IDEMA: The moral failure of TV news

Sadly, the TV news industry is failing us.
Aug 16, 2013

This failure became blatantly obvious when the national media celebrated — with no moral questioning — the pyrotechnics of the advanced weapons in the first Gulf War. We watched on TV thousands die in spectacular red and yellow explosions from cruise missiles and stealth bombers — and the talking heads were in awe, but did not seem shocked by the loss of life.

Then there was the second Gulf War, the war in Iraq. The media did little questioning of America's motives, the evidence for war, and offered little history. 

How many Americans remembered that the United States had fought a long proxy war with the Soviet Union, with Saddam Hussein as our ally in his war against Iran, the Soviet's ally? There are pictures of Donald Rumsfeld shaking Saddam's hand, sealing the deal in our arms deliveries.

No wonder we thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction — we had the receipts.

But Saddam was bluffing the Iranians by bragging about the potential use of such weapons. In fact, he had destroyed them. Did TV news people sniff any of this out? They seemed as fearful of that mushroom cloud as Condoleezza Rice!

We have just been through weeks of the national media's obsession with the George Zimmerman trial. Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, etc., had constant coverage of the trial, constant discussions with the so-called experts on the merits of the case, with little insight into the actual facts, which were not clear enough to convince a jury that Zimmerman was guilty.

I am not arguing that this case was not important. My point is that the national media made a circus out of it, and way out of proportion. What about the dozens of black kids being murdered in Chicago each month?

The media made the Zimmerman trial a black-versus-Latino contest to stir up the audience and hike the ratings. Why this single case got all the attention, whereas other murder trials of both black and white teens never received a glance, says much about the moral failure of TV news: Hype one murder case, forget the others.

Television is also failing to inform us of facts, thereby educating us. Rather, they chase ambulances for ratings and then sensationalize tragedies. Moreover, in a half-hour of such broadcasting, we are subjected to at least 10 minutes of commercials — stories of children being slaughtered being interrupted by ads for Viagra!

In the weeks of the media's obsession with Zimmerman's trial (and then the endless harping about the verdict), the war in Afghanistan was rarely mentioned. The increase of student loan rates and the failure of Congress to deal with this — or anything for that matter — were barely examined.

Is the failure of the national media to highlight the moral issues of the day, and its failure to inform us of the facts pertinent to these issues, a product of trying to get the best ratings? I think so.

The Church used to be the moral force within our society which examined moral failings, such as racial segregation, thereby leading the moral discussion. The Church had much to do with the pressure to get out of Vietnam.

Where is the voice of the Church today on the moral issues facing us such as the war in Afghanistan, our national debt, background checks on the purchase of guns, climate change, and the disparity between the top 1 percent in wealth and income and the other 99 percent? Abortion and gay marriage seem to be the only moral issues that the Church speaks out on with passion.

I am sure many courageous pastors raise a variety of moral issues from the pulpit, but there are no national religious leaders any longer of the caliber of Martin Luther King Jr. Pope John Paul II did speak out against the war in Iraq, but he seemed to be a voice crying out in the wilderness.

If the media is failing to highlight moral issues, and if the Church is not perceived to be a moral force worthy of being covered by the mass media, where are Americans going to turn for facts and the moral analysis of those facts?

Americans need to be critical thinkers. The television news industry is failing us in the development of that critical skill for a functioning democracy.

— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune religion columnist





What a bunch of hypocritical hogwash Rev. Your ramblings on the moral failure of TV media is so left twisted its hard to take you serious.

Right or wrong your views on the very thing the churches have "moral issues" with is against the book you preach from. You're part of the moral decay! What a disgrace to hold such views and preach the word of God.

"In the weeks of the media's obsession with Zimmerman's trial..."your kidding right? The President of the United States made this a front page story and the media sycophants just did their duty and ran with it.

We agree the national media has fallen down on their jobs but for reasons you don't want to admit. The majority of the media is liberal Rev.

My aren't you calling the kettle black! Are you not trying to get the best ratings when you write such left views in a conservative community newspaper? I think so!

Moral decay has taken place because of the liberal views that have saturated all corners of life. You want to hold those views, fine don't preach them and then scratch your head wondering why the media has let us down.

By the way, why is the media sniffing out the Bengahzi cover up and no one has been held accountable for those deaths. How about the little fast and furious gun deal hmmm?

Americans are critical thinkers Rev, its just that the liberals are faster to run to the microphones and print to spew their views. When conservatives speak up we are labeled intolerant and living in the past.

Tri-cities realist

The media and moral questioning, perhaps I am too young, but those two phrases don't seem to belong in the same sentence. How long has it been (if ever) that the media could be said to be moral? I do agree that the media is only interested in one thing, ratings. Well maybe two, along with promoting anything Obama does. It is not news these days, it is infotainment. Very light on the info, and heavy on the 'tainment. I don't think this is just a coincidence. I think it is a deliberate plot to dumb down the American people. Ignorant masses are much easier to herd, by those in power. I'm just not sure whether the media are part of the plan, or too ignorant and self-righteous to realize they are pawns.


