. That's just the way it is.
Like Arby's delicious food and low, low prices, shameless plugs are unavoidable.
But we have to draw the line at news, don't we? Because, you know, the entire concept is that you're seeing/reading actual facts instead of a corporate sales message? Yet the LA Times ran a front-page "story" that was in fact a paid ad for a TV drama, only dressed up to look like a story.
For shame, LA Times.
Meanwhile, last year three local TV news broadcasts in Las Vegas "covered" the closing of a local car dealership, mentioning what low, low prices the cars were going for. This was back when Chrysler was cutting dealers loose, so it kind of seemed like a real news story when you were watching at home. However, the stories were done as part of an ad buy from the dealership (another local station who turned down the deal reported them to the FCC).
The Ultimate Driving Machine.
But at least they used their own reporters. Media watchdog site PR Watch discovered that five different news stations used a "Video News Release" about ethanol production and treated it as their own story. What follows is the most insane conspiracy in a local TV news station since the second half of Anchorman. The different news stations just tossed on their own graphics and pretended that the shill playing the part of the reporter, Kate Brookes, was one of their own.
As it turns out, Brookes was a publicist for Medialink, and the original video was made by Siemens AG, an engineering corporation that supplies materials to more than half the ethanol production plants in the U.S. That pisses us off so much the only thing that will calm us down is THE DELICIOUS TASTE OF DORITOS.
When Nick isn't watching only the least important parts of the news, he's working on a sequel to the greatest Kingdom Hearts parody in the history of things that involve words.
Do you have something funny to say about a random topic? You could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow. Go here and find out how to create a Topic Page.
Check out some more recycled techniques that will never go away, in 6 Cheap Acting Tricks That Fool The Critics Every Time and The 10 Most Shameless Product Placements in Movie History.
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 2/17/2010) because BOOBS BOOBS BOOBS.