Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Breaking News—Media Wastes Nation's Time With Worthless Fake Story

Manny Pacquiao
The front page of yesterday featured a prominent headline: “Pacquiao Rips Obama’s Views.” Readers had to open the link to find that Manny Pacquiao had voiced critical views on President Obama’s recent support for same-sex marriage. Pacquiao claims, falling back on the same heel-dragging arguments that have dominated for generations, that God meant for men to be only with women, and that the President had spat in the eye of God.

I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it too as I read the article: Manny who? Manny Pacquiao, Philippine boxer, current world welterweight champion, and media darling. Other media headlines emphasize Pacquiao’s boxing credentials in their headlines: “Pacquiao jabs President Obama on same-sex marriage stance,” CBS News. “Manny Pacquiao KO’s gay marriage,” Thankfully, the New York Times and USA Today ignored the non-story.

In fairness, Pacquiao is more than an athlete. In addition to holding a seat in the Philippine national legislature, he has acted in several Tagalog-language movies and TV shows. He hosts a live weekly game and variety show, which he has also used as a platform for his debut vocal album and serial entrepreneur ventures. A devout Roman Catholic, he has recently enjoyed a new burst of enthusiasm for his faith, and expressed a desire to become an evangelist.

Absolutely none of this résumé qualifies him to receive attention from legitimate news media for holding a particular political view. Pacquiao, like anybody, is entitled to voice his opinions on politics, or anything else. And it comes as no surprise that venues like and ESPN have reported Pacquiao’s statements, since, as an athlete, he falls within their purview. But outside that domain, I fail to grasp why anyone should care about this faux story.

Often, the media strive to play up controversy, because the appearance of a fight boosts numbers. As the old saying goes, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Yet President Obama’s comments in support of gay marriage have failed to produce objections outside the usual, expected circles. Perhaps media professionals, desperate for a countervailing opinion that isn’t completely obvious, homed in on Pacquiao because something is better than nothing.

But this does not excuse the media for wasting my and others’ time on something that only superficially resembles a story. The time I spent watching MSN pretend to care about Pacquiao’s opinion was time I didn’t spend on something creative, uplifting, or useful. The sight of a pseudo celebrity recycling dogmatic arguments, guaranteed to convince only those already convinced, feels downright offensive when weighed against the aggregate productivity lost.

Sadly, our mass media’s news cycle insists that stories must appear, at all hours of every day, regardless of whether anything newsworthy has happened. A day spent watching CNN often offers barely an hour’s worth of insights. Candidates gave their boilerplate speeches! War continues overseas! Celebrities have irresponsible sex! Everything is reported with the same breathless urgency. The cumulative effect is wearying.

After the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, comedian Gilbert Gottfried and rapper 50 Cent caught hell for tweeting tasteless jokes about the tsunami. This comes as no surprise, since stars live in isolation from the human race and often lose sight of common decorum. So I could ignore, if not forgive, the two of them. I couldn’t figure out who I resented more, though: the media for reporting on these fake stories, or my friends who reposted the media reports on Facebook

Most surviving American newspapers have more reporters on the sports beat than the entire rest of the news cycle combined. As the number of news outlets continues to contract, those few reporters lucky enough to have a beat cling to it with pitbull-like tenacity. The writing pool in America’s newsrooms gets older, more risk-averse, and further removed from the audience who depends on them.

Meanwhile, cable news and the internet make no effort to distinguish real news from engineered “events.” Most audiences cannot sort real news, the news that makes them better citizens and more informed voters, from Pacquiao-grade fluff. As Stewart Pinkerton states, “Most people need an expert to filter, prioritize, and context [sic] information. A firehose of information without that is useless.”

Journalists once believed they had a sacred obligation to the public. Their audiences still believe that. Perhaps, in this age of “citizen journalism,” people who still believe the news matters have an obligation to start their own countervailing media. Because if we don’t hold journalists to account for their slovenly habits, who will?

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