You summed it up nicely with the word infotainment. Reality based programming is the phrase I've been using, but I think infotainment describes it much better.


Well, why don't we work out methods and tips to prevent moral failures?
Adam Gottbetter


We never mention the corollary, offered by a sadder, wiser Jefferson: “The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.”
This is closer to where we are today, a time when readers appear to prefer sideline gawking to stories that demand engagement. A time when editors, realizing this, serve up the journalistic equivalent of Gold Fish Crackers because that is what the people want.
I suspect that, after decades of watchdog journalism and whistle-blowing, readers are hungry for solutions, not distractions, not scapegoats. This co-called "Solutions Journalism” is gaining traction in newsrooms. But the proof, of course, lies with us, the readers.


Well said, rukidding. There isn't much else to add. Money talks, and as with nearly every area of our consumer society, the media and it's advertisers offer what they think will bring them the most success monetarily and with ratings. Morality in broadcasting comes in at a remote second place, because it is not what we demand. You say people are hungry for solutions, and I'm seeing trends to support this. A case in point: Rush Limbaugh made wildly inappropriate statements on air regarding a young woman; there was an uproar from the public; advertisers pulled out of his show, causing the broadcasting corporation to lose millions; and Rush has now been dropped from the broadcasting corporation (Cumulus).

It's a numbers game, but as you state, not only the problem, but the solution as well, lies with us.

Tri-cities realist

I'm assuming you are referring to Sandra Fluke. If Bill Maher (or any other non conservative or non Republican) had said the same thing about another woman, say Sarah Palin, would it have been "wildly inappropriate"? Would there have been such an "uproar" in the media? I think not, CLEARLY a double standard.


Your argument doesn't fly (again). Yes, I'm referring to his remarks about Sandra Fluke, calling this bright, well-educated young woman a "slut" and a "prostitute". The comments were inappropriate, unsubstantiated, and slanderous, and were beyond the pale, even for Rush. The public at large complained - and surely there were Republicans among them, I think you are wrong to infer Republicans do not have a sense of morality - to the extent that advertisers dropped Rush's show. Advertisers do not drop shows on a whim, you know. I think it was simply the volcano of public opinion exploding after years of Rush's obnoxiousness, although previously considered 'infotainment', had become rancid. The bar of media morality just got too low, and the people fought back.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand, created her own uproar. The media simply reported what she herself said. You could take her or leave her. Personally speaking, I was excited at the prospect of a new face, a woman who initially appeared to be an accomplished office holder, until I listened to her and watched her actions, and then was very disappointed. I'm not aware that any media source called Sarah Palin a "slut" and a "prostitute". Could you provide, for once, some facts to back up your assertion that we are dealing with a double standard here?

There are many Republican women politicians who do good work, and I haven't run across any slanderous comments about them from the 'liberal' media.

Tri-cities realist

Speaking of smoking something... How in the world could you think that I was inferring that "Republicans do not have a sense of morality". Talk about putting words...

Regarding Fluke, Rush, Palin, and Maher, check out Bill in his own words:

And when asked about it, here is Bill's defense, after upping the ante from the T word to the C word.

I cannot wait for you to explain to me how this isn't a double standard. And at no time have I ever defended Rush using those words, just for the record. I think the author presents a fairly "balanced" analysis, showing it was clearly a double standard.


I was not aware that Bill Maher used such awful words towards Sarah Palin. He was very wrong to do so. Apparently his advertisers did not feel the consequences of a serious public pushback - or maybe more people agreed with him than disagreed. Either way, I don't approve of this kind of language, and feel it indeed represents a moral failing of the media.

I have never defended a double standard. Moral failing in the media (and in our politics) permeates throughout and knows no boundaries. Maybe ratings for Bill Maher's show went down after his wordfest - I don't know, I've never watched it, and haven't read anything about it one way or another. Maybe you can find some data on it?

Tri-cities realist

Data? What kind of data? Who cares whether his ratings went up or down, I was simply pointing out the hypocrisy. Per your request I gave you evidence of the double standard. And since you had not heard about it, this again proves my point of a double standard: there was no back-lash by the media except for Fox News and commentators on the right. So the lack of condemnation by the MSM, essentially says that if you say nasty things about a conservative Republican woman, it's ok, just don't do the same to a liberal or Democrat woman. Perhaps you need to expand your sources of information, so you will be more balanced, and informed of such nastiness by the left wing media.

And if you really want to see hypocrisy on display, check out the women of the View, Flailing around about Maher calling Palin's special needs child the "R" word. I suppose you missed that one too.


