Other bits and pieces

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Thoth Was Telling Porky Pies

Sitting at my desk yesterday forced to endure endless repetitions of circular news on the office television, I was treated to the opportunity to witness the compelling story of Lindsay Lohan being sentenced to jail for whatever jack-assery she's been up to since doing whatever she does that makes the world move. The other big story—breaking news that would change life on this planet as we know it was something about Mel Gibson fighting with his ex-girlfriend. These and the thousands of other inane non-events that the news outlets pretend have some sort of bearing on daily life, slanted stories vilifying BP, stock brokers, and the government, and the endless 'everybody panic' attempts at fear-mongering over whatever is going to kill us all, poison our children, and rape our grandparents begs the following question: When did the media turn from noble journalism, keeping the public informed of what's important, into a tabloid of sensationalist diarrhea?

I know what you're expecting from me right now. You're expecting me to wax-philosophic about a better time when journalists were honorable fact finders serving nothing but the public interest; serving as the 4th pillar of government and voice of the people. You would be wrong.

The up-ending of journalistic integrity didn't coincide with the creation of cable news and its “24 hour a day infotastic cluster-f$%k of factish like material” (America (The book), Jon Stewart, 2004). This isn't new. It started the first time someone with a printing press had to sell what he printed to make a living. And that's it—right there; news is a consumer product, not a public service. Think about that for a minute. There will be a quiz at the end.

The early years of journalism in America started with the publication of pamphlets while the British, on their quest to make the entire world drink tea and play Cricket (A game the English invented, only they understand, yet the whole world beats them at), were still trying to convince pesky colonists that they owed their allegiance to an insane property owner 3000 miles away. Notable pamphleteers included Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Pain, Alexander Hamilton, and Ben Franklin. Surely these cornerstones of the American foundation wouldn't print anything but the unadulterated truth, right? Yeah, not so fast.

Not only were these early saints of truth and light using their pamphlets to spread unmitigated fabrications about the British and all their evil plans to sacrifice goats and babies in public, they ruthlessly competed against each other for market share. Journalistic integrity? Fox News has more integrity and than Ben Franklin. These guys printed articles in their pamphlets specifically to tell readers how bad the other pamphleteers were and how no one should read that crap. (I think Alexander Hamilton actually wrote, “Thomas Jefferson is a fat syphilitic git who can't even spell his own name and he smells like a yak.” Though, that quote may be difficult to independently verify, so just take my word for it). Ben Franklin used to write 'letter's to the editor' under false names to praise his on publications and demonize the competition.

In 1728, in order for Ben and his partner in business to pwne* the local news market, Franklin wrote a series of essays under a pseudonym for a competing newspaper critical of the Pennsylvania Gazette, eventually driving it bankrupt. Then he bought it. Yeah, because you wouldn't get your short and curlies yanked into a lawsuit for that today. And they all did this stuff. They were in the business of selling a product. People didn't have ye olde www.getthynewsheare.com/britishsuck/colonistsrule/htm, so competition for a captive market was fierce, even more so in an economy where most people could really only afford to by one of these pamphlets. So they better buy yours. Okay, so they play to win, but they would have never misled the American people, right?

In 1770, Paul Revere decided to go at play in the fields of journalistic hedonism when he used (and by used I mean ripped off) a drawing by Henry Pelham to make an engraving of the events of the Boston Massacre that so accurately portrayed British tyranny that the whole of America jumped on board the 'Down with Britain and Man.U.' train. I'm kidding. The engraving and accompanying story printed by Benjamin Edes had about as many actual facts as a government report on how happy America is. They conveniently left out the part where hundreds of local colonists besieged a small customs house manned by less than 15 British soldiers for nearly 6 hours throwing snowballs and rocks until one of the soldiers was hurt quite badly, snapped, and opened fire. Oh yeah, and a BRITISH court found the soldiers who fired guilty of murder. That didn't make the papers either.

Paul Revere went on to later ride a horse and tell a bunch of people something about British troops going for a walk, and there was a lantern or something, I don't remember.

So before you post a sign telling people to get off your lawn and for those damn kids to turn that music down so you can reminisce about how the entire world was better up until 3 minutes ago when bad people who want to make a living came and ruined it all, take a look back at your history books, (or just use the interweb like I do) You'll be amazed to discover that, guess what: Corruption isn't new, people have always stolen from their neighbors, the concept of doing whatever it takes to make money wasn't invented by Bill Gates, and that, for all it's ills, the world you live in may not be going to hell as fast as you think.



* That's not a typo, either look it up or play more online games.
© Raymond Smith - 2010

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