Non-News Is Bad News

Non-News Is Bad News for urban faithThe Tiger Woods scandal is just one more example of how the media use irrelevant gossip and slanted opinion to distract us from what really matters.

Sex isn’t the only thing that sells; so do lies, rumors, and gossip. But these do more than sell merchandise. When they dominate our television news reports, online news flashes, and newspaper/ magazine headlines, they distract, divert attention, and keep our thoughts in the gutter.

I remember when I used to respect the news. I used to think that reporters reported trustworthy facts. I used to think that the majority of the information on the 5:30 news was meaningful and relevant. While I do not know if my memory serves me correctly or if I was just naïve as a youth, I do know that I believe very little of what I hear from the news media today. As a matter of fact, much of what I hear I don’t even categorize as news at all. Take the Tiger Woods coverage, for instance.

Winning his first Masters in 1997 was newsworthy. So was his record-breaking assent to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings only 42 weeks after becoming a professional. And holding one of the greatest sustained periods of dominance in the history of men’s golf is newsworthy. But Tiger Woods’ recent “scandal” is not news.

The circumstances that caused his car accident a week ago or whether or not he had an extramarital relationship is none of our business, and it doesn’t take an MBA student to know that. Why, then, do news reporters and their producers insist on giving the American people information that is meaningless and irrelevant to our everyday lives?

Well, of course ratings and money have something to do with it. But let’s suppose for a moment that the men and women who work in media have enough self-respect to truly believe what they’re doing is more important than ratings and dollars. If so, either they really believe their gossip-laden cover stories impact our day-to-day living, or they are saturating us with information about nonsensical elementary matters to keep us ignorant of information they don’t want us to know about. My suspicion is the latter.

Do people really care what celebrities are wearing when they are not in the spotlight, who they are sleeping with, or who doesn’t pay their parking tickets? While there may be a modicum of curiosity, I don’t think people care to the degree that they want to have these questions answered in the lead stories on the nightly news — especially when their sons and daughters and friends and loved ones are being deployed to the Middle East to fight in wars for reasons that too few people can fluently articulate, and especially when they are living in an economy where jobs and homes are being lost faster than New Jersey Nets basketball games.

I am not saying that the news should be filled with stories that scare us (which has been done too). I am, however, saying that as a viewing public, we should look at news media with more critical eyes. Some guiding suggestions:

• Listen to what the reporters are saying

• Listen to what they are not saying

• Notice the amount of time news media spend on various subjects and question their reasons and judgment

• Ask why the reports sound so similar from news station to news station

• Become aware of how you feel after watching the news and how that impacts your day

• Note how stories are spun to shape your opinion — everything from the reporter’s tone and facial expression, to language and visual images

Have you noticed how many successful Black men have been targeted in recent events in the news? Black men have always been treated harshly and unfairly in the media, but now even our successful role models are under attack. Tiger Woods (guilty or innocent) is not the first. Remember how Henry Louis Gates was treated when he responded to an unjust arrest? How Michael Jackson was re-scandalized after his death? How Michael Jordan was criticized for his Hall of Fame speech? And how even Barack Obama was assailed for something as innocuous as a “stay in school” speech to American students?

Something is going on, and we can’t wait for news editors and producers to tell us what it is. We have to be skeptical about what we hear. We have to open our eyes. We have to read between the lines. We have to have eyes to see what is being deliberately hidden. And when we do, we must act swiftly to expose the darkness with light.
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Tiger Woods photo by Jim Epler from Wikipedia.

Related Post: Talking About Tiger.

