Journalism

Who Controls Who?

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I am amazed by the sheer number of people who genuinely believe that the media is out to control what they think.

They say that the the press wants you think a certain way, and that they’ll do anything to make sure that you do. I work in “the media,” and I’d like to give you the real truth: such thoughts are asinine.

Naturally, there are those separate entities within the “media” umbrella, Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken for example, who would love to have you believe everything they believe while selling their message as the complete truth.

But if we’re going to convict “the media,” rather than these extremists, then let’s look at the oft-forgotten truth in this life: When the media makes you feel a certain way, you are allowing those feelings to happen.

I wonder whether those who agree that the media should be stopped for trying to control your thoughts favor the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution.

“Which one is that, you ask?” Tsk, tsk, tsk. Fine. I’ll do what the media does: I’ll inform. The eighteenth amendment, class, created Prohibition. Responding to those people who felt that no good could possibly come from the consumption of alcohol, Congress banned its sale and transport. (Of course, for those who like to remain blissfully uninformed, I’ll intrude into your brain with one more fact, lest you worry: the twenty-first amendment DID repeal the eighteenth…so you’re free to imbibe.)

But the point is this: what was evil? Alcohol itself, or the way people used it and what they did to themselves and others because of that use? There are plenty of people who use alcohol responsibly…the majority of people, in fact. Alcohol is served in some churches rather than grape juice during religious ceremonies. Families toast in the new year with it. Studies show that certain forms of alcohol, when used in moderation, can be beneficial. As long as people use it wisely, it does no immediate damage to those around them.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the media, overall, doesn’t care what you think, so long as you keep coming back to the individual sources for your information. Time Magazine, for example, isn’t nearly as interested as you think about whether you also watch MSNBC, so long as you don’t stop reading Time. In fact, they probably WANT you to get as much information as you can, since both organizations are tied to other, similar news sources.

If you’re a Democrat, the majority of the media isn’t out to change that. Likewise, if you’re a Republican, the majority of the media isn’t covertly planning to convert you to “its” way of thinking. It reaches slightly beyond paranoia to think otherwise.

As a recent film has “proven,” if you only eat fast food for every meal, do not exercise, and ignore the advice of your doctor, you will (hang on to your seats!) get fat. You can’t legitimately blame the restaurant for serving the food; you did request it, after all. They did what you asked. You were the one who was irresponsible.

Media consumers who allow the media to shape what they think are being as irresponsible. Just as the media’s job is to question the officials they report about, it is the media consumer’s job to question those reports. It’s unfair, I know, because it often requires real thought: you should be able to be handed only the truth and nothing else so you don’t have to suffer through rationalization.

Life is unfair.

I was reminded of how quickly people are willing to let someone else do their thinking for them by an IM last evening from someone who began without even a hello. (I guess common courtesy is the first casualty of internet messaging.) She immediately attacked my view that we should have more years of Reagan’s “magic.”

I was puzzled. I didn’t recall saying that we should have more years of Reagan, since the combination of his Alzheimer’s and recent passing would seem to make that impossible, anyway. I did recall, however, suggesting that the magic he was able to conjure that allowed people of both political parties — some, not all — to think beyond the current problems and look toward the future for those all-too-few shining moments was something I’d like to see again. I didn’t say at the time that I felt that only a Republican was capable of such magic. I think Democrats are equally capable of it. My hope of feeling that spirit again didn’t automatically require that it come from a Republican. I suppose I must have thought people might read beyond partisanism in a single sentence. Silly me.

She told me where she got her information. It turns out that my Reagan tribute moved from the AOL People Connection main screen to the AOL News Community screen. (Doesn’t AOL let people know when they’re being featured anymore??)

AOL, in fairness, took a shortcut in summing up what I had to say there. They did it because they have an extremely limited amount of space to deal with for those headlines. I understand that. Their reason for putting anything there at all is to get you to click the link and read in full the comments and decide for yourself.

But this IMer didn’t bother to click the link AOL provided in order to read my “uplifting remembrance.” She took that headline, stopped there, and began her tirade. She failed to check her facts. She failed to take the extraordinarily taxing effort of clicking on a link to read the entire commentary. Yet she was the one to claim that the media is trying to control everything we do.

When people are “controlled” by the media, that’s why it happens: they let themselves be controlled out of laziness.

I wasn’t surprised, really. Along the way during our conversation, she made this remark:

“i love talking politics with republicans because history and facts are on my side, it makes it so easy,,,,, ” (sic)

Wow. Talk about letting someone control your thoughts!

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.