|The Czar just cannot fathom why we still pay for news. It's like paying $14 at a kids' lemonade stand for a small cup of water mixed with lemon-sugar.|
Is this another right-wing screed about the left-wing media? No! Frankly, at this point, the only folks who believe there is no heavily leftward media tilt are people on the left who suffer from confirmation bias. They perceive no bias because they agree with the story.
Instead, this jeremiad seeks to explain how the media screws up stories. The short answer: templates.
If a story fits an editorial template, it gets published right away. For example, the most famous template is man bites dog. Any story fitting that mold is approved by editors and submitted for publication. As a result, reporters wanting to get published seek these stories out. BBC News has a story Wildfires Fanned by Invasive Grass Species. Get it? Grass can start a fire! How novel.
Another template is the political slant. A story that is politically neutral can be charged by selective presentation. If Palestinians attack israelis with rockets and kill a family, and Israel retaliates with a heavy attack, the headline will read Brutal Israeli Offensive. Yes, the Palestinian part will be in there somewhere, but most people dont read more than the headlines. The readers impression? Israel is angry and offensive.
Of course, if the story doesnt fit a template, it can be made to by outright distortion. The thing that set us off this morning was this horrible story about a homeless man in New York who shoved an apparently total stranger in front of an oncoming subway train. The man struggled to climb up from the tracks, and a photographer took a picture of the terrified man a split second before the train killed him.
The media is all over this one! And the tone is the same: crazy New Yorkers wont bother to help a man on the tracks, but even took pictures of him! Numerous stories are already hectoring the subway riders and especially the photographer about standing idly by while a man was killed. Sound familiar? If you are old enough, you will recognize this as the Kitty Genovese template. Basically, New Yorkers dont give a crap about each other.
This is patently untrue, and only a few short weeks ago, we were regaled with stories of ordinary New Yorkers helping each other out with Hurricane Sandy. Some sources correctly stressed the utter lack of responsibility exhibited by federal executives who waltzed in days before an election, promised help, and were never seen again. Not surprisingly, a lot of New Yorkers turned to each other, rather than on each other. So the Czar repudiates the Kitty Genovese effect: often, the more people who are affected, the greater the civic response.
But wait, why then have all those feel good stories? Well, the media likes those, too, especially as padding to extend a slow-moving story. But see how quickly they went back to their original template? The fact is that many people were so stunned and surprised by the attack that the man was struck and killed by the time people figured out what had happened. And people did try and help: the assailant was almost immediately apprehended.
Not covered in the media are the thousands of stories of New Yorkers helping others on a daily basis. Or in other big cities all around the United States. And the reason for this is simple: it isnt what titillates an editor. But give him a Lord of the Flies scenario of city folks turning on each other, and you got it.
Did you know, by way of closing, that there was more looting in New York City after Sandy than there was in New Orleans after Katrina? Guess it depends who is President.