Sometimes the news media are profoundly, even dangerously, out of touch with real life.
Although the media's tendency toward self-referentiality usually manifests itself as just a lack of originality in reporting, it contains the seeds of more significant dangers.
This principle was brought home dramatically to residents of the Los Angeles area during the 1992 riots that followed the original Rodney King beating verdicts.
While a veritable armada of helicopters hovered above the same small collection of burned and looted buildings, the media ignored virtually all of the lesser but still significant outbreaks of violence occurring elsewhere in the metropolitan area. Residents were left in what amounted to a news blackout, at a time when information could be vital to their safety.
By way of contrast, L.A.'s media normally provide live coverage from a variety of representative locations in something as mundane as a heavy rainstorm. Why, with more people directly endangered, was this kind of reporting absent?
It wasn't as if a powerful government had banned such information. And it certainly wasn't that the media were acting out of a responsible desire not to inflame the populace.
Ultimately, it seems to have been just a matter of what our local media found gripping. To them, the task of disseminating the mundane facts of what we might encounter if we ventured out for a quart of milk in a particular neighborhood could not compare with the excitement of being at the core of the media actionof jostling with the out-of-town "big boys" to be the ones promulgating the compelling images that would captivate national and international attention.
Other effects of media self-referentiality are less dramatic than omitting information vital to people's safety during a riot, but no less damaging to us in the long run.
(c) COPYRIGHT 1998 ROBERT WINTER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.