By James F. Tracy
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 15, 1997

Editorial is 'sanctimonious rhetoric'


The Wildcat's recent editorial, "The media has [sic] two faces" provides little more than sanctimonious rhetoric in attempting to explain "why journalists write what they do, why events are photographed and printed and why stories are chosen to run where they do." The argument leaves out the most important influence: news media (publications, TV and radio) are for-profit institutions and their raison d'etre is to generate revenue from advertisers by "selling" audiences to them. News is one of many types of media designed to inform, titillate, and entertain- not necessarily in that order. The tragic and untimely death of Princess Diana is a case in point, and the reason for such zealous coverage was the simple fact that the occurrence was indeed "tragic and untimely" rather than the result of a predetermined malady. News is increasingly presented for its intrinsic "shock value". The adage "if it bleeds, it leads" is the implicit mantra of editorial offices and TV studios across the U.S..

You assert that news must be "beneficial to the community it serves" and consist of "'information that has recently happened and affects the lives of a majority of people.'" Given these guidelines, I cannot figure out exactly HOW the death of Princess Diana will affect me or any other citizen of the U.S. in any demonstrable way. Should I feel obligated to grieve over the death of a member of the British monarchy (an institution which no longer has any claim to official governing power and was in no way "humanitarian" when it did) whom I have never even met, let alone had tea with? Based on your own definition of what news is, can we safely conclude that, in providing a ceaseless stream of news on the Princess' death, journalists in the U.S. have abandoned the "ideals" you and they claim to hold so dearly? Or is news just driven by personalities that the media have created and bolstered through their own sycophantic coverage?

The editorial also argues that "true journalists" go about their trade "as best as the law and the public allow." In what way is the public a constraint? With the exception of limited consideration of "public opinion" through polling and focus groups, much of the news media express their contempt for readers and viewers daily thorugh their lack of meaningful news and intelligent reporting. It is no secret that much of the public is very dissatisfied with most electronic and print journalism. In defense of the news media, you predictably cart out the First Amendment song and dance. Professional journalist and Atlantic Monthly editor James Fallows sums up this popular maneuver: "In response to suggestions that the press has failed to meet its public responsibilities, the first instinct of many journalists is to cry 'First Amendment!,' which is like the military's reflexive use of 'national security' to rebut outside criticism of how it does its work" (1996, p. 5). Congratulations Wildcat staff on learning your craft early and well!

James F. Tracy
Media arts graduate student


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