Disorder, Injustice, and the Media
O’NEILL, M. (1985). Media Powers and the Dangers of Mass Information. Nieman Reports: 1999-2000.
METZL, J. (1997). Information Intervention: When Switching Channels Isn’t Enough. Foreign Affairs 76: 6.
The media now dictates political and social reactions to audiences across the world, and finally someone is striking out against it. During the course of this paper, we will review two very different reports outlining the demonstrable draw-backs of the media’s coverage of world events. Although both reports render powerful arguments for the reformation of global media involvement in politics, they go about it in altogether different spirits. First, we will explore the cautious arguments of Michael O’Neill in his “Media Power and the Dangers of Mass Information”. Then we will discuss Jamie Metzl’s proposed “Information Intervention”.
Michael O’Neill’s proposal for intervention is of a very different sort; his report decries the strangle hold that public outcry now has on even the highest power in the land, the President. O’Neill lists six negative effects produced by the media: the development of existentialist, impressionistic knowledge, the bypassing of thoughtfulness and personal analysis, the visual oversimplification of abstract concepts, the donning of a “revolution of rising expectations” (O’Neill, 1985, 168), pressure and bias, and the overexposure to the minutia of society. He further suggests that waiting until the tragedies come to fruition should be discouraged, although admittedly it would make for fewer shocking stories. O’Neill recommends what he calls preventive journalism and encourages investigation into the “grinding gears” of society (O’Neill, 1985, 168).
Author Jamie Metzl felt quite differently. Through his utilization of a global timeline of the inflammatory impact of the media, he ably demonstrates the nightmare that media involvement can create for emergency situations and public and international relations. He advocates the approach of the famous quote: “Talk loudly and carry a big stick”, further praising the success of these tactics in Bosnia and Burundi.
O’Neill was on to something. Recently, the headlines have been nothing but scandal over Tyra Banks’ statement that one model had the smallest waist she had ever seen. The media has left the public so saturated with snippets taken out of context that even minuscule celebrity gossip makes the news, so the mischief done to real news is tremendous indeed. There is no wisdom in this wealth of information. There is nothing left to the imagination but the truth and not time to react; O’Neill outlined six such related aspects in his summation of the ill effects of the media invasion of political spheres. O’Neill wrote it in 1985; since then- with the addition of streaming video and webcasts- the influence of the media has grown exponentially.
Metzl presents very specific examples of information barring- or even rescinding- progress. His selection of examples is well-chosen and knowledgeable and considers the global ramifications of the scenarios presented. However, his enthusiasm for criticizing others occasionally makes of him an enfant terrible- storming, crying, screaming, and lost in his own world. He all but called former president Clinton cowardly for restricting U.S. involvement in global human rights; Clinton was reacting in response to eighteen American deaths which occurred in the effort to capture one warlord.
Both papers were well-written and clear in their intent. However, it should be said that Metzl’s credibility was lessened by lapses in common sense. He criticized humanitarian involvement in the advocacy of providing information to foreign countries, but- if all links to the world outside their door are cut- then the only remaining influence would be that of environment. The small script at the bottom of the first page of “Information Intervention” notifies the reader of his former status as a U.N. Human Rights Officer. Rather than establish his credibility, it drew more attention to his hypocrisy. A former human rights professional is now advocating the involuntary limitation of both freedom of speech and the press and lauding government intervention in radio broadcasting to provide “ethnically balanced programs” (Metzl, 1997, 16). As the harm of media interference becomes clear, such an aggressive action may starkly contrast against O’Neill’s humanitarian approach, Metzl’s own inflammatory bit of media readily makes judgments which equate disorder with injustice.