Tuesday, June 3, 2008

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Media Sector

My most recent trip to the local library netted two books: Rupert Murdoch: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Media Wizard by Neil Chenoweth, and Media Madness: The Corruption of Our Political Culture by James Bowman.

Bowman presents some interesting arguments in his text. His thesis pertains to how the swelling of journalist's self-importance, "lack of humility and sense of proportion" have affected our culture. I found some of Bowman's points valid. He explores how the pretense of objectivity in the news ignores the reality that bias is inevitable, how "sensationalism and hyperbole used to sell more papers or television advertising warps the media's sense of reality," and how the media affirms its intellectual superiority by being able to decode hidden objectives for political actions. Bowman wrote the goal of the book was not to "attack the media" but how media madness "has produced a breakdown of the common political language and an impoverishment of the ability of the two sides in a democratic debate to talk to each other."

There were some issues and arguments to which I agreed with the author and others I didn't. Yet, when I came to the below passage I found Bowman's solution to a societal problem disturbing. He was discussing the circular reasoning and "root causes" media uses to explain situations. Bowman uses the example of poor schooling. Media, he wrote, claims less obvious root causes to justify their role as information disseminators.
"Ignorance, for instance, as a result of poor schooling, cannot be caused by the poor schooling itself, which would be the obvious cause. No, the poor schooling must itself have a less visible cause that, in effect, exonerates the educators who are doing such a poor job. (pp. 86)"
The following quote is what shocked me:
"I believe, for instance, that it would be relatively easy to get rid of failing schools and give all children a decent primary and even secondary education. It could be done in very short order if all you did was clear out the incompetent and ineffectual teachers and administrators who are consuming public resources to no purpose and give their replacements the necessary moral and legal as well as educational tools to do the job properly. Among these would be the right of individual teachers or administrators to discipline pupils by any means they chose, including physical punishment. (pp. 87)."
I included the whole passage so as not to misrepresent what Bowman wrote. He doesn't claim to be an expert on education, but I find his solution disturbing and ineffectual. I concur that there are teachers and personnel who aren't suited for the education field. I don't, however, think that physical discipline is the solution. Education is certainly a problem in our society and there is an alarming disparity in funding for different schools. Some under-performing schools already serve as daycare centers for youth. Bowman's remedy sounds more of a prison, where disobedience is met with physical violence.
There is nothing like fear to educate. Bowman makes the same style of brash simplification and conclusion that the media does in its reporting. He too asserts his opinion as fact.