I’ll start this post with a little bit of levity: If you’re from Canada, you’re probably familiar with a CBC Television show called This Hour Has 22 Minutes. For the uninitiated, 22 Minutes is best described analogous to Saturday Night Live and its Weekend Update segment, in that it spoofs Canadian current events and TV news through its delivery of jokes, sketches, satirical commentaries, and man-on-the-street segments, regularly doing so in devastatingly funny and pointed fashion.
When I spent a week vacationing in Canada many years ago, I came across a 22 Minutes episode that included a recurring segment called “Canada in the Morning.” As you can guess by its title, it was a parody of the breezy TV news/chat shows one turns on (for the sake of white noise?) while getting ready to go to work. “Canada in the Morning” featured the fictitious duo of “Finnigan O’Toole” and “Lisa Thomas,” played respectively by Gavin Crawford and Cathy Jones, who in interview segments had a tendency to stray very far from the chief topic at hand.
Though the video below wasn’t from that 22 Minutes episode I saw, this is a pretty good representation of a “Canada in the Morning” sketch. Here, Finnigan and Lisa turn an interview segment about tests for immigrants to Canada into a love of all things Harry Potter, much to the horror of the interviewee. Hit “play” to watch it, and after the jump, I’ll tell you why I’m including it here.
Yeah, they sure did stray far off topic, didn’t they? And right from the get-go, too. I was reminded of “Canada in the Morning” after hearing a couple of complaints about the tendency of mass media news outlets to hold onto a preconceived notion about a story. No, they don’t go a million miles from the topic (at least give them credit for paying attention, unlike Finnigan and Lisa), but they have a habit of latching like a vise to one idea in a story, holding onto it even if the story goes another way.
The first example I’ll bring up here came last week when I went through CPR training at work. The training turned at the end to the issue of opioid overdoses and how to administer treatment. The instructor, who works as an emergency medical technician (or paramedic if you wanna use old school titles), brought up an anecdotal story about a local TV reporter offering him an on-camera interview to provide insight regarding overdose treatment, what with the seriousness of the opioid epidemic at that time. Basically, the reporter, in her pre-interview with our instructor, naively thought that Narcan is a cure for the symptoms of meth, and that if they consumed a larger than normal amount of meth, they could just double the Naloxone to reverse the symptoms. The instructor told the reporter at that point that Narcan only blocks the symptoms of opioids and is not a cure, nor does taking a second dose of Narcan bring any extra symptom blocking. The reporter, however, gave a response of, “Oh, come on, that’s not true.” That’s when our instructor politely turned down the interview request and bid the reporter a good day. I don’t blame him for doing so.
Speaking of news media, the other complaint I saw also occurred last week, though not in person. Someone I follow on Twitter (I won’t name her, though I will say she is a trans female), griped about another idea the media (in general) has latched on to, the belief that trans kids are being pressured into transitioning at an early age. Yes, it’s true that people, and trans people in particular, have only recently gained the power to express their true selves at a young age. It’s true as well that nowadays, trans kids have a support network to rely on, something trans kids in previous generations never had the chance to access. Still, the thought that a trans child is being pressured to transition now and not later is, as she expresses it, a myth, and a dangerous one at that. And the media’s perpetuation of that myth is becoming another way for society to delegitimize trans people out of, if not existence, at least the greater spotlight they’ve gained.
Just as with my CPR instructor, I don’t blame my tweep for being upset at the media’s preconceptions. These days, there’s a tendency to take one side or another on an issue, or at least look at an issue through only one hole of the viewfinder and not both. As my CPR instructor put it, the real concern about “fake news” shouldn’t be about, say, a politician insisting he said or did this when dogged journalists discover beyond dispute he did that. Rather, it’s the news media not looking through both lens of the viewfinder for the sake of making an important story easily digestible for the viewer, reader, or listener. No matter how much a story can be painted in only two shades — black and white — there’s a lot of nuance that needs to be painted. And though the likes of Finnigan O’Toole and Lisa Thomas can blindly overlook it, it’s a fact that’s as plain as the nose on your face.