Friday, May 01, 2009

Thank You, Justice Souter ...

... for saving us from the swine flu.

In the political discussion today, much is made of media bias. It's usually an unproductive debate, as each side points to examples. FoxNews is conservative. MSNBC is liberal. Sean Hannity and Joe Scarborough like Republicans. Anderson Cooper and Katie Couric like Democrats. The NYTimes leans left. The Washington Times leans right.

Some people decry media bias, expecting objectivity from our news people. I, for one (an emergent, postmodern type), have no such expectation. I don't think that a person can divorce themselves from their own perspective. It will cover and shade the stories they choose to tell and the way they tell them. Media bias doesn't surprise or particularly upset me much.

But beyond politics, what every media person is most biased about is ratings. Networks want viewers; newspapers want readers; websites want hits. For the past couple of decades, the path to increased ratings is sensationalism. Media people tend to make a huge big deal of problems, maybe even exacerbating the problems through their coverage. To gain and maintain viewers, the media needs to convince us the public that this crisis is the biggest and baddest crisis we've seen in our lifetimes.

Feeding off our short memories, our collective attention deficit disorder, and our woeful lack of knowledge about history, the media sensationalizes just about everything. The examples are near endless.

Most recently, it's been the swine flu. Masks, pandemics, xenophobia. This story has it all and is an apocalyptic wet dream for the sensationalistic media ... and it will never be anywhere near as bad as they say.

But a bigger story is brewing. David Souter is retiring from the Supreme Court. Few things are bigger to the media than a SCOTUS opening. So, let me be the first to say it.

Thank you, Justice Souter, for saving us from the swine flu.