Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Narratives of the Media

When I was in journalism school in the early 1970s (still something of the hippie era in universities), I was one of three members of Greek fraternity / sorority system in the program. The other two were members of sororities, and one of them was in advertising, not the news / editorial sequence.  

As a general rule, journalism students did not like the Greek system. This was an egalitarian time in universities, and, by and large, journalism students saw fraternities and as elitist, playgrounds for the children of the well-to-do. There was some of that, of course; but the Greek system actually offered a reflection of the student demographics as a whole. My own family, for example, was not well-to-do; it was about as middle class as you could get.  

The three of us in journalism school who were “Greeks” experienced some derogatory comments from our fellow student journalists but it was not something to file a lawsuit over. But the antagonism was clearly there but it wasn’t overt. The faculty was generally of a similar mind.  

I’ve read the report by the Columbia Journalism Review of the “failure in journalism” by Rolling Stone Magazine in its story about the alleged gang rape at a fraternity at the University of Virginia. The editors of Rolling Stone have apologized and retracted the story. A fraternity’s reputation was destroyed. The university’s reputation was damaged. But at least the magazine apologized. That’s something, I suppose.  

The CJR report on the story is long, painstaking and excruciatingly detailed. There was no single failure; the failures were multiple and compounding. I read the report because I wanted to see if the CJR review team identified what was likely the biggest failure and the impetus for doing the story in the first place.  

A statement of it is there, but it’s not identified in and of itself as a cause or contributing factor. 

The fact is that the reporter started with her conclusion. And then went looking for an example to verify it. She found it. The example wasn’t perfect, and it had problems that should have raised red flags. The fact that the alleged victim fingered a fraternity only made it a better story. And it played all the right notes: male supremacy, female victim, sexual crime, elitist school, elitist fraternity. The story was too good not to be true. 

Did the reporter and the Rolling Stone not remember what happened with the lacrosse team at Duke University? That one turned out to be fiction, too.  

I don’t downplay sexual crime and rape. They’re despicable. They’re serious problems, and they’re serious problems on college campuses, as they are in society at large.  

But the media believing and promoting its own narratives without question is also a problem, and destructive in a different way.  

These media narratives – the stories the media believe without question – are tearing the fabric of society apart.  

It was a media narrative that helped demonize police in Ferguson, and my own town’s daily newspaper led the way with its screaming, hysterical editorials. Even the Justice Department, which has promoted plenty of its own narratives, eventually corroborated Officer Darren Wilson’s account of what happened. 

And it was a media narrative that gave us the spectacle of Indiana. You have to stop and ask yourself if any of the people making solemn, grim pronouncements – Tim Cook of Apple, Hilary Clinton, the NCAA, the reporters and editorial writers covering the issue – bothered to read the law in the first place. (No one bothered to ask Tim Cook about Apple’s business connections with China, one of the worst abusers of human rights on the planet, not to mention Uganda, which has the death penalty for people convicted of homosexuality. No, to ask Tim Cook about those issues would have been inconvenient to the media narrative.) 

The media promote individual liberty to the detriment of everything else. Religious liberty isn’t even a concern. Truth and reality aren’t concerns if they get in the way of the narrative. 

But the media should be concerned. Freedom of religion can be found in the First Amendment of the Constitution. It’s the same amendment that houses freedom of speech. And the right to assembly. And the right to petition the government.  

And freedom of the press.  

The media are going to lose it.  

And we will all lose with it.   

We already are. 

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Martha Jane Orlando said...

Brilliant commentary, Glynn. You nailed it perfectly!

Bill (cycleguy) said...

We hosted a Legislative breakfast which had 3 men from the state legislature here. They talked about the bill they signed and...get this...they were swayed to pass the bill by a pro-gay, pro-gay marriage professor from IU who testified this was a good bill to pass. Did the media ever check that out? Nope. I happen to agree with the bill in its original form. Sorry for the commentary Glynn but I tire of media bias.

Louise Gallagher said...

I appreciate your commentary Glynn and your ability to shine a light on what the real issue is.