McAdams On: Madness at Midnight
LOS ANGELES: I intended to focus on inanity of
retransmission squabbles being “news,” but I have family in Aurora, Colo. An
alleged person there slipped off the rails and sprayed bullets into a theater
full of folks attending a midnight screening of the new Batman film. Reports
are indicating that 12 people were killed and possibly as many as 59 injured.
The local police
already have a suspect, whose name is appearing in headlines across the media. I
will not repeat it here because to me, it’s blasphemous to the families and
loved ones of those 12 massacred individuals. It’s common knowledge that psychopaths
crave attention, and by nightfall, this mouth-frothing murderous freak will be
a notorious celebrity. What he should be is relegated quietly to an
interrogation room until the District Attorney can get him locked in a cell for
the rest of his life. Instead of headlines on front pages blaring, “Lone
Gunman,” his name should come out months from now, buried on page six and prefaced
with, “impotent, cowardly lunatic.”
suggesting that the media drives these deranged individuals to commit horrible
acts. The media is already blamed for more than it could ever intentionally
accomplish. The media, while
comprised of journalists, is also an organism independent of the individuals
who make it up, due in large part to the Internet. Most journalists I know are
overworked, underpaid, sleep-deprived, schlemiels whose intention to defend the
First Amendment has devolved into a tap dance of traffic, ratings and what can
be sold against.
The business has
always been colored by manipulation and flummery—no question. But before
digital journalism, there was a little more time to actually vet breaking news
before going out with it. Mistakes were still made, don't get me wrong. I was on print deadline at B&C several years ago when a tip came in that Barry Diller was
buying a network, and I had to chase it down. A long-time industry analyst
pointed me toward GoodLife TV, a network then owned by the Unification Church.
Barry bought Trio, about as not GoodLife as you could get. Had the printers not
been drumming fingers waiting for me, I would have hounded people with phone
calls into the night, but I didn’t stall and I got it wrong.
I understand the
buck stopped squarely with me, despite the extenuating circumstances. I also
understand how much worse the pressure to publish is in the digital age, when
“breaking” news comes down to seconds, and your stock in trade is clicks. So it
is then, that when Matt Drudge, a subversive conservative tool masquerading as
a journalist, squeezes out some gossip
about Condoleezza Rice as a running mate for Mitt Romney, it races through the
media like a wildfire, overtaking “legitimate” journalists late to identify it
as a apparatchik trial balloon.
They got it
wrong, just like I did more than a decade ago—and of course I’ve made mistakes
since then. Everyone makes mistakes every day. The cultural taboo of admitting
it doesn’t make it less true. It just makes us all less honest, like people who
regularly mislead reporters for their own gain, or because they can—as Drudge
did. The retransmission brannigans over the last couple of weeks illustrate the
first situation. These things have been going on for more than a decade.
There’s absolutely nothing new from one to the next.
reveals numbers in any sort of relevant context, but rather in whatever way
best reflects on their own position. Both take to the media as if they’re
single-handedly defending baseball, mom and apple pie, and we dutifully report their
baloney as if it’s actual news rather than a wholesale attempt to influence
policy. What we should be covering is why, if retransmission fees are responsible
for escalating cable bills as providers claim, don’t they refund subscribers
during the network blackouts for which they are partially responsible? That
always ends up being an aside.
I have issues
with people who manipulate the media, even though I am knowingly and otherwise handled myself. Does my gullibility somehow reduce me more than someone
else’s willingness to lie, like the person called “Ryan Holiday,” who
apparently makes it his business to lie to the media, according to Forbes,
if they haven’t been lied to. He practices a sort of reverse “gotcha” by posing
as a legitimate source. He proceeds to spin fabrications, and then brags about
having his lies quoted. How this is doing anything other than serving his ego,
I do not know. It’s not just my First Amendment. It’s everyone’s First
Amendment, and lying to reporters does nothing but degrade us all.
Copy editors and
fact checkers were among the first to go in the downsizing that’s taken place
across media companies over the last decade. Maybe there’s a business model for
a sort of AP-type service that just copy edits and vets. Mr. Holiday could
start such a universal copy desk. It would be a bit more constructive than
lobbing verbal Molotovs.
That said, the
need for institutional redirection remains. As long as we breathlessly cover
retransmission fights like conflagrations, the companies involved will feed us
as much dry tinder as we can burn.
As for mass
murderers—they walk freely among us, headlines or otherwise. I just wish the
practice of glorification by headline would disappear from the face of the
Earth, along with their kind. As far as I know, my family is OK. Scores of
other Colorado families are not. With the greatest and most profound sadness, I
am so sorry.
Post Script: Whether it was symptomatic of breaking news neurosis or sheer stupidity, there appears to be no excuse whatsoever for ABC’s huge gaffe linking the Colorado murderer to the Tea Party. I look forward to the organization's explanation.