Updated: Jul 2, 2019
The big “news” stories of the week involved Jussie Smollett, R. Kelly and Robert Kraft. While all of these individuals are accused of unsavory actions, their influence on the world at large is miniscule. Despite this, news cycle after news cycle is following these tabloid antics.
How did we get here? How did we become a society where the New York Times is called “Fake News” and The National Enquirer is the one shaping public policy? The answer lies in the White House, or at least explains how this administration got there.
We have become a society where the salacious sells. The more outlandish the act, the bigger the headline. As a result, news networks will seize upon even the hint of scandal to get the jump on their competitors. The result is often a distorted, inaccurate view of the facts, with the public at large choosing to believe only the facts that fit its agenda.
Take the Jussie Smollett case, for a prime example. When it was first reported, there was public outrage at this racist, homophobic, politically motivated attack. People from all walks of life expressed moral indignation as to how such an attack could have occurred, and demonized those who allegedly committed it. When the story began to unravel, it unwittingly gave legs to those it attempted to demonize. But this was a single act allegedly on an individual. Why was it such a huge news story?
In the case of R. Kelly, his actions were detailed in the Lifetime series Surviving R. Kelly. Yet, this too was about a single individual who had little to no impact on our daily lives. While I won’t minimize the impact that it undoubtedly had on his accusers, few outside this circle have been influenced by Kelly’s actions.
Perhaps, however, the case could lead to those who have been abused seeing the series and thereby gaining the courage to report their own abuse, but that is a personal issue; not something you want to share with the world at large. Yet again, this is being touted as a major news story.
And then there is the case against billionaire New England Patriot owner, Robert Kraft. His involvement in allegedly hiring a prostitute splashed across the airwaves. Again, we have an individual, and a misdemeanor crime, being categorized as a major news event.
How is this news? Sure, most of the nation has a love ‘em or hate ‘em attitude towards the Patriots, but what their owners do have nothing to do with the team’s performance on the field.
How do we solve this dilemma in the Era of Trump, where national policy is formed via Twitter?
First, we need more responsible news reporting. In this age of 24 hour-a-day news, there must be more emphasis on reporting current events, and not just an hourly rehashing of the previous hour.
News must be constantly updated, with minute-by-minute reporting, and not of just the same issue over and over again. And, there needs to be more responsible reporting. The emphasis should not be on getting it first, but getting it right.
Maybe then, we can have a return to a more civilized, less divisive society.
CJ Waldron is a retired English teacher from upstate New York. An adjunct instructor at Horry Georgetown Technical College, he lives in Conway, SC with his wife, Donna.