Radical suggestion to Big Media: You are not the story.

November 15, 2010

Readers of my blog know that I rarely shy away from criticizing the French financial press (the reality is that I still read it regularly and often find it relevant and thought-provoking).  But to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the only thing I find more infuriating than the French media is… all the other media.  Particularly the U.S. media.

For those Europeans who have successfully tuned out over the past month the “perpetual panic conflictinator,” as comedian Jon Stewart so aptly described it, the U.S. media circus has reached a tipping point.  I fear we have now entered a paradigm in which the U.S. media has lost its ability to distinguish between reporting the story and being the story.

Even in the midst of the traditional hysteria of a U.S. election season, a disproportional amount of media coverage centered on the media actors themselves.  What was the real intent of CNN newscaster Rick Sanchez’s anti-semitic comments?  Did MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann cross an ethical boundary by making a personal contribution to a political campaign?  Were NPR correspondant Juan Williams’ remarks anti-Islamic and warranting dismissal?, etc.  The flood of coverage accorded to Juan Williams alone would make you think he was a serial killer.

With all due respect, the U.S. media, and particularly television news, has lost its way.

Looks like good old Werner Heisenberg was right when he published in 1927 what later became known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.  How is this relevant, you ask?  The Uncertainty Principle holds that it is impossible to determine precisely both the position and momentum of an atomic particle at the same time.  A precise measurement can be made of either the atom’s position, or its momentum, just not both position and momentum simultaneously, because precisely measuring one requires altering the other.  I submit that we can apply this principle to journalism as well.  The very act of reporting a story impacts the story itself.  This is inevitable.

So if “Big Media” can acknowledge its inevitable impact in shaping the debate, perhaps it can recalibrate its compass to strive less to play the game and more to simply broadcast it.  In other words, would you kindly leave the pitch and return to being mere hooligans in the stands.

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