Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bunnies on parade

The lead news on local TV last night was about a guy walking around his neighborhood in a bunny suit.

No kidding. When we first saw the police report we thought, “that’s not news,” but our intrepid cops reporter decided to check it out anyway. She knocked on the man’s door. No answer. She knocked on a neighbor’s door. The neighbor answered and said to our reporter, “Why aren’t you doing a story about the drug dealers down the street?”

That was enough for us. No bunny story. The reporter said, "If he starts shooting people, we'll do a story." We’ll see if we can chase down the drug dealers.

Yes, it’s another moment in the Age of Entertainment, and it’s funny only for awhile.

Constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, writing for the Rutherford Institute (a civil liberties non-profit organization), wonders if the continuing deterioration of TV news is resulting in our “amusing ourselves to death.”

“In our media-dominated age, news personalities such as Bill O'Reilly, Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity, and Rachel Maddow, among others, dispense the news with power and certainty like preachers used to dispense religion and boast vast viewerships that hang on their every word,” he writes. “Yet these talking heads are little more than Wizard of Oz-like front men for the powers-that-be, the mega corporations whose sphere of influence extends from the newsroom to the nexus of political power, Washington, DC.”

He rightly places a good share of the blame where it belongs – with the information consumer.

“… and as long as the television sets remain aglow (in an average household, the television set is on over seven hours a day), the blabbering of talking heads and overbearing advertising will continue.”

I’m gratified that Whitehead and I agree on another issue, too – local newspapers are one of the last outposts of real journalism.

“Local papers are most important because all political involvement begins at the local level,” writes Whitehead. “Understanding the issues facing your town and responding to them via letters to the editor is an effective way to start participating in society. It's certainly more effective than sitting on your couch and watching TV.”

This isn’t to say that journalism has to be grim or that newspapers can't have a little fun. Journalism should encompass all that a community is, including its whimsy (perhaps including a dude in a bunny suit). Unfortunately, more often than not that’s the stuff that leads a newscast, and information consumers should demand better.

Over time, when information consumption is limited to cable or local TV, celebrity magazines and shallow web sites, one’s view of the world begins to tilt. We begin to believe that everyone’s wearing a bunny suit, that our president was born in Kenya and that we must shout to be heard.

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