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Pack Journalism

Paper type: Essay
Pages: 12 (2794 words)
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Today’s mass-media offers satellite-driven-world-wide-news-at-the-instant in twenty four hour news-cycles with thousands of professional newscasters, news-readers, bloggers and online journalists broadcasting with up-to-the-minute Internet technology. However, twenty-four hour news-cycles have not brought about a depth of reporting, but have enabled superficial reporting, with a preponderance of journalists opting to shock and entertain rather than inform.

On many “cable news shows, where hosts are as likely to talk about the latest reality series and the George Bush windup doll as they are about the “hard news” events of the day” (Breyer, 2003, p.

68) there is very little of substance to be found — if any. This kind of journalism is often referred to by critics and observers as “pack journalism. ” The derogatory connotation of the term indicates the degree to which “media critics worry that significant, systematic scandals sometimes go unreported while the pack devotes ruthless energy to some more fashionable story of the moment” (Crabtree, 1996, p. 2).

Cable news networks are engaged in “altering the definition of news, blurring that once clear line between entertainment and news” (Breyer, 2003, p. 68); such strategies may be good for ratings, but they are detrimental to the flow of good information in the most commonly accessed media outlets in American society. The basic problem with pack journalism is that it results in superficial news coverage and incompetence in reporting: “When reporters rely on previous accounts of an event, misinformation and inaccuracies abound” (Crabtree, 1996, p. 2). Pack journalism is not a new development; even the old-fashioned newsreels resorted to sensationalism. What is new is the frenetic pace of journalism in the modern world: “since the 1970s, reporters emboldened by their investigations into Vietnam and Watergate have assaulted politicians at whim on sometimes unsubstantiated charges” (Crabtree, 1996, p. 12). The destructive influence of pack journalism is both obvious and not-so-obvious.

It goes without saying that any level of sensationalism in reporting which seeks to abbreviate the investigative method, or short-circuit it altogether, brings about a corresponding drop in the level of authenticity which is ascribed to a particular news source. Less apparent are the negative impacts of pack journalism as they relate to the proliferation of ignorance in the population at large and to the lapses of journalistic responsibility which often enable socially, politically, and culturally destructive events to continue out of the public’s eye.

In other words, it is not merely a question of the fallacious or unsubstantiated sensationalism which poses a threat to society, but the lack of serious reporting on serious issues. In order to fully appreciate the damaging aspects of pack journalism, individual events can be studied in some depth to determine the influence of pack journalism on an issue of social significance. A simple example of how pack journalism can lend a destructive influence is that of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Pack journalism took hold of the story and a frenzy ensued: “Within hours of the Oklahoma City bombing last year, most network-news reports featured experts on Middle Eastern terrorism who speculated on the causes of the blast and drew parallels to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing” (Crabtree, 1996, p. 12). So, before any evidence, investigative processes, or other authenticated sources had been verified, the major American news outlets began to run with a narrative they believed would ensure ratings, though it had nothing to do with, as we now know, reality.

The impact of “such shoddy journalism risks public distrust of the First Amendment and the power of the press to act as a fourth estate” (Crabtree, 1996, p. 12) while also undermining the public interest in and will to understand both Middle Eastern and domestic terrorism. Such an example may seem slight, perhaps even trivial. However, the basic methodology and destructive influence of pack journalism is evident in the Oklahoma City bombing example.

The true impact of the negatives of pack journalism are even more recognizable in other major news stories of the recent past. In the following examples: the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, and the Mark Foley political sex-scandal will be examined with a view toward elucidating the social, cultural, and political impact of pack journalism. Exxon-Valdez The Exxon-Valdez oil-spill disaster is a story of human tragedy and human comedy.

The Exxon Valdez departed from the Trans Alaska Pipeline terminal at 9:12 PM. Captain Hazelwood was a known alcoholic and was intoxicated at the time of the disaster. However, the Captian was not alone in is dereliction of duty as further inquiry uncovered a host of human errors, human delinquencies, and human unpreparedness contributed to the disaster. The Exxon-Valdez oil spill disaster quickly became the stuff of legend.

In part, the raising of the disaster to a sensational level in the public consciousness was due to its enormity: over ten-million gallons of crude oil and thousands of miles of impacted coastline. In another respect, the disaster seemed to draw the media’s pack-instincts and the public’s imagination because the devastation was visible in the immediate cleanup efforts and in the evident destruction of the birds, fish, and other wildlife that were involved with and impacted by the spill.

As moving and profoundly memorable as the images of oil-covered birds and dead sea-life proved to be, the actual environmental impact of the disaster has proven to be much more difficult to elucidate. Media images proved to be so arresting it is difficult to imagine that Exxon-Mobile with its billions of dollars of legal hair-splitting will ever be able to completely reverse the public perception that human error alone made the disaster possible and that corporate greed and corporate power pose a far greater threat to human safety than the oil spill alone.

