Watching the News: Scandal Sells Even When It Repulses
Watching the evening news on television is not unlike entering a battlefield. Those who brave through these nightly episodes are treated to all kinds of horrific stories, from beatings and murders to kidnappings and robberies. The news only confirms what most of us already believe – the world is an ugly place from which people need to hide in order to stay alive.
Would this dismal view of the world change if news anchors reported only on positive events and completely forgot about the negative?
It’s tempting to answer news would cease to exist because too few positive moments transpire in the world to support a 30-minute television segment. In 2010, The New York Times stated 30 percent of Americans are arrested before age 23. The crime rate is clearly high enough in America to provide news anchors with plenty of fodder, ranging from the seemingly petty –neglecting to license a pet or disturbing the peace – to the barefaced awful – arson and human trafficking.
But good citizens and events can be found – a person just has to be willing to look. This kind of search is truthfully much less exciting than that which yields negative news stories. No matter how unattractive it is, scandal sells, and news stations are in the business to sell. News anchors therefore have the repugnant responsibility of seeking the most unseemly stories and reporting on them with visible candor.
Worse than the news anchors are the people who watch scandalous reports – which is to say most of us.
We might hate to admit it, but we are drawn to these stories out of a combination of intrigue and awe. We also use them to draw comparisons that prove our own lives aren’t as bad as we think. The latest account of a politician’s criminal acts stirs a person’s deepest sense of indignation but also reassures him he’s not the worst person in the human race. It’s like taking the liberty of saying, “I might have it bad, but at least I’m not in trouble for lying under oath and stealing 2 million dollars from taxpayers.”
Reprehensible news stories also force a person to ask why, as in, “Why would anybody steal a litter of puppies from a loving family of four?” People want answers for the evil that exists, and they seek them from news reports that dig and probe until information is revealed. The need to define evil helps segment it from everyday life so we can continue to trust in good.
Much like the train wreck that draws curious stares, we want to turn away from the news but simply cannot.
We complain about the very reports that disgust us, but we also avidly watch every minute to ensure we haven’t missed a single detail. Then we discuss these stories with friends and families to hear the pleased abhorrence in their voices. We commiserate with their obvious disdain while eagerly swapping opinions.
Considering all of this, we probably wouldn’t be satisfied with a news station that reported only positive stories. It’s a nice idea, and it’s equally nice to remember the world isn’t all bad. News stations already recognize this and pepper their segments with tales of unsung heroes and local events. But by and large scandal reigns supreme as news stations feed what our appetites crave. We essentially get what we ask for.