By the time the 11:00 news rolled around on September 11, many stations had compiled a rapid-fire montage of footage of the hijacked planes crashing into the twin towers. A different angle each time, different reactions each time, bam-bam-bam, one after the other. Much of the United States was moved to just get up and switch the television off, something that begs the question “How much is too much?”
This is a society saturated by the media and both broadcast and print news has grown to the point where they have an unparalleled effect on how history unfolds. In some ways, the far reach of the media’s arm is a good thing. It keeps the public knowledgeable about current events. It maintains a critical watch on the government and people in positions of power. At the same time, it can drive people to impulsive and potentially negative reactions to what happens in the world around us.
Think back to 1991. It’s probably safe to say that had television news not endlessly looped the footage of Rodney King’s beating, downtown Los Angeles may not have erupted into the state of violence and anarchy that it did. True, police brutality is a tremendous evil in society, the responsible parties deserved to be brought to justice, and the public had a right to know. But, the media’s bombarding repetition of the King tape stirred up a rash of overall anti-police, anti-authority sentiment and the ensuing looting and chaos following the trial caused many innocent parties to suffer.
Then there are the Bill Clinton impeachment hearings. Again, the public had a right to know — the president of our country is supposed to be a moral and upstanding citizen, and if he doesn’t seem to fit this bill, his job gets called into question. But in this case, deep delving into the personal backgrounds of the involved parties and the way graphic details were brought into the limelight it surpassed merely “keeping the public informed.” Moreover, it smacked of a definite agenda on the media’s part to tarnish the public image of President Clinton.
Broadcast and print news are widely referred to as the public’s watchdog. But now it’s time to ask “Who keeps watch on them?” Their role is to disseminate news to the public honestly and accurately, without bias. That means no sensationalistic coverage and no agenda-setting when it comes to delivering the hard facts on stories that affect the consumer, especially in light of the recent events at home and abroad.
Some might ask, “But what are they going to do?” “Act like it’s not a bad thing that New York City and Washington DC were attacked?” Of course not. The attacks were a tragedy. But on the other hand, the news quickly pointed the finger at bin Laden and Afghanistan. Compare this with how quickly people began to lash out at innocent Arab-Americans. The media needs to take caution to be sure they are acting responsibly in reporting… especially in moments like this, of national and global crisis.