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Rollins, You’re Wrong. Isn’t This News too Big to Ignore?

January 12, 2011

Vanity Fair just published Henry Rollins’ “Don’t Blame Sarah Palin, Just Stop Paying Attention!

Wow! Emphatic! Rollins’ argument? Don’t blame Palin and the right wing-nuts for the shootings that happened in AZ this Sunday. We should all just close our eyes and it will go away. But how’s that going to happen, exactly? Especially when, in order to ignore her properly, he has to put her name in the headline of his plea.

FOX News’ parent company, News Corp. claimed $33 billion annual revenues as of September, 2010, according to their own site. Far from the only manufacturers of the ignorant hate breeding filth, war-mongering fear, and barely concealed racist bile spewed daily into the American atmosphere, the commodification of news has let many an absurd and inflammatory statement go unchallenged and unexamined.

Isn’t news that big too big to ignore? And isn’t ignoring it precisely what we’ve been doing? OK. We haven’t been ignoring it, but we have been ridiculing it, as if it’s too absurd to be taken seriously.

But that’s a luxury we can’t afford right now. Rollins seems to think that US citizens have any say at all in how the news we watch is presented anymore. It’s not just Palin. It’s Angle. It’s Beck. It’s Limbaugh. And as David Morris said today on Guernica, it’s the media itself.

As Morris points out, along with Reagan’s FCC’s abolishment of the Fairness Doctrine (an enforced media standard that mitigated straight propaganda in news by providing “…an opportunity for the presentation of contrasting points of view”) came a rapid decline in civil discourse.

The media simultaneously sensationalizes the worst aspects of the political culture while by and large failing to challenge them in any meaningful way as Big News has become Big Business and Big, Big Money.

Similarly, as politicians and pundits are seen as guests of honor on the average talk show, soft ball questions have become de rigueur. Just take a look at the slow decline of Larry King; it wasn’t just age and the mountain of young wives he had to hump his way through and then divorce that sapped his spirit and made him a toothless teddy bear who could barely be bothered to ask a real question. It was the industry itself that changed, allowing for a laziness that could see more than half of the American population believing that Couric’s evisceration of Palin in the lead-up to the 2008 election had anything to do with the questions she’d asked at all.

I have recently become more sensitive to the almost complete absence of critical thinking, research and knowledge put into the average interview with politicians who go on talk shows. (This is due, in part, to my habit of listening to Comedy and Everything Else.) The guests and their publicists set the rules of the game, and the talking heads just follow along as if to challenge a lie or contest an assertion is tantamount to defamation of character. So some people are perfectly happy to maintain civility in public discourse in all the wrong ways.

While the recent mass murder in Arizona is tragic, can we please go further than sensationalizing the right wing “rhetoric” and start taking it apart on a large and resounding scale?

I want to finish this post with some recent commentary by Rachel Maddow about the ways in which we’ve been talking about some of the violent language in the news and how it contributes to a hostile atmosphere in US culture. Television culture needs a lot more voices like hers.

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