You mean conservative. How dare you point out the double standard. Sandra Flucke has a lofty goal because she demands free birth control where as Sarah Palin was a govenor, VP candidate and engaged in our political process with a vision for the whole country.

(Screeching) What difference does it make!!


Please stay on topic. We are discussing morality in media, not policy issues. It really doesn't matter if you agree with Sandra FLUKE's politics or not, you are basically saying it was morally ok for Rush Limbaugh to call her a "slut" and a "prostitute", on air. Apparently, the advertisers and the broadcasting company disagree with you, because they have responded to public pressure. It is a perfect, and these days, rare, example of public pressure making a difference. The problem is that the solution in this case is primarily money-based, rather than morality-based.


I'm Just wondering... How many sponsors dropped NBC for altering the Zimmerman 911 call. Also, I wonder how many sponsors dropped MSNBC for altering the speech of the father of one of the children killed in Conn. To make it sound as if he was being heckled. Where is the response of the advertisers to the public out cry of the inappropriateness of the medias behavior.

Tri-cities realist

Good question, the silence is deafening.


The only thing I can find is that the NBC producer of the altered Zimmerman 911 call was fired. Where is the response of the advertisers? You will have to research that one. I did read a few months ago that MSNBC ratings were down (and also for FOX News). Maybe people are getting fed up with the lunatic political climate in this country generally, and are tuning out. If the broadcasting companies began to lose millions due to the pull-out of advertisers because of public outcry, I'm quite sure there would be major changes.


Stay on topic?? Morality being the topic Sandra is advancing the right to go out and Flucke around on my dime and gets no liberal scorn and Sarah Palin is eviscerate over nearly ever statement she makes and is called the C word and there is not one whisper of double standard from you Lan!?

Rush can be an egotistic a$$ and steps in it when he makes such statements. The difference between Liberals and Conservatives is we will not circle the wagon around those of us that make such statements. In Liberal land, they anoint these loose lipped statements as patriots for exercising free speech!


Let's not go down the road of nuanced shiny objects. You are entitled to your opinions regarding Sandra and Sarah. As far as the media goes, I think it very wrong to call either woman such derogatory words, and it sets a precedent for future utter disrespect.

On a personal note, I was very surprised by: 1.) Many of my acquaintances who listen to Rush daily were very disgusted with his Sandra Fluke comments, and 2.) most of my conservatives friends (men and women) did not care for Sarah Palin at all, especially one who knew her personally, did not think she was vice presidential material, and did not think she was an appropriate choice for McCain, not because she was a woman, but because of her direct statements and actions. They didn't seem to be influenced by what the media said about her, but drew their own conclusions.


Totally agree with the comments of Wingmaster, TriCities Realist, and GH James. I would only add that the Rev. must be smoking some good stuff or seeing different media than I do when he says: "The media made the Zimmerman trial a black-versus-Latino contest to stir up the audience and hike the ratings. " Had it been a black versus Latino contest we never would have heard about it. Instead, the media and Obama made it a white versus black contest, with the media inventing a heretofore unheard of racial classification - a "White Hispanic." Funny, they never referred to our president as a "White African." In fact, if Obama had a son my guess is that he would look more like Zimmerman than Trayvon.

I also note that the Rev utilizes the good old double standard when he tries to persuade us that Churches need to speak on "Moral issues" such as the war in Afghanistan, our national debt, background checks on the purchase of guns, climate change, and the disparity between the top 1 percent in wealth and income and the other 99 percent. Bull Hockey - with one exception he's listed the top liberal political issues; he is happy to abandon the usual demand for a wall of separation between Church and State because in his mind all liberal beliefs are "moral" and thus the wall comes tumbling down.

The Rev apparently doesn't realize that the many good points he makes are overridden by his incessant idolatry of all things liberal.


You make many bold assertions in your comment, accusing Rev Idema of utilizing a "double standard"; that he is listing only "top liberal political issues"; and that the Rev must be "smoking the good stuff" and "idolizes all things liberal". However, I do not see the words liberal, conservative, or even politics in his column. Are you suggesting:

* Rev Idema does not present his argument in a manner that is sufficiently pleasing to you.

* Rev Idema must be a liberal because his argument contains discussion of political issues that have moral significance, and that your perception of his mentioning them is politically-motivated rather than highlighting current issues that happen to be both moral issues and heavily reported on in the media.

* That his argument that the media fails on moral grounds by not reporting facts, historical perspectives, and with equivocation on the important issues of the day is clouded by "smoking the good stuff".

* That you summarize his column regarding current issues heavily reported on by the media that happen to deeply affect the public, as well as public opinion, as being an example of his "incessant idolatry of all things liberal".

I fail to see how any of your assertions pertain to the subject of the moral responsibility of the media to accurately report on the current sweeping and important issues of the day.

And also, If Obama had a son (with Michelle), he would more than likely look like Trayvon, but a brother could possibly favor George.

