May 7, 2007

Changing of the Guard

Over the last few years, the possibility of the “alternative media” (read: blogs) becoming rivals to the traditional mainstream media has been discussed quite a bit. Given some of the incidents from the traditional media over the last few months, I’m thinking that blogs should be considered legitimate rivals. Consider these:

...A little over a month ago, ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd, who ironically stole material from blogs last year and passed it off as his own on his show, felt threatened by bloggers so much that he urged his listeners to visit a sports blog called “The Big Lead” en masse, thus crashing its server for two days.

...Not surprisingly, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy illustrated similar childishness and suggested in a March 25, 2007, column that bloggers are just Star Trek and comic book addicts who live in their mother’s basement, eating Domino’s pizza and “living the dream.” If Shaughnessy views bloggers as being insignificant cellar dwellers, why would he feel the need to dedicate an entire column to bashing them? It reminds me of people who say that teaching is the world’s cushiest job, but they themselves won’t enter such a “cushy” field.

...These are just examples of people in traditional media fields who are facing the threat of the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, some other traditional media outlets have simply made us wonder if they’re willing to change news stories in a concerted effort to make things more sensational than they really are. Two recent cases can be used as examples:

Don’t Bee Fooled
The issue of colony collapse disorder (CCD) has been gaining attention over the last few weeks, and rightly so. Bees are disappearing in large numbers all over the globe but scientists don’t know why. The world’s food production could be affected because bee pollination plays a major role in fruit and vegetable growth.

...A German scientist, Stefan Kimmel, suggested that cell phone waves might have something to do with the bee disappearance but that his small study shouldn’t be generalized to the world’s bee population as a whole. No matter; headlines like “Are Mobile Phones Wiping Out Our Bees?” accompanied by lines such as “Scientists claim radiation from handsets are to blame for mysterious ‘colony collapse’ of bees” quickly spread like wildfire.

...In addition, this story spawned a hoax about Einstein saying that if bees disappeared from the Earth, humans could survive for only four years. Einstein researcher Alice Calaprice, who has authored six books on Einstein, has said that she’s never come across his views on bee pollination and human survival. Moreover, Jeff Pettis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture pointed out that the four-year survival theory is scientifically incorrect because some food—enough to survive—comes from wind-driven pollination.

Pulling a Video from Your Hat
More recently, a television news station, CBS 13 in Sacramento, highlighted a parody song called “Barack the Magic Negro” that first aired on the radio show of conservative blowhard and noted prescription drug aficionado Rush Limbaugh. The song was to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon” and was inspired by comments from liberals who are questioning Senator Barack Obama’s “blackness.”

...Democrat Joe Biden said of Obama, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” Obama correctly called Biden’s comment “historically inaccurate.” Biden later took the usual route and said that his comment was taken out of context.

...We shouldn’t be surprised, though, because Biden is no stranger to making ethnically-stereotyped comments. With regard to Indian-Americans in his home state of Delaware, Biden once said, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.” (Click here to see the video and read comments left by his supporters. It’s proof that conservatives don’t have a monopoly on stereotyping.)

...In addition to that remark, Limbaugh’s parody song also took remarks from Los Angeles Times columnist David Ehrenstein, who referred to Obama as “the Magic Negro”—a reference to “a cultural figure who emerged in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education” who “has no past” but “simply appears one day to help the white protagonist.”

...Anyway, the story behind the parody song wasn’t sensational enough for CBS 13—or were they just ignorant to it?—and they posted a homemade video found on YouTube to accompany the song, thus making it look as if it were a shocking official video from the Limbaugh camp.

Due to so many incidents of questionable content (the aforementioned examples are the most recent ones; going back a few more years we could include bigger stories like Newsweek’s fictional Koran-flushing incident and the New York Times incident in which Jayson Blair was caught plagiarizing and fabricating information), we need to ask if we’ve finally reached the point where the “alternative media” or the “new media” is now equal to the traditional media in terms of information, intelligence, and creativity.

...Judging by some of the blogs on the Internet and comparing them to “official” media outlets, I’d say “yes” without hesitation.

Boston Globe
The Independent
Seattle Times
Penn State University
CBS 13
Los Angeles Times
Washington Post
New York Times

Updated Section:
With regard to the parody on Limbaugh’s show, I forgot to add Al Sharpton’s comments, whose voice is impersonated on the song. In March, Sharpton criticized Obama and asked, “Why shouldn’t the black community ask questions? Are we now being told, ‘You all just shut up’?” An unnamed black Democratic activist was then quoted as saying, “It’s driving Al crazy that Obama is as impressive and popular as he is, and he’s not happy about it.” (Chicago Sun-Times)