Estate of Emergency

CBC has a show called The Fifth Estate (Or, in their world, “the fifth estate”). It’s ostensibly an investigative show, roughly in the vein of the UK’s Dispatches or Panorama. Recently, the show aired this monstrosity. It is the single worst piece of journalism I have seen in quite some time. It is a textbook example of where media is evil.

As someone who loves to make and consume media of all types, it pains me when I see it being used for ill-deeds. To some, that sentence would conjure up images of government propaganda, to others it would connote “corrupting our nation’s youth with the values of people with more open minds than us”.

Few though would recognise a very real misuse of the media which occurs, to varying degrees, every day. I call it casual sensationalism. Casual sensationalism is a very special kind of lying, a unique way of mis-leading people which is impossible without the media.

Traditional sensationalism involves what is sometimes referred to as “superliminal” messages (A reference to an episode of The Simpsons). That is, very, very open statements of opinion proclaimed with an urgency of conviction and provocative rhetoric designed to encourage the audience to agree with the general message. Newspapers such as The Sun and The Daily Mail do this all the time, as does Fox News in the US when they run exposés.

Casual sensationalism is far more insidious and is in use across all outlets in all media. In casual sensationalism, the outlet does not make it obvious they have an agenda – often proclaiming the opposite (Fox News does this with much of its output). This is the biggest moral problem with casual sensationalism. This lack of honesty is used to fool untrained audiences into believing what they are seeing is news and not opinion.

But how is it done and how does it relate to Top Gun?

The most common trick is the “expert”. Media outlets often bring out an “expert” to back up a claim. This talking head then says a piece which reflects the editorial opinion, and then the conversation is done. The interviewer/moderator does not call this person out or question them – maybe only presenting the alternative viewpoint in order to allow the “expert” to dismiss it.

By bringing up the alternative viewpoint at all, the outlet makes itself appear unbiased. But pay attention to the framing of the questions. Compare it to the interview with the dissenting voice. These interviews are almost always later, and are tonally more aggressive than those withe “expert”. most would never notice this discrepancy.

Why? Because the outlet inserts sufficient screen time or column inches between hearing from the “expert” to enforce their claim as truth in the audience, so that by the time the dissenting voice is heard from, unsuspecting viewers are already being told he or she is wrong, no matter what they say.

In panel discussions, the gap between hearing from the two is not there. But rest assured, you always hear from the one the outlet agrees with first, and questions directed at the dissent are usually “response” questions – designed to make the dissenting opinion appear weak, on the defensive.

Then of course, there is the selective use of quotes, where only material which helps the outlet’s point is used. I think it’s pretty obvious what that does.

The Fifth Estate’s “Top Gun” does all of this and more. The presenter acts as if she is a concerned citizen, only looking out for our interests. But she never gives the people who are in favour of gaming a fair shot.

Whenever they cite a positive, or a flaw in her argument, she immediately puts them on the defensive, or is aggressive in her attempts to force the into proving her point (In one section, she badgers the interviewees, trying to force them to give a quote which supports her apparent belief that video games are immoral rot).

Not once does she question the parade of psychologists, therapists and concerned friends or family about their belief that games are at fault. She fires off questions which allow them to make their case, and spoke to them first. It’s classic “expert” interviewing – softball “make my point for me, you’re right” questions.

The dissenting voices? They are left to be under siege by aggressive “you’re wrong because of this, that and the other thing, how dare you think what you do” questions.

The impression an uninformed viewer would get is that:

A)All gamers have addictive personalities
B)Brandon Crisp’s death was more to do with video games than personal problems
C)The video game industry should be doing parents’ jobs for them
D)A majority of gamers are immoral and aggressive, and those who are not fall prey to the evil machinations of this multi-billion dollar brain-rotting empire
E)The report must be accurate because the kid’s family and game-playing friend seemed to be agreeing with it
F)Major League Gaming is irresponsible
G)This was not an isolated incident

None of these things are true. And yet, without prior knowledge of the events, the gaming community, games as a medium and media tricks in general, I might not have known this.

And therein lies the concern for me. This is not a show watched by people who are involved heavily in the gaming community. Rather, it is watched by the same kinds of people as are likely to allow it to create a moral panic.

It is dangerously irresponsible for a show with such an audience to be allowed to present such blatant falsehoods as fact for the purposes of spewing editorial drivel, without any dissenting opinion being given adequate coverage.

Top Gun is an utter disgrace. It is a disgrace to CBC (Who should not have allowed it to be paid for). It is a disgrace to Canada (Which is more open-minded and left-wing than this corrupt drivel reflects). It is a disgrace to television (Which gets a bad name every time rubbish like this is aired).

The show’s producers, directors and writer/presenter should be ashamed. But they probably aren’t and here’s the worst bit:

Neither are the thousands upon thousands of other producers, directors, writers and presenters guilty of this kind of thing the world over.