About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Neil Postman on how to watch TV news
Nonetheless, the topic is most current and some of the issues posed by Postman and Powers are certainly appropriate during a Presidential campaign, including questioning what actually constitutes news, who is in control of what gets broadcasted, and how decisions about type and extent of coverage are made. For instance (Postman and Powers couldn’t have predicted this, but would have hardly been surprised by it), does anyone really believe that Fox News’ misspelling of Obama’s name to make it sound more like the one of a well-known terrorist responsible for 9/11 was an accident? If so, you really should read “How to Watch TV News.”
Here are Postman and Powers’ eight recommendations for what to do when watching news:
“In encountering a news show, you must come with a firm idea of what is important.” That’s because, as they put it, “even an open mind has to have boundaries” and one opens oneself up to manipulation without a preliminary set of priorities in mind, a set that may not match at all what journalists and corporations think is important.
“In preparing to watch a TV news show, keep in mind that it is called a ‘show.’” Well, this one is rather self-explanatory...
“Never underestimate the power of commercials.” Again, no further comment necessary.
“Learn something about the economic and political interests of those who run TV stations.” Ah, this isn’t easy, but the information is out there, if one really wants it. A good place to start is the Media Reform Information Center, a site that lists links to a variety of media watch groups. Then again, who’s to say that these groups are themselves trustworthy?...
“Pay special attention to the language of newscasts.” This actually is a really good exercise, which can be turned into a fun game for the whole family, apt to sharpen your kids’ critical thinking skills, and perhaps your own.
“Reduce by at least one-third the amount of TV news you watch.” It’s a good thing I don’t have cable!
“Reduce by one third the number of opinions you feel obligated to have.” What they mean here is that it is better to have fewer, but better informed, opinions, and that it is simply ridiculous to expect to have an informed opinion on every major political or social issue. Just don’t use this as an excuse for more video games.
“Do whatever you can to get schools interested in teaching children how to watch a TV news show.” Because the battle line, as usual, is at the next generation.