Miles Copeland, III

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Truth is Boring

The biggest movies are super heroes; Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman etc. J.K. Rowling did not get rich writing about a real school. Religion has always sold wishes over facts. We should not be surprised that the media, in a capitalist world, would do the same. News has been one area of media coverage but if you are out to make money, as most if not all media are then decisions must be made on how to appeal to the advertiser as that is where most of the income comes from. 

As I learned years ago from working with MTV, what they termed “short form” programming ( ie music videos) was not as good as “Long form” programming because advertisers wanted to know not only how many people watched but how long they watched for. The longer the viewer watched the greater the chance the viewer would see the commercial. MTV soon began building shows and cutting dramatically the airing of videos.  MTV is in the advertising business pure and simple. 

It should also be no surprise that bad news gets more coverage than good news. “If it bleeds, it leads” has been a newspaper motto for decades. As the great Howard Stern movie “Private Parts” showed, the people that hated Stern listened to his show three times more than the people who liked him.  He is not called a shock jock for nothing. The more outrageous the more listeners he got.

The US population is just over 330 million people. When does one read or hear a headline that says 330 million Americans have not died from Covid , less than one million have? Not a way to get viewers or sell newspapers.

The reality of what attracts viewers, listeners has always been the same. What is new is the realization that this can be taken to the extremes and there are no financial consequences to suffer. Just the opposite. It used to be that a journalist would want to have “credibility”, that journalism was an honorable profession, the truth mattered. News was understood to be a service to the public not necessarily a profit center. When it became known (perhaps thanks to CNN during the Gulf War) that the news COULD be a big profit center, then the next step would be – why not give news people want to hear rather than what they should hear? Then if that works why not just create “news” that fits what people want to hear? If they want lies and that makes us more money then why not tell those lies? Our advertisers will love us for it. 

That leads to outlets like Fox and Newsmax where guardrails are disbanded in the quest for profits. Sean Hannity gets paid lots of money to say the things he does and no one cares if its the truth or not. Actually it’s better if is not the truth as the truth is boring and too complicated. It’s not about truth anyway. It’s about viewership and money. THAT is the truth!

The bad news in all of this is that the most thoughtful people, the ones that know there can be two sides to every story, that are intellectually curious enough to check out multiple views before arriving at their own; are at a disadvantage. On dimensional thinking, easy answers, are much easier to sell than complicated and difficult ones. “Only I can fix it”. is as one dimensional and easy as you can get. No wonder it works.

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