Tri-cities realist

So apparently we now have to announce that we are discussing things which are liberal, conservative, or political, before actually discussing those topics? Come on Lanny, you can do better. We all know Rev Idema is a liberal, why is it so difficult for SOME people to state the obvious?


It's not about me, it's about the moral failing of the media. But since you ask, I will state the obvious. When, in this forum, I am dealing with very far right extreme conservatives who believe literally every living soul who does not have a firm conviction in every tenet of every aspect of their belief system to be liberal, and it is their right and obligation to relentlessly hunt them down and beat the liberalness out of them, who can not form an argument or develop a thought without an overwhelming need to put a political label on people, to compartmentalize and marginalize them, to allow these labels to dictate their opinions, their intellect, their critical thinking skills, I do have a tendency to rely on reason and moderation in my response.

I simply don't have a need to label someone politically, especially when it is hardly obvious. The political climate is so altered, so convoluted, with so many narrow factions - some dukeing it out amongst themselves -, that it is a wasted effort to label. To quote VTI, "it's like nailing jello to the wall".

If it will make you happy, I will state that Rev Idema may be a Democrat. Or a moderate, centrist Republican. Possibly an Independent, or a Progressive Republican. Not to start a conspiracy theory, he might be a fiscal conservative! All better now? To quote YOU, "Smooch".

Tri-cities realist

I was just referring to the comment you made: "However, I do not see the words liberal, conservative, or even politics in his column."

And since your first paragraph doesn't describe Vlad, Wing, or myself, could you enlighten me as to whom you were referring? I've never seen any of us threaten to hunt down and beat anyone, we prefer to do battle in the arena of ideas.

Your guess is as good as mine, Rev Idema probably uses 5 or 6 terms to describe his political persuasion, he has a PhD, don't ya know.

And thanks for keeping the love fest alive, I'll throttle it back to a "hug" today.


For the moment, I end with this: Sheesh, TCR! "And since your first paragraph doesn't describe Vlad, Wing, or myself, could you enlighten me as to whom you were referring? I've never seen any of us threaten to hunt down and beat anyone, we prefer to do battle in the arena of ideas".

Not only do you leave out several of the other extreme far right conservatives that grace this forum, you pull a 'Sarah Palin' refudiation, and misunderestimate my psuedo-colloquialism, again in the 'Sarah Palin-style' of her "shuckin' and jivin'" and "dead fish go with the flow" analogies.

I apologize for any possible interpretation of an actual threat, hunt or beating. And just between you and me, I was mostly thinking of VTI when writing it - you're 'off the hook' this time.

But I will fight to the death your 1st Amendment rights, or to quote Sarah Palin,... ""He who warned, uh, the British that they weren't gonna be takin' away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells, and um, makin' sure as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed." --Sarah Palin, on Paul Revere's midnight ride, June 3, 2011. And especially, "''If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.''


I'm honored beyond words.


Not to mention giddy, ecstatic, proud, humbled,....

Tri-cities realist

"Not only do you leave out several of the other extreme far right conservatives that grace this forum, you pull a 'Sarah Palin' refudiation, and misunderestimate my psuedo-colloquialism, again in the 'Sarah Palin-style' of her "shuckin' and jivin'" and "dead fish go with the flow" analogies."

I re-read that a half dozen times, and for the life of me, I can't figure out to what you were referring. Please enlighten me, hopefully in terms my simple brain can comprehend.

And thank you, the love fest is re-kindled, I feel the same way about your 1st Amendment (and all other) rights... Smooch!


You've made my point, better than I could.

It's amazing how a little Palin Parlance can turn a ho-hum hug into a Constitutionally-correct smooch.......

Tri-cities realist

Ah so this is the fabled Lanny tactic, talk yourself into a circle, and then blame the other person. It's kind of like Bill Clinton's triangulation, I get it now.

Vlad, since by now you have a PhD in Lannyspeak, can you translate what in the tarnation she is talking about? Or is it truly as I've stated above, that Lannyspeak lacks logic and is therefore not easy to follow for those who understand logic?

Thanks and congrats on the new title, clearly I need to step up my game! Do we need to now refer to you as VladtheLibBeatHunter?


Frankly, I've been to 57 states, I've seen fallen heroes at speeches, including corpsman, I've bowled like a Special Olympian, I've had my Muslim faith questioned, I've been bitter, clinging to guns and religion, I've built the Intercontinental Railroad, I made enough money at some point to hobnob with the 1% in Hawaii and Martha's Vineyard, but, and I don't know how to say this in Austrian, I can't interpret the Lannysims. I think she is trying to be funny at Sarah Palin's expense - you know, a foot soldier in the liberal war on (Conservative) women, but I'm not sure.

As far as a new title, I imagine Lanny has a number of suitable ones in store in the future


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