Photo by Keith Allison
The Tiger Woods scandal is just one more example of how the media use irrelevant gossip and slanted opinion to distract us from what really matters.
Sex isn’t the only thing that sells; so do lies, rumors, and gossip. But these do more than sell merchandise. When they dominate our television news reports, online news flashes, and newspaper/ magazine headlines, they distract, divert attention, and keep our thoughts in the gutter.
I remember when I used to respect the news. I used to think that reporters reported trustworthy facts. I used to think that the majority of the information on the 5:30 news was meaningful and relevant. While I do not know if my memory serves me correctly or if I was just naïve as a youth, I do know that I believe very little of what I hear from the news media today. As a matter of fact, much of what I hear I don’t even categorize as news at all. Take the Tiger Woods coverage, for instance.
Winning his first Masters in 1997 was newsworthy. So was his record-breaking assent to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings only 42 weeks after becoming a professional. And holding one of the greatest sustained periods of dominance in the history of men’s golf is newsworthy. But Tiger Woods’ recent “scandal” is not news.
The circumstances that caused his car accident a week ago or whether or not he had an extramarital relationship is none of our business, and it doesn’t take an MBA student to know that. Why, then, do news reporters and their producers insist on giving the American people information that is meaningless and irrelevant to our everyday lives?
Well, of course ratings and money have something to do with it. But let’s suppose for a moment that the men and women who work in media have enough self-respect to truly believe what they’re doing is more important than ratings and dollars. If so, either they really believe their gossip-laden cover stories impact our day-to-day living, or they are saturating us with information about nonsensical elementary matters to keep us ignorant of information they don’t want us to know about. My suspicion is the latter.
Do people really care what celebrities are wearing when they are not in the spotlight, who they are sleeping with, or who doesn’t pay their parking tickets? While there may be a modicum of curiosity, I don’t think people care to the degree that they want to have these questions answered in the lead stories on the nightly news — especially when their sons and daughters and friends and loved ones are being deployed to the Middle East to fight in wars for reasons that too few people can fluently articulate, and especially when they are living in an economy where jobs and homes are being lost faster than New Jersey Nets basketball games.
I am not saying that the news should be filled with stories that scare us (which has been done too). I am, however, saying that as a viewing public, we should look at news media with more critical eyes. Some guiding suggestions:
- Listen to what the reporters are saying
- Listen to what they are not saying
- Notice the amount of time news media spend on various subjects and question their reasons and judgment
- Ask why the reports sound so similar from news station to news station
- Become aware of how you feel after watching the news and how that impacts your day
- Note how stories are spun to shape your opinion — everything from the reporter’s tone and facial expression, to language and visual images
Have you noticed how many successful Black men have been targeted in recent events in the news? Black men have always been treated harshly and unfairly in the media, but now even our successful role models are under attack. Tiger Woods (guilty or innocent) is not the first. Remember how Henry Louis Gates was treated when he responded to an unjust arrest? How Michael Jackson was re-scandalized after his death? How Michael Jordan was criticized for his Hall of Fame speech? And how even Barack Obama was assailed for something as innocuous as a “stay in school” speech to American students?
Something is going on, and we can’t wait for news editors and producers to tell us what it is. We have to be skeptical about what we hear. We have to open our eyes. We have to read between the lines. We have to have eyes to see what is being deliberately hidden. And when we do, we must act swiftly to expose the darkness with light.