Regarding the destruction of the Alaskan coastline, “The environmental damage was catastrophic. Cleanup crews watched in horror as otters scratched out their own eyes to rid them of oil. U. S. Department of Justice teams recovered the carcasses of more than 36,000 migratory birds and a thousand sea otters, ” (Shelby, 2004). Even if most people are unaware, and perhaps blissfully so, of the deeper more delicate and less immediately visible impacts of the spill, even fewer are aware of its economic impact.

While Exxon-Mobile weighed the cost of paying the court-ordered settlement with punitive damages against the cost of fighting a prolonged rearguard action in the courts, proper, as well as the court of public opinion, small-time businesses and ordinary people felt the economic impact of the spill immediately. Because the spill was so massive, it seems unlikely if not simply impossible to gauge the micro-environmental impacts of coastline damage or the effects of water intrusion either in immediate or future projections.

The spill, in fact, “eventually spread down 1,200 miles of coastline,” (Shelby, 2004) and one imagines that every square inch of that natural landscape was presumable impacted to some degree or another. In all likelihood the deeper environmental consequences of the spill will be unnoticed by humanity at large. The cold, economic facts attest to Exxon-Mobile’s still-unfulfilled debt and responsibility to entire industries and the individual human beings who made these industries work and relied on them to survive.

Both the salmon and herring industries were routed:”the two fisheries have since collapsed” (Shelby, 2004). In addition to real catastrophe, there was an emotional and psychological backlash associated with the spill which manifested partially in economic terms. Again, the fishing industry, particularly small fishing industries, were hit hard by the public perception of the spill and the psychological reaction to the images of coastal and wild-life devastation which we have previously discussed.

Even economists conclude that “There may have been a “psychological” effect on consumer demand for Alaskan seafood, especially in Japan” (Owen, Argue, Furchtgott-Roth, Hurdle & Mosteller, 1995, p. 23). If the environmental impact of the sea, the coastline, the Alaskan wildlife, and the economic well being of ordinary human beings were not enough to compose a tragedy for the ages, the ensuing cleanup effort after the Exxon-Valdez spill seems merely to add insult to injury, to pour salt on the already raw wound.

The final sad twist of fate relative to the cleanup effort, which may be regarded as a more political than environmental action on Exxon-Mobile’s behalf that “There seems to be a general consensus among marine biologists that pressurized, hot water washing of the shoreline did more damage to the marine life and pushed more oil into the sediment. ” (Ketkar, 1995, p. 176) So, even in attempting to remedy their error, the corporate power-brokers and corporate experts merely served to exacerbate an already dreadful situation and — sparked to action by their own corporate negligence and greed, only managed to wreak further destruction.

Fascinatingly, as huge and as iconic as the Exxon-Valdez oil spill was, literally, as well as mythologically in the public’s imagination, the iconic nature of the disaster actually serves more to obfuscate than illuminate the ongoing perils of the oil-trade and the rather routine leakage of oil into the ecosystem: “In fact, since the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, much oil has been spilled by a supposedly reformed oil tanker industry. ” (Chivers, 1996). The Exxon-Valdez spill by being the mythic media-behemoth that it was actually casts a protective shadow over subsequent spills.

So, the influence of pack journalism was to obfuscate the true story of the Exxon-Valdez spill which brought about the destruction of the Alaskan fishing industry. The journalists, rabid for pictures of oil-soaked birds, were nowhere to be found while Exxon used legal loopholes to get out of paying its court-ordered settlement to the people of Alaska, and the journalists were also not present to report how the Alaskan coastline began to cleanse itself, though their sensationalistic coverage of the spill did bring about the disastrous “cleanup” effort.

Three Mile Island The “Three Mile Island incident” stands not only as a reminder of the potential hazards of nuclear power, but of the potential hazards of an economically driven society and a media driven by corporate interests. The events behind the most dangerous nuclear accident in American history are as straightforward as they are alarming; “On Mar. 28, 1979, failure of the cooling system of the No. nuclear reactor led to overheating and partial melting of its uranium core and production of hydrogen gas, which raised fears of an explosion and dispersal of radioactivity” (“Three Mile Island” and consequently left the citizens of Harrisburg PA and the surrounding areas in a man-made disaster area — of which they remained largely oblivious for some time.

An ensuing federal investigation of the accident would fault “human, mechanical, and design errors,” (“Three Mile Island” and recommend “changes in reactor licensing and personnel training, as well as in the structure and function of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” (“Three Mile Island”). One of the primary concerns surrounding the accident was the potential dangers of the radioactive leak which was especially frightening because it cannot be felt or seen and is not easily understood. It is not possible to tell by one’s senses when one is being radiated.

