Posted On September 27, 2014 By In Buzzworthy, Politics, The Scene

Don’t Shoot the Messenger – Why We Can’t Blame the Media for Doing Its Job


It is every gun advocate’s holstered response for school shootings, the reason women and men develop body image issues, the reason for teen pregnancy and, most recently, the reason a poor woman in Moore, Oklahoma was beheaded by the deranged 30-year-old Alton Nolen. Often if not altogether every time a tragedy occurs, and certainly if it reoccurs in the United States – or an international threat manifests itself domestically – the media receives immediate causal blame for their reporting it or previous events like it.

Sophocles left it simply at “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” Or, perhaps Plutarch’s story of Tigranes said it first, and also quite well, “The first messenger that gave notice of Lucullus’ coming was so far from pleasing Tigranes that he had his head cut off for his pains; and no man daring to bring further information, without any intelligence at all, Tigranes sat while war was already blazing around him, giving ear only to those who flattered him.”

Journalism school teaches students to seek the truth and report it, so does the journalism graduate go forth into the professional world doing what they have been taught to do, and what they are now paid to do – seek the truth and report it. It does not boil down to a ‘chicken or the egg’ story – journalists do not create the events they report on, they report on the events that are happening. There is no reasonable cynical view of this process and it is elementary to look at the messenger and not the details of the message when assigning fault for dreadful events.

Like the opposable thumb, humans possess the important evolutionary trait of reason. It is important to remember this as it is understood that media is changing. Reporting on tragic events is not new, but the amount of information we receive on these events has grown to enormous proportions through the 24-hour new cycle, social media and access to information. Punditry, opinion pieces and sensationalistic reporting has found a foothold in the American heart. The parameters of new media are complex but none of which cannot be overcome by some degree of media literacy, some capability of reasoning, and understanding that the media holds strong in the original mission to seek the truth and report it.

Certainly the power of suggestion is strong, but it will be a darker day when journalists begin interpreting what is right and what is wrong to report on. That discretion destroys the press freedoms and objectivity that has shaped the American nation. There would be shame and unrest from the readership and viewership when there is no information from overseas conflict simply because it is violent, or when there is no information on domestic tragedy because it has reoccurred, or even if information on these events is watered down. Journalists are not “giving attention” to specific events with an ulterior motive, and the news consumer deserves the accurate information they receive about what is happening in the world today.

Holding some degree of media literacy, expressing some reasoning allows any media consumer to, sure, be impacted but not necessarily incited to take deranged action. The world is not a friendly place. There is bad news. There is violent news. Horrible tragedies occur. It is not the media’s responsibility to shelter consumers from such ugliness. Like the story of Tigranes, being told all is right and proper does not make it so. It is time to stop blaming the media for doing what they have been doing since the beginning, and start expressing some degree of accountability when reading and watching the media. It is time consumers listen to the message and not assault the messenger when facing these events. It is time to stop blaming the media for doing its job.

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John O'Neill is a writer for Writtalin. He keeps his nose in the news. He is a big fan of pretty sunset pictures and crisp words. Don't tell him, show him. Firm believer in dinner and drinks. Journalist, athlete. You can email John at: [email protected]