I do not mean in any way to diminish the horror and the agony of the terrible tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was a tragedy almost beyond belief made even more tragic by the unusually young age of the innocent victims. It is unfortunately also an example of how the media markets misinformation thus providing an excuse for days of advertising revenue.
I don’t remember the precise details of all the coverage of this horrible event, but I remember enough to know the media, as usual, simply cannot or will not wait for the facts to become known. As I recall at first we were told there had been a shooting but they didn’t know anything about it, then we were told that the Principal had been shot by a 24 year-old man. We learned nothing of children being victims until sometime later when we were told 28 children were dead, then there was the claim the shooter had first shot his father at home, went to the school where his mother was a teacher and shot her and some children. Finally it was 20 children and 6 adults. Granted the story changed as more and more information was being obtained, but why could the media not have waited at least for a time instead of reporting every new piece of (often) faulty information. They could have at least waited until the final body count. And, of course, while all this was going on there was the speculation about how it could have happened, what could have been the motive, what did the ex FBI profiler think might have happened, what kind of personality might have been involved, and on and on about questions that could not possibly have been answered. Even some of the children were forced in front of the camera and microphone to describe what they had seen and heard! This coverage in my opinion was absolutely shameful, but of course the media thrives on misery and death and rarely passes up an opportunity to cash in on it. Of course I want to know something about it, but do I really have to listen to the uncles and aunts of some of the children, someone who once drove a bus he rode on, people who knew the teacher (who was not, in fact, a teacher), every passerby who can be cajoled into giving an interview, psychologists who know nothing about the perpetrator but analyze him/her, those who confess to knowing nothing of the facts of the case but offer us their opinions anyway? This coverage went on for hours, even days, and is not over yet. How many television ads do you think you were exposed to during all this time? And it was not as if there were no other stories anywhere in the world that might well have been of equal or even greater importance, our drones killing innocent children, the civil war in Syria, the troubles in Egypt, our terrible sanctions on Iran (mostly harming innocent women and children)and so on. No, for many hours the media was focused on this one story, although grievously horrible, mostly just giving them a (relatively cheap) excuse for more and more television ads rather than any other important news. The media seems no longer to exist for the purpose of bringing us “all the news all the time,” but , rather, the one story of the moment they can exploit to the maximum. So much for what used to be proudly considered “The Fourth Estate.”
And what else do we get in increasingly large doses from our media – advertising. Advertising that consists almost exclusively of individuals with a capacity and talent for false sincerity. I think Fred Thompson may be one of the best examples with his serious pitch for reverse mortgages, but virtually all of our ads are predicated on the same use of false sincerity, for beauty creams, deodorant, kitchen ware, automobiles, toothpaste, loans, travel, insurance, credit cards, medicines, and virtually everything and anything else you might imagine. And in most cases we are confronted with pretty girls, dignified actors, hardworking housewives, and even children, looking directly into the camera and telling us in all (false) sincerity just how great their product is. It is highly doubtful in most cases the hucksters have ever even used the products they assure us are wonderful.
When you consider how much of television time is taken up either by ads or by endless premature and inaccurate reports on the latest sensational “news” I think it is entirely fair to say they are making their money by marketing false sincerity and misinformation. Sad, but true, and we seem to just accept this as an ordinary and expected part of our lives, modern day snake oil for the “Rubes.” I confess to being one of them but I am trying more and more not to be one.
No one can deny that much of our modern advertising is essentially dishonest; and it can be maintained that to lie freely and all the time for private profit is not to abuse the right of free speech, whether it is a violation of the law or not. But again the practical question is, how much lying for private profit is to be permitted by law?
Carl L. Becker