Therefore, it was impossible for people living near Three Mile Island to assess the danger directly or to know what protective actions to take” though the immediate psychological impact was devastating to nearby residents” (Houts, Cleary, and Hu xi). The accident at Three Mile Island grew in its immediate impact on the citizens near the plant due to media-influence. Recent studies of the incident and comprehensive studies of those impacted by the disaster reveal profound psychological damages as well as physical damages to personal health and well-being.

While the media exaggerated threats and claims of possible hazards, the state and federal and corporate spokespeople, at first, downplayed the event and only later admitted that “findings about the status of the reactor suggested to Met Ed, NRC, and state officials that the accident had caused more damage and presented a greater threat to the citizens of central Pennsylvania than they had previously realized” (Walker 102) which ultimately led to a complete dissolution of trust between the impacted citizens and corporate interests. The impact on the citizens near the plant took three major forms: psychological, physical, and economic.

Detailed studies of those impacted by the disaster showed that “Nine months after the crisis, 11% of respondents within five miles of TMI stated that they had visited a physician concerning symptoms they thought were due to the situation at Three Mile Island” (Houts, Cleary, and Hu 95) and that in many cases, these health problems were ultimately found to be of a anxious or psychological origin. Long-term impacts, as mentioned earlier, included cancer, birth-defects, and an undermining of trust in government or in corporate America.

Many of the citizens near Three Mile Island relocated and left their homes of many years due to the unknown impacts of the disaster which may still be unmeasured. Though the accident at Three Mile Island can overtly be traced to: “A series of mechanical and judgmental errors” (Houts, Cleary, and Hu ix) it can also be traced to the superficiality of media and of the failure of government to adequately inform its citizens about the potential risks of an private industrial power-plant operating near their residences.

The accident caused a breach in trust between ordinary citizens and government and corporate hierarchies; the full impact of the disaster is till unknown and will only be determined over time. The very difficult aspect of all of this to swallow is that the pack journalistic impulses that led to the exacerbation of what was already a potentially dire crises caused actual damages, strictly accounted for by the preceding evidence, to the citizens around the Three Mile Island plant, and also to the nuclear industry itself, and to the Federal regulatory boards and proponents of nuclear energy.

What turned out top be a ratings-booster, and momentary at that, for journalists, brought upon devastating and long-lasting damages to an incalculable amount of people. Mark Foley On Sept. 28, 2006, the Foley scandal hit the mainstream media when ABC News publishes a series of emails from Republican congressman Mark Foley to an unidentified sixteen year old male page from Louisiana; these emails are characterized as “over friendly. Their publication sparked the release of additional disclosures of improper emails between Foley and male congressional pages. By Sept. 29th, the Wall Street Journal published an article detailing ABC News’ reporting; in part, the article suggests that “former congressional pages themselves supplied some of the most damning emails in the scandal” (New York Times) and Rep. Mark Foley abruptly resigned. ABC news then posted examples of the explicit instant messages (IM’s) on its web-site.

The Republican response to the crisis is initially framed in accusatory, defensive language and counter-arguments. Also on the 29th, news media begin reporting that Foley had used instant messages for online sexual encounters while actually serving on Capital Hill; ABC News reports that Foley on at least one documented occasion interrupted a vote on the House floor to engage in Internet sex with a former page. The transcript of this IM is also published at the ABC News web-site.

Needless to say, the discovery of sexually-tinged IM’s between Foley and the page set-off a media frenzy, wherein countless news-sources, bloggers, reporters, partisan pundits, and “taking heads” stoked an inferno of controversy, debate, and heated opinion. The pack journalism attributes of the story were at the level of a “perfect storm. ” In point of fact, many observers mentioned that Foley had long been regarded with suspicion on “the Hill” regarding his sexual orientation, there were even ambiguous tapes archived of him speaking emotionally about the Congressional pages in front of Congress itself.

The story failed to gain any momentum beyond the immediate sanguine impulse of the sex-story at its most painfully sensationalistic level. Adding fuel to the fire was the “new media” of blogs and link-sharing that enabled the IM’s themselves to be read, in all their glory, by anyone who had a mind to read them. On October 3rd, Foley’s lawyer, David Roth, held press conferences where he divulged several items of information about the scandal and Mark Foley’s personal life.

He announced that Foley admitted himself into a rehabilitation center due to alcoholism (which Foley claims to have been combating his entire adult life). Roth also said that Foley as a teenager “was molested by clergyman” (New York Times) and issued Foley’s first public announcement that he is gay; does not say what kind of clergyman, but Foley was raised Roman Catholic and attended Catholic schools. Roth also announced that Foley is was a “gay man” (New York Times) and that he has decided to let his sexual orientation be publically known after decades of supposed silence.

Cite this essay

Pack Journalism. (2017, Jan 17). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/re-pack-journalism-essay

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