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Mediasaurus

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mediasaurus

Michael Crichton

04.01.93

I am the author of a novel about dinosaurs, a novel about US-Japanese trade relations, and a forthcoming novel about sexual harassment - what some people have called my dinosaur trilogy. But I want to focus on another dinosaur, one that may be on the road to extinction. I am referring to the American media. And I use the term extinction literally. To my mind, it is likely that what we now understand as the mass media will be gone within ten years. Vanished, without a trace.

There has been evidence of impending extinction for a long time. We all know statistics about the decline in newspaper readers and network television viewers. The polls show increasingly negative public attitudes toward the press - and with good reason. A generation ago, Paddy Chayevsky's Network looked like an outrageous farce. Today, when Geraldo Rivera bares his buttocks, when the New York Times misquotes Barbie (the doll), and NBC fakes news footage of exploding trucks, Network looks like a documentary.

According to recent polls, large segments of the American population think the media is attentive to trivia, and indifferent to what really matters. They also believe that the media does not report the country's problems, but instead is a part of them. Increasingly, people perceive no difference between the narcissistic self-serving reporters asking questions, and the narcissistic self-serving politicians who evade them.

(Snip)

This leads me to the final consequence of generalization: it caricatures our opponents, as well as the issues. There has been a great decline in civility in this country. We have lost the perception that reasonable persons of good will may hold opposing views. Simultaneously, we have lost the ability to address reasoned arguments - to forsake ad hominem characterization, and instead address a different person's arguments. Which is a tragedy, because debate is interesting. It's a form of exploration. But personal attack is merely unpleasant and intimidating. Paradoxically, this decline in civility and good humor, which the press appear to believe is necessary to "get the story," reduces the intensity of our national discourse. Watching British parliamentary debates, I notice that the tradition of saying "the right honorable gentleman" or "my distinguished friend" before hurling an insult does something interesting to the entire process. A civil tone permits more bluntness.

And where can you find this kind of debate in today's media? Not in television, nor in newspapers or magazines. You find it on the computer networks, a place where traditional media are distinctly absent.

So I hope that this era of polarized, junk-food journalism will soon come to an end. For too long the media have accepted the immortal advice of Yogi Berra, who said: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." But business as usual no longer serves the audience. And although technology will soon precipitate enormous changes in the media, we face a more immediate problem: a period of major social change. We are going to need a sensitive, informed, and responsive media to accomplish those changes. And that's the way it is.

 

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26 years ago Has anything in the MSM changed (for the better I mean), I have my doubts.

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