"Infotainment" has been with us always, and has been part and parcel of many of the moral misadventures of the English-speaking peoples. In all probability, one could expand it to Russian, French, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Farsi and Finnish speaking peoples, but I speak none of those languages, or do I need to step out of my narrow linguistic comfort zone to find more than enough examples. Reading of Hearst and the Spanish-American War was my personal baptism into skepticism regarding my professional calling.
Glenn Grenwald, as always, is worth reading. Here he's speaking of the current media frenzy regarding the Fort Hood shootings, an incident he observes, is likely to pass into the stores of "common knowledge" regarding "what really happened" long before any factual information about the crime, the people involved, their motivations and their mental health becomes known well enough to say anything rational.
Here's what Glenn concludes.
The problem, though, is that huge numbers of people aren't ignoring it. They're paying close attention -- and they're paying the closest attention, and forming their long-term views, in the initial stages of the reporting. Many people will lose their interest once the drama dissolves -- i.e., once the actual facts emerge. Put another way, a large segment of conventional wisdom solidifies based on misleading and patently false claims coming from major media outlets. I don't know exactly how to define what the balance should be, but particularly for politically explosive stories like this one, it seems clear that media outlets ought to exercise far more restraint and fact-checking rigor than they do. As it is, it's an orgy of rumor-mongering, speculation and falsehoods that play a very significant role in shaping public perceptions and enabling all sorts of ill-intentioned exploitation.
I've rather lost patience with people who need this sort of thing spelled out for them. Granted, there's a lot of money to be made by pandering to the fears and presumptions of moral and mental superiority of those who are neither, in exactly the same way that there is a good deal of money to be made peddling lap-dances and back-alley blow-jobs.
In neither case is the transaction edifying to either participant, nor is there any significance to the act beyond the obvious. Someone is getting their rocks off, and someone is getting paid for facilitating it in a way that fits with the NSFW cartoon projected in the place where the frontal lobes normally reside.
People who religiously tune into pandering pundits, well in advance of information that could help them make an intelligent judgement are really indulging in a form of ideological maturbation. They WANT to hear that "Muslims" are inherently dangerous fanatics who should be locked up in FEMA camps until they can be "properly disposed." Or alternately, they want to hear how this is manafest proof that prolonged war leads to rampaging PTSD that could cause any Iraq vet to suddenly go off his nut with the sort of firepower that vets can get and tuck away for "future use."
Some are pandering to the fear of the Other, some are pandering to the fear of Teh Evil Gun, some are pandering to reflexive pacifism, others take the same lack of fact in evidence to call for even more "clearly necessary war."
Let us remember that much of this speculation had occurred prior to us knowing any of the Who, Where, When, Why or How, and even at the moment of writing, the entire body of public knowledge can be contained in two terse paragraphs, with room to spare.
So, set aside the Muslim thing. Refrain from hammering the PTSD thing. I resist the temptation to observe that psychiatry and sanity do not seem to go hand in hand. It is both cheap and has a high probablity of being irrelevant to the story.
But you will never see a telepundit admit that they have no basis for speculation. Fine, well, so long as we keep watching such nonsense, they will keep spewing it. For myself, I find that I'm far better informed by using the time I once spent watching cable news on Voyager and CSI re-runs. When Walter Cronkite had but an hour for the national news, he didn't waste it on things he could not nail down. Although, when I see all the interesting stories there are on various websites, it truly baffles me how anyone could spend an entire day upon one story, in advance of any facts at all, when there are always stories to tell with facts that can be found.
Do you realize, I managed to almost entirely avoid Balloon Boy? And I only looked at a point when I knew there would be some facts in evidence. The facts - as you may well remember - proved beyond a doubt that the entire event was intended to waste your time and attention.
Well, FOX, CNN, and MSNBC weren't doing anything important anyway.
You might take that into consideration next time you look at your cable bill.