Rhetoric and Writing in the Public Sphere: An Introduction/Corporate Media and the Public Sphere

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The News as Spectacle[edit]

McLuhan and Compton provide the most interesting evidence about the development of the media and its drastic effect on the public sphere. McLuhan explores the inherent value of technology and how new technologies continuously effect the pace of human function, and therefore changes human function itself. In class, we discussed the example of the microwave. According to McLuhan’s understanding of the media, the microwave can be considered an extension of us. As a technology, the microwave changes the pace of cooking and the patterns of cooking; therefore, the patterns of eating and the scale of cooking are also changed. This view of technology has changed the way I view the new inventions that emerging everyday. New cell phone technology, internet technology, and technology in household appliances are changing the pace of our lives and the way in which younger generations are learning and learning how to communicate. The question remains: will these fast paced changes in technology lead to conflicts among generations as time moves on?

As time moves on, technology remains a constant factor in our lives. However, the presence of the media is also becoming one of the most influential factors on the public sphere. Compton discusses the effects of the media in his book The Integrated News Spectacle: A Political Economy of Cultural Performance. Compton investigates the media’s control over news and the way in which it is presented to us through the public sphere. The manipulation of factual information shapes the way in which society receives this information and the way we then shape our opinions about the world. In Chapter 2 of The Integrated News Spectacle, Compton discusses the “promotional fulcrum”, promotion to increase public interest in the reported events. Compton uses the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal as an example: “the scandal was a story that was rationally constructed and administered by individuals and organizations concerned with promoting their own interests and who did so by using the logic of promotion-the wheels of the media machine are greased by creating a commodity-sign that can be used as a site of promotion for disparate interests, whether they be personal, political, or commercial” (Compton 50). Although the scandal was a serious and historical event in Clinton’s presidency, the event transpired into a career launcher and publicity stunt for Monica Lewinsky. She became the center point for the story’s public appeal, making appearances on television shows and becoming famous for her blue dress. Her involvement in the presidential scandal led to a rise in fame and an increase in popularity within the entertainment industry. In actuality, the story between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky was not actually about sex, “but about the honesty and integrity of the president” (Compton 49). However, the media’s manipulation of the story forced the coverage into the realm of Lewinsky’s story and the sex appeal of the entire incident.

Compton also discusses the area of “spectacular storytelling” and “flexible production”. These terms mean that the stories are flexible enough to provide full time coverage and the importance of these full coverage stories are integral to the success of the media. Spectcular stories provide the material for 24-hour news stations such as, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News. The media manipulates these news stories by incorporating popular culture into what the audience sees and understands. Compton provides three main reasons why spectacular stories are essential to journalism: transposibility, efficiency, and anchors for broader strategies of capital accumulation. Transposibility refers to the spectacular stories flowing easily within the news format because these stories usually contain related themes and events. For example, “the tragic loss of a mother, the plight of a terrorized young boy, and the infidelity of a husband resonate easily and powerfully across cultural, class, and demographic boundaries”(Compton 54). Efficiency then refers to the different possibilities in coverage, news specials, and publicity that each story offers. These spectacular stories are also easy to use within different forms of media and presentation. Finally, these spectacular stories act as anchors for broader strategies of capital accumulation because they are able to “repurpose” the information. The regeneration of information presents prime subjects for 24-hour news coverage. A recent example of this media manipulation is the Natalee Holloway disappearance. When the teenager disappeared from Aruba last May, the media coverage immediately took off. Networks such as CNN and MSNBC featured hours and hours of continuous coverage on the “story” when in reality, there was no progression in the case. However, headlines, interviews with experts on kidnapping, and stories of Natalee Holloway’s life provided more than enough material for continuous coverage of the disappearance. Soon, the coverage was manipulated into a manhunt and the search for those responsible for the disappearance. Because the story was made so spectacular, the focus began to switch to several topics stemming from the disappearance, and the media was able to manipulate the story to cover hours of on-air time.

The effects of this type of media manipulation are present everyday. Our attention to celebrities and our news presentation are just minor examples of the effects that technology will have on our ability to receive “real news”. Compton and McLuhan both provide interesting interpretations of these progressions in technology.

Censored 2006 by Project Censored is a valuable resource to consult when studying the corporatization of mass media. Two specific chapters of relevance include chapter five, titled "Junk Food News and News Abuse" and chapter six, titled "Corporate Media is Corporate America." “Junk Food News and News Abuse” presents the top ten “over-reported, empty-calorie news stories" from 2005. Instead of discussing news stories being reported incorrectly, this chapter focuses on frivolous stories about celebrities taking the forefront in news. The authors discuss the change in television and radio moving from education to entertainment, and the shift from providing a service to being obsessed with ratings. Television and radio were originally intended to “keep people informed of politics and events that affect their lives." The authors attribute this shift to people “hiding from the real and inescapable issues that can only get worse.” They also think that the acceptance of the current media coverage is due to “our expectation of news [having been] reconstructed by the media to advance ratings and corporate profits.” The chapter goes on to critique the news coverage of the top ten “Junk Food News stories of the year.” Following this section is a critique of various forms of News Abuse that occurred in mainstream reporting in 2004 and 2005. Chapter six, titled "Corporate Media is Corporate America," has listings of "big media interlocks with corporate america and broadcast news media ownership empires." Censored 2006 is Project Censored's newest publication, but even more up-to-date information is continually posted on their website at www.projectcensored.org.