Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Boycott of NBC growing

Here’s a development that will be interesting to watch -- newsboycott.com. It’s a new web site devoted to punishing NBC (MSNBC, etc.) for its terrible judgment in its handling of the material mailed to it by the April 16th shooter at Virginia Tech, which had the effect of promoting the suicidal gunman as a celebrity.

The site went up on April 20th. While this example of spontaneous righteous indignation may blow over, it might not. With the unpredictable but awesome power of the Internet to connect the likeminded, and the fact that millions must be more than a little fed up with way the 25-hours-a-day news networks tend to throw fuel on fires, maybe we’ve reached the tipping point.

Maybe like the Howard Beale character played by Peter Finch (who won a posthumous Oscar for his perfromance) in the brilliantly bitter 1976 feature “Network,” enough Americans have gotten to the point they, too, agree with Beale’s signature rant -- “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!”

Click here to visit newsboycott.com. to read more about this movement and to see an online petition you may want to sign.


news said...

Thanks for the support.

Bill Garnett said...

Is this just another feel good emotional group think response to the cause du jour? A public lynch mob for a network? Wouldn’t all this energy be better directed at a rational and unemotional public discussion about ways to prevent gun violence in America, prevent bullying and intolerance in schools, and bringing parity to mental illness?

News Boycott said...

Mr. Garnett,

No, it is not a "feel good emotional groupthink response." The Cho videos are our cause du jour right now because this backlash has captured the public's attention. Nor are we a "public lynch mob for a network", we aim to follow up on all the networks and if any of the others had done what NBC News did, we would have acted the same way.

We believe that this recent episode sets a very dangerous precedent and we frankly don't want to patronize establishments which condone that. (We also feel strongly that NBC News has to right to do what they did. We think they did it for primarily economic reasons; they are a corporation, after all, and they had to brand and market their intellectual property, i.e. the photos and videos and text which fell into their lap. We vehemently disagree though with their decision to air it and we choose to fight back in the same way, economically.)

We are also having a rational discussion about how to prevent gun violence, and one of those key steps is not instant celebrityhood for mass murderers. This serves as positive reinforcement for future acts. (Like the guy that shot up NASA very soon after.) and the branding and marketing by a major news for mass murderers. We will be exploring soon in future posts the cultural transmission of mental disorders, lack of mental health care for the poor and recent immigrants, and the copycat effect using peer reviewed literature and scholarly works. Trust me, we'll spice it up a bit, but try not to be too emotional.

We sincerely hope you join us.

Bill Garnett said...

News Boycott,

My objection is that your approach of boycott is completely unbalanced in that it narrowly focuses in on one specific network event. You seem not to take the entirety of NBC news in balance. Your approach, if logically followed could say that a newspaper that printed a Cho photo is just as liable for boycott. Or the 7-Eleven that sold that newspaper issue could reasonably expect picketing.

This type of boycott can ultimately chill our free press. It can be worse than the tyranny of the majority. It becomes the tyranny of the minority. The news, as you have agreed, is commercial and responds to perceived public receptivity.

And to imply that the NASA event was copycat is to try and bolster your argument out of thin air. Almost eight years passed since Columbine with very little in terms of direct copycatting, but incredible increases in draconian security at public schools. It is an unnatural and unwarranted intrusion of a state of fear that efforts like yours tends to perpetuate.

We are a nation of 300 million – there are tragedies that will happen that are NOT cause for some universal overreaction. Perhaps the ability to hitchhike, or leave our doors unlocked, or not fear a law suit if we are a Little League coach – things that have changed since my youth – are, in part, because of hysteria prompted by widely distanced and rare events that too often become universalized.

Taking Don Imus off the air was a recent example.

Society should not have to bow to the knee jerk sensitivities of the lowest level of risk taking in our society. Response should be proportionate and not ratchet us towards a sterile and limited access to experience.

If you don’t like a program on TV, turn the channel. If you don’t like a movie or a newspaper, or a cause – don’t promote it. But don’t play God and boycott its availability from the rest of us.

We have Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and yet at the table there is no room for Mother’s For Drunk Drivers – or more rationally Mothers For Responsible Parenting. And thus we limit the debate and allow the flag wavers to be assumed as the best arbiters of policy.

I do applaud your efforts to examine the issues rationally – I just don’t support unbalanced, emotionally charged, and poorly targeted boycotting that rather than expand liberties and freedoms and access, will in fact, restrict them.

F.T. Rea said...

Bill Garnett,

Strikes and boycotts are time-honored tactics. Traditionally, they have been used by individuals who have banned together for a cause and, as a rule target, they target a specific powerful entity’s service or product. Thus, you don’t call a strike against all automobile manufacturers, and you don’t boycott all fruit.

No, you walk out on GM and you boycott only grapes. How the target is chosen is determined by specifics.

In Richmond, VA (to get local), when Downtown lunch counters in the five-and-dimes and the big department stores had set policies in 1960 that denied service to blacks, while inviting the very same people to shop freely in the rest of the store, a picket line was thrown around one department store -- Thalhimers. After months of stalemate the store caved in and subsequently all the downtown lunch counters 86ed their whites-only policy.

In this case what NBC did was different than the rest. It alone had the material until it stamped its logo on it and sent it out to the other networks, wire services, etc. To say it had to do what it did is not true. Choices were made. Actions were taken.

In my opinion NBC acted deplorably in rushing to decide what to do, and in rushing to get it done.

While I don’t like what others did afterward, NBC’s role stands out. While I don’t want to chill the free press, nor do I want to encourage it scream fire! in a crowded theater. While some of that wretched material may have had real newsworthiness, I question that it all did. And, I think that shoving it in the faces of the people who were watching the news on television -- in a state of shock -- trying to find out about people and a school they knew and loved, was unbelievably cruel and unnecessary.

None of that had to happen like it did. No public interest was served.

So, I support this boycott and I hope it picks up steam. If it does I think that will encourage a debate about the proper role of the press that’s long overdue.

Yes, there are other issues coming out of the tragedy at Tech that deserve attention. However, in my view this boycott of NBC does not take anything away from those concerns.

Bill Garnett said...

I have enormous respect for you and your well thought postings, but here we differ. And I am surprised that with your journalistic credentials you seem to so naively muddy the waters with your false analogies. I grew up in Richmond. I knew the segregation at the lunch counters. I experienced segregated Oak Grove in South Richmond. I saw the inequality of segregation. Mr. Rea, you cannot equate hand wringing over the NBC airings to the hypocrisy of segregation in Virginia.

Perhaps you are caught up in the feeding frenzy and parochialism of a local Virginia tragedy such that you can’t extricate yourself to the higher plane of the concept of a free press.

Don’t misunderstand me, I have no problem with boycotts – boycotts that have historically worked to expand rights, protect workers, gain access, promote freedoms, bring about equality. But a boycott to stifle the freedom of the press, I don’t think so.

You want the Cho material censored but the flag draped coffins from Iraq shown? You want an understanding of the personality and motivations of this murderer sealed but the motivations of those who marshaled momentum for our current war brought into the light of day?

Are we all children that need some straight-laced snotty pious parent figures to feed us the pablum of acceptable reality? You denigrate our capacity to discern, you infantilize our intelligence, and you are catering to the authoritarian streak in our culture that assumes to impose their narrow standards ever tighter on the broader public experience.