Medium as a Megaphone

The big Tweet Graphic by Tina Salameh

You attend a lecture and everything is going well, until you come to the dreaded Q&A. Don’t get me wrong, you value the presenter’s opinions and relish ­­the chance to see them go off script.

But whoever it is that’s in charge of the microphone manages to pick out the lone Lyndon LaRouche supporter in the crowd; or the merely incoherent anti-fascist who wonders why everyone isn’t decrying fascism; or the guy who doesn’t really have a point to make, he just wanted to let the lecturer know he, you know, considers himself a progressive kind of guy but considers third trimester abortions perhaps reprehensible (the debate was about genetically-modified crops).

Everyone knows you don’t hand the microphone to the craziest person in the room, so why does the media do it every goddamned day?

The role of journalism is to provide a voice for the voiceless—and therein lies the problem. The media doesn’t give a damn whose voice it is, so long as it gets people riled up. Those with intelligent, pressing things to say take to Twitter and the blogosphere; although an equal amount of uninformed, malformed “opinionaters” take to these same forums as well and gum up the frequencies.

Consider a recent example: an American cleric decides to open a community centre with religious overtones near a politically-contentious piece of real-estate; a talk-jock needs to fill an hour of his radio broadcast and so turns it into tawdry political theatre; the MSM picks up on the faux controversy, framing the debate with a leading question about the wisdom of placing a Mosque near New York’s Ground Zero; a surge of opinions, some decent, some nuts, floods the Internet and every crevice of our communications-craving society; the MSM finds a southern Baptist who wants to burn Qurans in protest—although he doesn’t carry out his nearly flawless plan—to get people to pay attention to him, just announcing his intentions does the job; protests erupt across Afghanistan, placing American forces in direct danger.

It’s like a tidal wave of idiocy begetting idiocy begetting violence.

I wish I could place the entire blame on the owner of the microphone, but who do you blame when the microphone belongs to all of us?

If it isn’t CNN or MSNBC alerting me about the book-burning inclinations of someone who doesn’t read books—aside from the one that they base their entire life on, and yet, when asked to quote from it, somehow come up short a verse or two—chances are I would have found out anyway through my favourite Twitter feed, or directly on my Facebook wall.
Almost every day I’m bombarded by friends and acquaintances asking if I’ve heard the latest controversial expectoration from the dribbling mouths of idiots—and then to share in their excoriations of said expectorations.

Blaming the machinery of the media for its output may be like blaming the bullet instead of the man with his hand on the trigger, but who gave him the gun in the first place?

The Internet is a Rorschach test for what people want to see, and somehow that blob of black ink always looks like genitalia or scary foreigners. You’re responsible for what you see and hear when you watch television or surf the Internet. It’s that simple.

Want intelligent, informed opinions? Luckily, those aren’t far away.

Want the complete opposite? Just open your browser. You probably inadvertently set it as your homepage.

Human beings are the result of millions of years of random mutation and natural selection, with the best traits propagating themselves and spreading across the gene pool, while those less adaptive traits atrophy and die. If we practised the same selectivity with the news sources we listened to and the stories we shared with friends, maybe, just maybe, we’d survive as an intelligent species.

After all, if every liberal who hated Rush Limbaugh stopped listening to his show, there’d be no Rush Limbaugh.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 10, published October 19, 2010.