The national media has never reflected an accurate picture of society, and the coverage of the events in Ferguson, MO prove this point.
While I do channel surf between all of the cable news channels, I generally spend most of my time watching CNN, which generally offers more news and fewer programs advancing political agendas, like FOX News and MSNBC. This is not criticism of FOX News or MSNBC for airing politically slanted programming; and though I do watch all of the networks – I just find myself spending more time watching CNN.
All of the cable news channels submit to the temptation to present the sensational side of news. When the cable news channels recap the events in Ferguson or have a guest discussing the shooting of Michael Brown and the protests, I notice that the “B-roll” – the video that covers the conversation – is of the height of the violent protests, even when the discussion is about the more peaceful demonstrations.
Why would the networks not want to match the video with the content of the discussion? The video of the violent protest is more visually compelling to viewers than video of a peaceful demonstration. The network’s decision to air the more violent video is a response to what they believe the viewers want to see. As I have often argued, the audience is ultimately responsible for the programming decisions made by the networks.
The 24/7 news networks face the challenge of filling a vast and continuous amount of airtime. As the networks cover any breaking story, they show the same video loops over and over, and for those who watch longer than a few minutes, it is easy to get the impression that the crisis or tragedy is more widespread than it really is.
Human nature causes us to be intrigued by violence. That does not mean that we want or encourage violence – it is just an acknowledgement of human nature. Since the goal of the news networks is to attract ratings, they will instinctively select the news stories and the videos that are most likely to attract the attention of the largest possible audience.
It is unlikely that this relationship between the media and the audience will change any time soon – that’s why it is important for the audience to recognize that what they see through the prism of the news media is NOT a true reflection of the full story, or of society in general.
The stories of the African-American and white community in Ferguson working together become a mere footnote to the violent unrest. The visuals of blacks and white police officers in a tense standoff in the streets of an American city resurrect images of the past battles over integration and that is a familiar story line that invokes great emotions on both sides.
But as much as the news media thrives on showing violence in society, there is a line beyond which the news media will not cross. Coverage of the beheading of an American journalist included only stills from the graphic video of the actual beheading, which was initially available on YouTube. But the networks were definite about censoring the actual video, which we can all image how graphically violent it must be to anyone who views it.
I often talk about the responsibility of the audience that consumes the news media. It is our responsibility to understand the motives that drive the news media and watch the news with that in mind.
The bottom line is, the news media reflects the more sensational aspect of any news story and should not be considered a true barometer of the attitude and the actions of American society.