Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Most Trusted Name In News

My friend and fellow writer Hugh Ashton calls out CNN for peddling a floating hotel concept fairy tale as real news:
Incredibly, this nonsense got taken up by the mainstream media, for example, the Daily Telegraph, which shows the “docking concept”, and, possibly the worst offender of all, CNN, who report that although the design is a “concept” and only a “feasibility study”:
designers have developed a detailed and achievable technical plan for the craft that could allow it to be built in the future

The point is that there are no technical plans available in the release. Materials, propulsion, hard calculations (other than gross lifting force) are totally ignored. Moreover, the headline: “Could we soon be staying in floating hotels in the future?” completely ignores the weasel words buried in the rest of the article. Many journalists, myself included, are sometimes guilty of this to a degree, but this seems to be a particularly egregious example.

I try to keep off politics in this blog, but it is worth noting that CNN is often regarded as being trustworthy and unbiased. When faced with something like this, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that many half-truths and biased points of view on the political front have been packaged as “fact” by CNN and others. Readers of the blog are left to provide their own examples, but the implication is relatively obvious–read past the headline and look for the fnords.

Of course we are well acquainted with the numerous half-truths CNN and other media outlets parade as fact: Saddam had WMD; Dems refused to let anti-choice Gov. Robert Casey speak at the 1992 Clinton convention; angry liberals turned Paul Wellstone’s memorial into a Republican hate fest; hippies spat on Vietnam veterans. You know the drill. They’re called zombie lies over here (though I love the “Fnords” idea) and as Atrios says, they never die.

What’s truly weird is that an outfit like CNN would distort a story that really doesn’t matter. Were they so hard up for news that day that they needed to embellish someone’s quirky dream project by adding words like “achievable technical plan”? Isn’t there enough real cool stuff happening in the world?

Hey, CNN: head over to Fast Company; it’s like the “Reader’s Digest” of cool stuff.

We American viewers are used to this stuff. Hugh lives in Japan and (though I haven’t asked) probably gets to watch CNN International, which is far superior to our domestic version; no doubt he also gets to watch the “real” BBC as well (we just get BBC America here, which is mostly lame reality shows like Cash In The Attic and How Clean Is Your House?). Sad to learn the media sucks internationally, not just at home.

Of course, some would say this is by design. In a piece that’s now a few years old, Thom Hartmann quoted Vice President Henry Wallace’s answer to the New York Times, which had asked him if fascism could take root in America:

"The really dangerous American fascists," Wallace wrote, "are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power."

Here's a scary thought: The news media sucks because it’s meant to.