Saturday, March 18, 2006


You hear it all the time: “Don’t shoot the messenger.” But sometimes it’s really, horribly, almost impossibly difficult not to want to do so, at least figuratively.

The job of the electronic media is to be a messenger, and the messages those who participate in that endeavor are entrusted to deliver are the daily stories of what is happening in the world, in our country (whatever nation we happen to live in), and in our communities. Some do that better than others, but they usually manage to do that to at least some extent - although sometimes what they find important doesn’t quite jibe with my idea of what is important to know. But that’s another issue for another time.

The problem I’m having with the messenger is that they seem to think that it is also their job to relay another set of messages. Apparently we, the public, have been deemed not to be intelligent enough to know what to think and how to feel about the events the media reports to us. So, sometimes in not especially subtle messages, the reporters and the newsreaders try to instruct us in those areas. The national broadcast networks aren’t as bad about it as the cable networks and local news broadcasts are, but it seems to be a growing trend at all levels. The local media in my own area in central California tend to be especially blatant about it.

I hear it every day. Things never go wrong anymore; they only go “horribly wrong”. Funny, I never had anything go “wonderfully wrong”, so that if something goes wrong, that it might well take a horrible turn seems like a foregone conclusion. And there are no accidents anymore, it seems. Each one is a “tragic accident.” Well, while I’m willing to concede that some accidents could be classed as “comic accidents”, usually no one is hurt in those and they end up on America’s Funnies Home Videos instead of on the evening news.

That isn’t the worst of it, though. The worst of it is how those accused of certain crimes are tried and convicted in the media long before they ever go to trial in the judicial system, sometimes before they are even arrested. If you think the rest of the United States got hit with the circus surrounding the Scott Peterson trial, where a man was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for killing his wife and unborn child, just think how it played where I am, where it was a local story. Before there had even been any revelations that the husband might have been involved in what was initially called a “disappearance”, there were some in the local media detailing what tactics the prosecution might want to use in convicting him of the crime. Not saying that I don’t think he did it; I’d bet money that he did. It just seemed to me that finding an impartial jury after all those messages from the media would be fairly difficult. And so it turned out to be; the trial was held in another jurisdiction. The media got its message out quite successfully on that one.

It’s tempting to think that this sort of message-sending by the media is a relatively new phenomenon. It isn’t. I happen to be re-reading Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff at the moment, and I came across this passage, where he is describing the press conference where the seven Project Mercury astronauts were introduced to the public. “It was as if the press in America,” Wolfe writes,
for all its vaunted independence, were a great colonial animal made up of countless clustered organisms responding to a single nervous system. In the late 1950s (as in the late 1970s) the animal seemed determined that in all matters of national importance the proper emotion, the seemly sentiment, the fitting moral tone should be established and should prevail;…the animal’s fundamental concern remained the same: the public, the populace, the citizenry, must be provided with the correct feelings! (Wolfe 1979, p. 101; emphasis in the original)

In truth, this probably goes back far further than the 1970s or the 1950s, but it certainly prevails and seems even more fervently served up today.

All this probably bothers me a lot more than it really should, and I tend to take it a lot more personally than I likely should. Still, I feel insulted that someone, some organizations that do not know me at all, have decided that I am so stupid - that the community is so stupid - that we need to be sent messages telling us how to feel about the issues and events of the day.

This entry was created as part of a project called Weekly Anamnesis, which you can find at

No comments: