ACA Blog

Joan Phillips
Jul 21, 2010

Media Coverage That Enables; Warning: Rant Ahead

I’m sick of Lindsay Lohan. I’m sick of Mel Gibson and his hate filled phone calls. I don’t need to see them as they walk into or out of court. I don’t need repeated stories about them- the same stories over and over. Media coverage is enabling a society that loves to see a good train wreck. Basic behavioral theory shows us the poor outcomes of using only negative attention- “see how you messed up?” and points toward a need for positive reinforcement and re-direction. But is that any part of news coverage? Maybe I expect too much, or maybe I just don’t enjoy someone else’s pain that much- I gave at the office.

How is all this celebrity bad behavior and sadness and dysfunction news? Do we see the celebrities that live healthy and giving lives plastered all over the magazines or TV? Only when they die or receive a public award. Even then it’s not headline. Paul Newman spent years supporting camps and the arts with medically ill children, giving profits of his very profitable businesses to a variety of charities. We need heroes like him, not tawdry pathetic situations like the ones we are bombarded with daily. The initial offenses or immediate situations may at times be newsworthy, but to me over time it becomes a thinly veiled advertising ploy that “news” shows use to pull in viewers.

I guess the real news is never enough- the news that every day domestic violence and addictions take so many lives and families and tear them apart. Or even the news that many good people are doing good things, even in Hollywood, but don’t get the coverage and adulation that would help our kids have positive role models. I’m sick of hearing a lot about bad behavior and dysfunction and not enough about how necessary counseling, family support, privacy, community standards, education, the arts, reading, good nutrition, exercise and so many other things are to keep our nation healthy. Every day I think how the coverage of these “stars” is such an opportunity to educate about treatment, addictions, domestic violence, statistics in our country, treatment that works, etc. I wonder if journalists have ethics that guide them toward a greater good or if it really is only about what sells or brings the viewer in. I think they do have ethics, I used to read the Columbia Journalism Review and felt inspired and challenged by journalistic issues. I have always enjoyed interdisciplinary cross-fertilization of ideas. But lately I feel tired of the poor coverage.

All that said, or rather ranted I think, I realize I don’t want to succumb to helplessness but need to write a letter to the Editor of my local paper and voice my concern that our own domestic violence program recently was cut back so severely as to end all their outpatient counseling. They are maintaining the shelter, but how can we expect societal change without fostering individual change? I guess I need to stop ranting and start taking local action- and not let the national media frenzy paralyze me in negative thinking. See? It helps to rant and then come to some opening where solutions or personal action can emerge. I’m gonna write that letter right now! Is there something you can do locally to live out a bit of antidote to these media toxins we are exposed to? I bet there is, whether it’s a letter to the Editor, a donation, some time given to a child you know or are raising, or getting active on your local Boards and organizations. Maybe someday we will see media coverage that doesn’t only sensationalize, but educates and inspires at the same time. We can hope!

Joan Phillips is a counselor, art therapist, and marriage and family therapist. She maintains a private practice and teaches at the University of Oklahoma.

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