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The News Show

Guest Column
Arun Agarwal

War in the Middle East, hostages in Moscow, snipers in Maryland, and plane crashes in Missouri: the last two years have been some of the biggest ever for news, with breaking headlines every day, and stunning reports every night. The sheer volume of information given to the public has never been this high, and the need to digest so much has never been so great.

Somehow however, we still manage to live our lives. We manage to get up each day, do what we have to do, watch more news, and go back to sleep. This, of course, is because people are becoming more and more desensitized. To prevent insanity, and to keep ourselves in sync with our own lives, we have gotten to the point where we have to almost pretend the things around us aren’t even happening, and that the stories we read in the news are no different than those we read in a novel.

In other words, we’re becoming almost completely desensitized to the world around us. When hearing about another shooting we sort of shrug it off, leaving it only to our curiosity to figure out what happened. The news, in effect, has become nothing more than another form of entertainment to many.

The problem with all this is that when we lose our perspective on reality and subsequently expect the media to provide us with a show, the media then turns to tactics of sensationalism to keep us happy. When was the last time a big story hit, and you didn’t see dramatic pictures of the scene? Or more importantly, when the press didn’t call some expert on from some top college to tell you what he thinks very well could happen? Reports such as this are not only somewhat of a drain on the public’s time, but can easily lead to misinterpretation of the news. An expert consultant’s opinion becomes fact when one person tells it to another. Sometimes this type of reporting even goes so far as influencing the way people think, see the world, and make decisions in their everyday life.

Take, for example, the recent sniper shootings in Maryland. Within hours of the two men’s being arrested and taken into police custody, there were numerous interviews with military experts and other consultants, judging as to whether or not they believed the men possessed the necessary skills to commit such atrocities. There were also interviews with family members, trying to craft a profile for who the men were at home. Now, as much as this may seem relevant and interesting, does it really mater at all? How is what one man’s ex-wife thinks of him important for the public knowledge? All it does it help create a bias against him, because she may have thought he was a bad husband. If anything, reports like this simply make it harder for justice to take its path and for the accused to receive a fair trial.

So what’s the solution to all this? Obviously we can’t all go out there and cry for every person who’s killed in the Middle East, or force ourselves to acknowledge many of the world’s other problems. (We have enough to worry about here with our p-sets, right?) But we can be more careful about what we read, or what we watch on television.

The burden, however, should be mostly on the press, to make sure that they report facts responsibly and that opinions aren’t skewed simply to increase ratings.

Arun Agarwal is a member of the Class of 2006.