Reality TV, Laura Bush and the Press

There are those who say life is performance. We
talk of the drama of food, the theatrics of the clothing display at the mall,
the automatic smile when a camera is pointed at us. Susan Sontag said the
abusers at Abu Ghraib could smile at the camera even as they engaged in abuse
because media are so pervasive and have embedded themselves into our lives so
deeply. Thomas De Zengotita writes that we are all performers. Frank Rich says
the White House Correspondents Dinner reveals how the press corps is
participating in a performance that compromises meaningful
journalism.

“reality” television and
reality have become so
blurred that it’s hard to
know if ABC News’s
special investigating
“American Idol” last
week was real
journalism about a fake
show or fake journalism
about a real show or
whether anyone knows
the difference – or cares.
–Frank Rich

Laura Bush’s jibes at President Bush at the White House Correspondents Dinner were genuinely funny. She showed a human side we rarely see, and she did it with great polish. It was great fun to watch.Frank Rich writes that it points to a deeper question about the relationship between journalists and the politicians they cover. As this event has morphed over the years, he says it has become appropriated by shrewd White House operators. The journalists become the backdrop for the White House story, Rich says. Whether intended or not, they become part of the image-making.

At first glance this criticism might seems a bit harsh. However, when viewed in the context of a White House that accredited a former male escort as a legitimate news writer, paid journalists to promote policies as if they were delivering independent commentary, and distibuted video news stories masquerading as “real” news, this isn’t just sour grapes. It’s a question of trust, or rather, of who we can trust.

Journalists should be concerned. They are among the least trusted professionals today, according to a Pew survey. Journalistic ethical lapses are well documented. Newspaper readership is falling. Nightly TV news is losing viewers. People are actually turning to The Daily Show on Comedy Central for news!

For those of us looking for reliable information which helps us frame our world, this isn’t a minor concern.

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