Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Cost Of An Unethical Media

Just as spring eventually follows winter, and water inexorably flows downhill, so too do does hatred inevitably ooze out of the extremists in the media in the days and hours after an event like what happened during the Boston Marathon on Monday.

In fact, it's part of the reason we specifically noted the positive ethical behavior of so many in the media in Tuesday's commentary - as a contrast to the commentary we were certain we'd be writing today.

The near total lack of journalistic ethics from The New York Post in covering the events in Boston - lampooned with precision on Tuesday, in the satirical newspaper The Onion - was bad enough. With its obvious paean to the theory that more blood in the streets sells more copies and tweets, the Post's inaccurate and unethical coverage of the Boston bombing continued to live down to its ever-sinking reputation.

However, even the 'barely good enough for fish wrap' New York Post couldn't steal the sensationalism spotlight from the blood-soaked rats of the radio and TV world. Within hours after the carnage in Boston, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Alex Jones - three names rarely worth mentioning - were all doing their best (or worst) to spread fear about the events in Boston.

Jones followed the lead of the Fox-aligned New York Post, pushing the right-wing conspiracy theory that the Boston explosions must have been the work of Muslims. Beck was a bit more subtle, insisting "Middle Eastern" terrorists had to be behind the explosions, because “when our crazies go off [meaning Americans], they target the government."

O'Reilly grudgingly gave President Obama a compliment, by saying the President "will get to the bottom" of the disaster in Boston. Then O'Reilly blew past the broadcast version of Godwin's Law, saying this one-off incident was a well thought out military campaign, like what the Nazis did.

For all those media executives who think there's no cost to themselves as they greedily count the money they earn from supporting those like Jones, Beck, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, and the rest of the right-wing hate machine, the bursting of the fear bubble in gold prices may be just what the rest of society has needed.

Felix Salmon of Reuters pointed out Tuesday, as the facts of the market catch up to the kinds of paranoid investors that support Jones, Beck, and their ilk, the fear bubble in gold as an investment appears to be popping in world markets. This serves a sharp warning that investing in fear can be just as risky - and cost just as much - as investing in greed-fueled speculation.

Further, after the Boston explosions, both U.S. right-wing militia groups and the Taliban said they weren't behind the bombs. It's not the first time these two groups of extremists have stood together. [Sidenote - Both the militia groups and the Taliban stand with the NRA, against the background check bill coming up for a tough vote in the Senate today at 4 PM, Eastern.] Still, with both groups insisting it wasn't them, and a world of video and audio proof supporting their assertions, as Dave Weigel notes, the conspiracy theorists may have a tough time making anything more out of the events in Boston.

It's worth noting that not all the extremist rhetoric comes from the political right - though it's also key to point out that no left-leaning media organization is bankrolled or sells out the way right-wing media organizations do.

The fact is, the cost to our American society of a media environment dominated by hate speech on the radio, propaganda on TV, and lies in digital and physical print is far more than just a number in terms of dollars and cents.

It's a loss of the sense of who we are, as a nation, as Americans, and as human beings, that won't ever show up on some balance sheet somewhere. That was clear in the Constitution Project's report, that proved America engaged in torture after 9/11, under President Bush, while the media mostly watched and did nothing. It's even more clear as certain members of Congress still think ethical and constitutional behavior is optional.

Thankfully, as the positive actions of so many people - around the nation and around the world - have shown in the wake of this latest tragedy, not everyone has sold out their basic human decency for a few blood-soaked moments in the media spotlight.