How Fear Came

Posted: May 23, 2008 in Political Wrangling
Tags: , ,

Gather ’round, children, and I shall tell you a Grim Fairy-Tale.

Back in the grand-old dinosaur days of print, radio and television media, there was a thing called Editorializing. Editorializing was discouraged, because it meant putting ‘personal interpretations or opinions into an otherwise factual account’ – and this was right and proper. If someone wanted to express their own views, special parts of the media were set aside just for the purpose, and these were called Editorials. This meant that if a person were reading, or watching, or listening, they knew straight away if the piece was entirely factual or someone else’s opinion, and could form their own thoughts accordingly.

The ban on Editorializing didn’t always work, and it wasn’t the only problem. Sometimes facts were presented wrongly, or omitted with an agenda in mind, so that some of what people assumed to be true, wasn’t. But because the media kept watch for Editorializing, the system tended to work.

But one day, the Cult of Celebrity emerged. People became so fascinated with what actors and sports-stars were doing – particularly if it was scandalous – that they stopped looking out for Editorializing in their media. Over time, Editorializing started to creep back in, even into new areas. Suddenly, weather-reporters were talking about ‘lovely’ days and what people could do on them; crimes became ‘shocking’, ‘horrific’ or ‘terrible’ outside the quotation of those involved; sporting victories became ‘hollow’, ‘lucky’, ‘narrow’, ‘resounding’ or ‘controversial’ depending on the score margin. Nowhere seemed safe – but the worst-affected subject were Celebrities themselves.

Based on little more than gossip, photos and speculation, articles declared this Celebrity or that to be ‘fat’, ‘desperate’, ‘depressed’, ‘ugly’, ‘in hell’, ‘grieving’, ‘shallow’, ‘crazy’ and even worse still. Protest was raised, but the Cult had grown strong. Too many now cared for sensationalism over fact; too many embroiled themselves shamelessly in the flaws of the rich and famous. As Editorializing in the Cult of Celebrity made more and more people wealthy, and as it became more and more deeply entrenched as a legitimate form of media, it became harder and harder to guard against elsewhere – until, one day, it had won. Every newspaper article, radio show, magazine column and TV piece had became an Editorial, and if there ever was a piece with just the facts – well, it slipped quietly by like the ghost of a thing long dead.

People forgot that Editorializing had ever been a problem; that keeping guard had ever been necessary. For a while, they were content, but dark times loomed ahead. When the world turned grim, they had no means of discerning truth, no way of telling whether the fear they felt was based in fact, or merely echoing the fearful Editorials of others. As more and more people became afraid, Editorializing bloated their worries, spreading the infection far and away, a dirty needle deep in the media’s veins. When the shadows thinned, people clung to their doorways and shivered, uncertain of who to trust, or where the world was headed; and even now, the pall remains, rank and rife as ever. The Cult of Celebrity still seeks – and receives – its pound of sweet, unyielding flesh; and everwhere news is passed, the force of Editorializing prevails.

A faithful few still linger, fighting quietly in the hope that soon, the old watches will be kept. Then, they pray, the ancient guardians will sweep forth, reforming media standards until Editorializing is once more banished to the darkness whence it came, and all Editorials are marked and known as such. But until that day comes, the people continue to sleep with one eye open, wary of both the media – and themselves.

Here endeth the lesson. 


  1. […] of the fence you’re on. Way back in the mists of time (2008) when I started this blog, my second ever post was on editorialising in the media: the creeping intrusion of personal opinion into factual […]

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