Sunday, October 22, 2006

quality v/s quantity

I enjoy watching panelists debating on television. The news is one thing, but opinion about the news is what puts things into perspective: especially when there is a diversity of opinion. Now, when the discussion is side-tracked by pundits trying to build a name for themselves instead of actually discussing the matter at hand, well, intelligent debate takes a hit.

What is even more worrying is that pundits that seem to be crawling out of the woodwork are very media- savvy and know how to build their profile. In a recent Wall Street Journal article that discussed the issue, the main theme was that those who took rigid stands on issues and did not give into the ‘On the one hand, but on the other hand’ mode of operating, were the ones who were booked for more appearances. Personally, I was offended when I read this: “In the wake of North Korea's recent nuclear test, a hawkish Ms. Schlussel hit the radio circuit, saying U.S. officials responded too mildly in calling the test "a provocative act." "A Paris Hilton video is a provocative act," she said. "What North Korea did was an act of war." To get noticed, Ms. Schlussel says, "I've become the master of the confrontational sound bite."”

What is journalism? It is a discipline of collecting, verifying, reporting and analyzing information gathered regarding current events, including trends, issues and people. But this is a step beyond journalism, because unlike journalists who can be held responsible for providing wrong news, pundits can shoot off whatever they want, louder and louder, in hopes that someone hears them.

Now, if there is anything I learned from the much (and rightly) maligned Fox News, it’s this: the more you provoke and infuriate people by being confrontational, the more they react to you. But you win because your ratings go up and more people tune in because it IS entertainment (or infotainment). But on the other hand the ones who research the matter and debate candidly, those are the ones that stand the test of time. Jon Stewart was absolutely correct when he slammed punditry when he said that these people were simply into the theatre of debate, and he did not believe that they made honest arguments. For those in the know, perhaps, the fact that it is political theatre seems exciting. But I can’t help but wonder, how can you want to be famous for being intelligent when you are earning your name as someone who simply follows a strategy of the controversial sound-byte?

The need to be famous is fairly interesting. While fame was restricted to achievers in the past; actors, sports people, statesmen and the like, today with a plethora of media channels available, more people are needed to fill in that space. It is a democracy after all. But when you see clearly manipulative people giving their faux opinion on a news show- you wonder if fame doesn’t need to have some quality control. Sadly, the Ann Coulters & Bill O Reilly’s of the world have made it ok for people to behave badly and be rewarded for it. The louder they are, the more they 'win' an arguement because they drown out other voices, the more shows they are booked for. But there may be light at the end of the tunnel. It’s totally in the realm of possibility and probability that high-pitched screaming will pave the way for producers booking guests who can actually debate. We already lost ‘Crossfire’[CNN]- perhaps the formula that pre supposes confrontation will have to change; after all, there is nothing as constant as change itself. Tired formats and pseudo celebrities will outlive their purpose, but in the meantime, one can only hope for a discerning audience who understands what to listen to- and who to ignore. Well, here’s hoping!

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