Don’t be fooled by pervasive media

LUBBOCK, Texas (U-WIRE) ñ Sometimes I wonder if we as a country fully understand how we fit in the span of civilization. We all know the United States has faults, many faults. But it is an undeniable fact that we are the world’s strongest and most influential culture at the moment.

Whether this is good is an argument for the ages. One aspect that reflects negatively on Americans is the very basis of what sets us apart from many other nations, past and present: our media.

Communication is vital for any budding empire bent on spreading its influence around the world. Countless networks of wires, satellites and reporters have kept Americans in touch with each other and the outside world through a plethora of 24-hour news channels, daily newspapers, hour-to-hour radio updates and of course, the aptly titled World Wide Web. There is no denying we know how to get the word around, but it is the words themselves we must call into question.

Switch on any news show and you’ll see what I’m talking about. I’ll admit it – my dose of the world’s events comes from what many would call a questionable if not moronic source. I watch “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. Yes, it is only a half hour long, and yes, the people who they interview always end up looking stupid, but it is one of the most brilliantly written and produced shows on television. It is not my only show though. I watch “Crossfire” every day, and if nothing else is on, my television is tuned to “CNN Headline News.” But no matter where you get your daily dose of media, be it television, radio or this publication, you cannot escape the simple fact Americans have the attention span of a goldfish.

First let me apologize to all the goldfish lovers out there, I mean no disrespect to those noble creatures you win at carnivals only to flush before you get home. It’s just they literally do not have the capacity to concentrate for more than three seconds, much akin to our nation when it comes to news.

Such sensationalism never really dawned on me until last year. Does anyone remember our fascination with Mars? How about those looming comets we were so obsessed with? If those are before your time, perhaps Chandra Levy or Monica Lewinsky will ring a bell?

What I’m trying to get at is despite the fact tragedies and miracles happen every day all around us, someone else is constantly telling us what’s news, and what’s to be forgotten.

Do you think kidnapping small children is news? Well tell that to thousands of parents and families who have been searching for years just for information on someone they’ve lost.

But suddenly it is front-page material. Don’t get me wrong; these stories deserve all the attention we can give. Those families would give all the money they have for a picture of their loved one to be on every cover of every publication throughout the world. But why is it we find it necessary now to shed light on these crimes? Are we already bored with the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.?

I know it is impossible to give our attention to everything happening everywhere all the time. If people would realize there is more happening than what we’re being fed by Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch, maybe the stereotype of ignorant American brats would eventually be forgotten by our international peers.

Pick where you get your information carefully. Larger media moguls like CNN and Fox provide up-to-the-minute stories from around the world. They also bring commercially influenced biases despite their claims to objectivity.

Smaller publications tend to have a more cynical and broad view on the world’s events because they are small and do not have to answer to advertisers and the all-mighty dollar. Be wary, however, that they may have a particular special interest in mind when writing or producing.

Overall, the media of our time is unprecedented. Previous empires such as the Romans, Mongols and English all eventually crumbled because of a lack of information exchange over great distances. With a strong foothold on history already, America has lifted mass-communication to new levels. But never take someone’s word for truth. Investigate the facts and put together your own idea based on what you are hearing. Remember that it’s a big ol’ world out there, and just because it’s said, doesn’t make it so.

David Ring’s column originally appeared in the Texas Tech University’s University Daily on Sept. 3.