When the death of Michael Jackson dominated the national airwaves a few months ago, for what felt like days and weeks on end, it seemed that journalism standards for what passes for news couldn't sink any lower.
Then, on Thursday, October 15, the mainstream media managed to outdo themselves. With record home foreclosures, the announcement that seniors would receive no cost-of-living increase in Social Security (the first time since 1975), and an Arctic ice cap now forecast to be completely melted in ten to twenty years, there was plenty to talk about.
Instead, the lead story on most of the network and cable news shows was about a "balloon boy." There was nonstop coverage about a runaway helium balloon in Colorado which was thought to be carrying a little boy, a claim which later proved to be false. The most up-to-date reports suggest the whole incident was nothing more than a badly staged publicity stunt. With the continuous reporting devoted to this complete non-story, viewers would never know our country was in the midst of two wars and a series of economic and environmental catastrophes.
What should have been one of the day's lead stories, the record number of home foreclosures, was instead relegated to a ten-second spot in the last segment of one of the major network's national newscasts.
Watching the mainstream news has become like viewing a poor rendition of Alice in Wonderland. Up is down; black is white. No news to report; nothing to see here. If it's not on the national news, it didn't happen.
Meanwhile, real people in America are hurting, and their situation grows worse each day. Americans would benefit from in-depth news reporting covering real issues so that they could better understand what is happening to themselves and in the world. Instead, stories are cherry-picked and covered at the convenience of the corporations who control the media puppet strings. The only time the Afghanistan war is trotted out, for example, is when the government wants to drum up support for escalation. Wall Street's record rally is paraded across the airwaves, touted as a sign that the economy is rebounding, while continued job losses are lucky to receive as much as a footnote. Those discouraged workers who have given up looking and are no longer counted? They simply don't exist.
Forget about reporting on the spiraling inflation of the dollar, or reports that Saudi Arabia is calling for the dollar to cease being the world's currency. Don't expect to see any stories on network television about countries that are weathering the economy far better than the United States because they have policies in place that protect their citizens. The list of stories that go unreported goes on and on.
The purpose of today's mainstream media is not to inform, but to filter and control content in order to keep Americans distracted from the real issues. Whether corporations or government or both are complicit, real journalism and real news reporting has been all but discarded.
The result of this virtual information blackout has been disastrous. It is one of the biggest threats to what little remains of our democracy, and is largely responsible for why our once-great country has lost its way.