About the author, Tim Lee

Tim Lee, a Chicago-based editor and youth minister, is the founder of One Black Man, a leadership consulting firm for Black boys between the ages of 13 and 18. In his free time, Lee actively participates as a member of the Metropolitan Board of the Chicago Urban League and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
  1. While I agree with you that Tiger’s situation is not news, I wouldn’t put in the category of another black man being targeted. Sure, many are, but if you look at other public figures that have been accused or caught in extramarital affairs, their lives have been open to public scrutiny and humiliation also. News has definitely changed. When I was growing up, local news was a half hour of “news”. Nowadays, local news “shows” are an hour long with more fluff than hard-hitting news. In fact, if you miss the first two or three minutes of many local broadcasts, you’ve probably missed the real news. Either that, or it gets buried much later in the broadcast after the stories that news producers decide is the real news. Definitely, we as consumers need to be more discriminating with what we are fed and also it wouldn’t hurt to use the off button from time to time.

  2. I think Tiger is facing the realization that people expect him to be larger than and more perfect than the average person. Flawless and sinless. Similar to people’s perception and expectations of our president and handling job growth, economy, and war. http://Applyforme.net has been working with the administration to deal with this – but I can tell you that people’s stated and unstated expectations can be difficult to manage and really come to light in times of crisis.
    We’ll see how his sponsors handle this situation. Do people like Tiger the man or Tiger the golfer?
    Time will tell.

  3. Celebrities and athletes personal business needs to stay their personal business but like someone said to me, “there’s always something for everyone”. Gossip and stories like this do appeal to a certain group. I do think however, when a black man or woman falls or does something stupid, the media takes it to the extreme. They want these kinds of stories out there just like many folks want President Obama to fail. The man can’t go to the bathroom or have a quiet dinner with his family without us hearing something about it. It wasn’t long ago David Letterman’s indiscretions were put to the lime light but it doesn’t seem it was nearly as popular as Tiger’s seems to be. It also amazes me how critical people are of others. We’re all sinners and I’m certain that those same people wouldn’t want some of their personal business put out on the 5pm news.

  4. This couldn’t be more correct. I am sick of “news” Its filled with biased opinions, and junk thats not worth my time.
    People put icons above humanity then when they screw up they idolize it. This whole media thing is a WASTE…
    James

  5. I am so glad you wrote this article. People in general need to wake up. There does seem to be a plan in the making. To me, that everyone should be on alert. Those who have done what their accusers say, so be it. My problem is that we do not need to have every intimate detail of the lives of others blasted hour after hour in the news. What impression is that really giving our children who are still learning how to discern what is ‘truth’ in information and what is biased and leading in information.
    I hope will all make a sincere effort to decline in participation. The media and other forces that be can not stop our people from achieving. With our media resources more and more information is out there that highlights their greatness. We must keep in mind why the blasts take place. It must be to help deflate popularity and show the worst side of a person.
    Humans make mistakes. Celebrities are still people. In saying that, we must remember that they are only human, pray for them and ourselves and not judge them or make them into super heroes. Enjoy their crafts and talents and be happy for their successes- just as we would want others to do regarding us.

  6. an excellent piece mr. lee.
    a great reminder that we, as you so eloquently put it, should “as a viewing public…should look at news media with more critical eyes.”
    our number one export in the united states, “entertainment” has long since been something we consume blindly, something imported from bankrupt, corrupt, and ultimately spiritually exploitative institutions. and while there is a surprising amount of white people being “othered” by popular media–it was a similar spotlight that lost Brittany Spires custody of her kids (the fact that Brittany could lose still baffles me)–there is a much longer, more troubling narrative for Black bodies under this surveillance.
    lee is right, we need to be critical. and hasn’t our president asked us to do this as well?

  7. The 30 minute nightly news is not a media format ideally suited to education. It is instead a format for giving information about what’s going on in the world. It is programming just like a sitcom or a reality TV show. Although I am sick of the Tiger Woods story too, it made the most entertaining conversation in the Beauty Parlor last night.
    The answer is not to turn on the TV and wait for something great to be reported. The answer is to turn off the TV and do something great with your life!

  8. Thanks for your commentary, Tim. Here’s another good commentary on the media’s involvement in this story:
    http://www.kansascity.com/182/story/1613268.html?storylink=omni_popular