The "news-and-information conveyor belt"

Mark Halperin, in his latest piece in Time, compares the “news” media coverage of O.J. Simpson (really) and the recent Shirley Sherrod ordeal, and actually comes out of it with a good point:

Just as there was something intrinsically interesting about one of America’s best-known and best-liked athletes being charged with a brutal double murder, the craven sacking of Sherrod contained some elements that are undeniably compelling. And both stories involved racial elements that increased their news velocity.

But the coverage of both sagas — Simpson’s, literally, for years; Sherrod’s for the better part of a week — was insanely overblown. The Sherrod story is a reminder — much like the 2004 assault on John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — that the old media are often swayed by controversies pushed by the conservative new media. In many quarters of the old media, there is concern about not appearing liberally biased, so stories emanating from the right are given more weight and less scrutiny. Additionally, the conservative new media, particularly Fox News Channel and talk radio, are commercially successful, so the implicit logic followed by old-media decisionmakers is that if something is gaining currency in those precincts, it is a phenomenon that must be given attention. Most dangerously, conservative new media will often produce content that is so provocative and incendiary that the old media find it irresistible.

So the news-and-information conveyor belt moves stories like the Sherrod case from Point A to Point Z without any of the standards or norms of traditional journalism, not only resulting in grievous harm to the apparently blameless, such as Sherrod, but also crowding out news about virtually anything else.

Kudos to Mark Halperin for finally making a good point.


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