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.
Tiger Woods photo by Jim Epler from Wikipedia.
Related Post: Talking About Tiger.
Every day across America we see self-segregation in lunchrooms, in classrooms, and in church pews on Sunday morning. But how about online?
Recently I began looking around the online spaces I frequent: Twitter and Facebook. I wondered if people, particularly those who were just online for social reasons, mix and mingle any differently than they do face-to-face.
To find out I did what any respecting social media junkie would do, I tweeted it. That is, I sent a Twitter.com microblog post polling my followers. And thanks to the Twitter/Facebook link app (aka “application”), all my Facebook friends got the same poll question: Has social media changed U? Do U now connect w/ a broader range of people? How? Offline too?
My new Twitter follower Bill Snyder responded quickly. “My friends certainly span a wide age range. Not totally sure I can attribute that to social media.” Bill, a fellow writer, whose blog is called A Life Beyond Traditional Media, added: “By default, I am more likely to meet people similar in age and skin color [off line]. Digitally speaking, though, it’s a different game. Through social blogging and Twitter, I put out ideas and read other people’s ideas. I find myself engaging in an exchange of thoughts and feelings before exchanging knowledge of skin color, gender, or age.”
Ramiro Medrano, a Facebook friend, indicated that social media had not changed him at all, having been raised in an ethnically diverse environment. Ramiro says, “I have added economically diverse friends to the list, which would apply [on and offline].”
It’s not surprising that the trend in our online relationships would follow that of our offline connections. Yet the Internet’s power to transcend the old boundaries of geography, race, and class also gives us the opportunity to encounter people, for better or worse, whom we formerly would never have had the chance to know otherwise.
Social networks are changing the way we receive our news and how we think about faith, politics, and a myriad of issues. The first amazing images of the “Miracle on the Hudson” plane crash last January were from a private citizen’s cell phone photos posted to his Twitter page. And much of the current protest raging in Iran over the dubious reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is notably taking place through the Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter dispatches of young Iranians.
Social networks also have become the new marketplace, particularly for startups and entrepreneurs. So, consequently, seeing a patchwork of multi-colored faces smiling back at you on a Twitter profile doesn’t necessarily say that racism is dead or that we’ve made great strides in racial reconciliation. It could also be confirming that money is green, no matter if it rests in a black hand or a white hand.
While many social media are used to bring people together around socially positive or neutral themes, sadly many pockets of the Internet thrive on hatred and bigotry. Racism does live in the digital world.
Latoya Peterson of Racialicious.com can attest to that. This spring, Laytoya led a panel discussion entitled “Can Social Media End Racism” at South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive, an annual cutting-edge media conference/festival. Ms. Peterson pointed out that she sees online racism every day on her blog in the comment box. Whether its on blogs, social networks, or news and opinion sites, comment areas are typically filled with racial slurs and off-color sexual references to people of color. Just look at the recent comment by Republican activist Rusty DePass. On his Facebook page, DePass apparently suggested that First Lady Michelle Obama is a gorilla.
The four-person SXSW panel, consisting of Latoya Peterson, Phil Yu (AngryAsianMan.com), Jay Smooth (IllDoctrine.com), and Kety Esquivel (CrossLeft.org), came up with three constructive ways to address the pervasive problem of digital racism.
They proposed that we resolve to use social media to:
1. Spread knowledge about racism through podcasting and videos.
2. Create refuge or sanctuary for those who are striving to defeat racism.
3. Mobilize for social justice and anti-racism grassroots efforts like those surrounding the Jena 6.
Some of the conversation around the SXSW event was held on Twitter, which according to Pew Research studies, tends to have a younger more racially-diverse crowd. One Twitter attendant observed, “There’s no ‘end racism’ app or we would’ve pushed that button a long time ago.”
If I just do a click-through of social media profiles, it’s easy to see the racial mixing and matching, the crossing over to the other side of the proverbial tracks. But I know racism (and classism) still exists. In fact, the anonymity and exclusivity of some networks can foster racist behavior. Statistics from Websense Security Labs confirm this. According to a recent Websense report, racist content has shown a marked increase on Facebook and Youtube during the first quarter of 2009. It’s human nature to hide our faces when we lash out in hate.
All things considered, I find it encouraging to see open dialogue about racism, taking the online world offline. Making the social media world really social. I particularly like it when it happens in Christian circles. For the faithful, being in a social network presents an excellent opportunity to come against the darkness of overt and covert racism. It’s a chance to create a new social climate, one that is inclusive, sensitive, honest, and interdependent.
Those of us who are Christ followers and social media junkies need to reach out across the digital boundaries that divide us with intentionality and fervor. Go looking for those in your niche that don’t look like you. Connect with those individuals and strive to interact with them regularly on a substantive level. As they follow our tweets and status updates, hopefully our online (and offline) behavior will reveal that we are following Christ.