The New York Times recently reported that approximately 1,000 news media representatives were in attendance at a press conference held by South Carolina University’s football coach, Steve Spurrier. The burning issue that prompted the gathering was that Spurrier’s was the lone ballot that did not include Florida University’s All-American quarterback, Tim Tebow, on the pre-season Southeast Conference All-Star Team.
You will excuse me if I wait for a more urgent issue. But the media reps – all 1, 000 with cameras and notepads – were there.
The status of the media is at an all time low. Considering the history of America’s press… going back to Hearst’s war mongering that led to the Spanish-American conflict, it takes some doing to reach the nadir. Of course, reports are flourishing that daily newspapers and news magazines are on their last leg, victims of the internet, website, blogs, and all the other gadgets that pass for progress. Electricity has superseded responsibility and the passing on of information.
Twenty-four hour news cable stations, at best, are irrelevant. They have 20 minutes of news and 23 hours plus of speculation, gossip, rumors and vocal but uninformed opinions. Many of the TV shouters have learned from the hateful radio mongrels, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Grant and Michael Savage to name a few. To justify their existence, they have to top their latest shock statement. Cruel attacks on public figures and slashing commentary maintains their ratings but dissolves the meaning of a free and open and responsible press. They are bottom line hucksters.
President’s Obama’s press conference on his health plan is a perfect example of media on the loose. Obama spoke with clarity for about 58 minutes, enlightening us on the complex aspects of his proposed national health plan. In the final two minutes, he responded to a question about Harvard Professor Gates’ recent incident in his own home.
Two things happened. Immediately after the press conference, talking heads became our interpreters of what we just saw. Fox folks droned on about the President’s failure to fill in the blank spaces…and CNN and other cable news shows sounded as if they had prepared their comments before the press conference. But the two minutes devoted to the Gates – Officer Connelly situation dominated the tabloids and the second-guessers. The New York Post even put Michael Jackson to rest for a couple of days. A crybaby reporter on Fox has determined that Obama is anti-white, i.e. a racist. It is interesting because Fox pundits like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly…along with radio babblers like Limbaugh and Savage are consistently oblivious to America’s long history of slavery, segregation, selective imprisonment, and racial profiling…and they have collectively determined that any proud, outspoken person of color is automatically anti-white, rather than angry about a lifetime of injustices. They move the dialogue of race away from our shameful history of discrimination and second class citizenship, sliding it into a barrage of allegations that satisfies the frightened people who perceive the loss of power and entitlement.
More and more, the media has become the story rather than the tellers of the story. The passing of Walter Cronkite reminded us of that… as a few sparks of media civility remain – Bill Moyers being the best example of Cronkite’s and Edward R. Murrow’s legacy.
Obama’s beer summit with Prof. Gates and Officer Conley was another example of responsible leadership defusing a conflict and searching for understanding – if not resolution. Much of the coverage of that was about the preconceived notions of the reporters rather than the result of delving into the implications of such a confab.
What the press seems incapable of covering is the fear of white men and their perception that a Black man in the White House somehow lessens their potential and their access to the corridors of power. It is a curious and complicated aspect of social reality…one that when mentioned brings a response of anger rather than reflection. Alpha males always have such difficulty revealing what they fear. It is difficult to begin a dialogue…attempt to find paths for solutions, as revealed this week by the President of the United States. Obama’s effort is almost unparalleled in this country…he being at the opposite end of the male arc from our recent Vice President who saw fear as a weapon to exploit. Most of the editors and reporters and producers who determine what you will read, see or hear are caught in this same maelstrom.
Frightened people cloud the issues…avoid rather confront them. The headlines, prompted by what some are calling “Gates-gate”, reveal more about the messengers than the participants. It is a story about race in America…but it goes deeper than that. It is about justice and fairness and how things are interpreted and received. It is about the fear of losing an indefinable something… a perceived loss of power rather than a sharing of the responsibility.
The messengers have been nurturing the insecurities because it often finds a bottom line that provides big dollars for them. But in President Obama they are confronting a man who is comfortable enough with what he believes and he is proceeding in spite of their collective shouting. It will be interesting to see where and how and who the American public will follow.
Perhaps Coach Spurrier should call a press conference – pretending to comment on another football player and just tell the flock that he is in favor of the President’s health plan or endorse his meeting with Gates and Connelly.
I wonder how they would cover that.
I’m David Rothenberg…out on a limb!
Posted by David Rothenberg