Sidney Lumet died last week. Lumet directed several films, most notably “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Network”. “Network” is one of the most influential films that I have ever seen. It helped me develop a passion for the study and discussion of mass media and communications. It aided me in a developing skepticism of every standard that American news media had developed. It helped form my future.
When most people think of the film “Network” they immediately think of the scene where Howard Beale tells people watching him on TV to run to their windows and yell “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Admittedly, that line could probably serve as a thesis statement for Lumet’s feelings on the state of the media in the 1970’s. However, taken out of the context of the entire film, that scene could seem painfully silly and trite.
The entire film is based around an idea that should be deeply engrained in the consciousness of every person that consumes any form of mass media: the media exists solely to make a profit. There is no other reason for its existence. Any other benefits of media are secondary. This applies to all media outlets, regardless of how much they claim to be un-biased or how much they claim to adhere to journalistic integrity.
When media outlets are deciding on content (newspaper articles, TV news reports, etc), money will always trump pertinence or truth in the decision making process. If a company that happens to be an advertiser is under fire, the media outlets will undoubtedly proceed under a different set of biases when reporting the story than if the company was not an advertiser.
This is also the reason that the American media spent almost as much time reporting on Charlie Sheen as it did the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, or the Libya conflict. Entertainment gets viewers, news coverage does not.
Every single second of airtime, every sentence of writing, and every word spoken over the radio waves is given with consideration of profit.
So, what does that mean for us? That means that we should be skeptical of every single source of information that we receive. There is no unbiased media. There is no safe place to get your news. There is only money.
Don’t even listen to me… I have an anti-media bias… and I hope to use it to lure readers and gain profit from advertisers.