Is it free press or filtered press?

Diana Fu

Earlier this week, I sunk into an unsteady butterfly chair, took a swig of cheap Lipton tea, and felt like Charon was paddling across the river for me while reading New York Times headlines: “New York Police Training for Catastrophic Terrorism,” “Is Fear Itself the Enemy?” and “How the World Can be Saved, Redux.”

A phrase from Dante’s “Inferno” crawled onto my tongue: “Abandon all hope, ye who enters through the gates of hell” – or experience life through words in a newspaper, I thought bleakly. It struck me that people are overwhelmingly driven by a compulsive need “to know” and to “be informed.”

Yet, when we pick up the newspaper every day, we read an already interpreted version of the “objective” news story. Like water flowing through a Brita filter, the events we read about are distilled truths filtered through the eyes of the journalist, shorn by the editor, overseen by the monopolistic media conglomerates and distorted by the fallibility of journalistic language.

If a New York Times headline announces 56 people are killed in a blast on the other side of the globe, we think, “Gosh, how did that happen?” rather than “Really? How is the language of the story setting me up for a limited interpretation of the event?”

This has many implications. First, it means our “personal opinions” regarding current events, such as the election campaigns, are not much more than recycled pieces of an already interpreted truth. For instance, when I hear passionate comments voiced by college political enthusiasts such as, “You know Kerry’s never going to win Ö political dominance Ö power to the best man Ö history will prove you wrong Ö leader of the free nation,” I am impressed by how powerfully the media is able to frame our current events discussions.

How do we come to know these “facts?” No matter the content (whether you support President George W. Bush or not), one cannot talk about re-election without using certain phrases that dictate one’s mode of interpretation.

“So what?” you might be thinking. “How hypocritical it is to criticize the media by writing a column in a college newspaper.” In a sense, I am writing to rebel against the “objective news story” or the image of the “rational columnist.”

Like you, I base my opinions about current events not on actual experiences with terrorism or gay marriages but on filtered news stories I read, pieces of information that seem to drift in the social air. The only difference is that I have been put in a powerful position that allows me to share my opinions with 31,000 people on this campus. Rather than trying to “objectify” my opinion through a series of rationalizations or by inflammatory language, I prefer to open dialogue through a column.

So as I sipped the terrible tea in my lonesome dorm, I daydreamed of a whole new media culture in which journalists began every story with, “This is what I witnessed in town ‘X’ of country ‘Y’ and here is my interpretation of event ‘Z.’ “

I believe this type of personal journalism will narrow the power gap between the writer and the reader, the fact setter and the fact receiver. After all, can the objective really be completely divorced from the subjective?

Diana Fu welcomes comments at [email protected]