The story I was watching was about Russia being banned from the winter Olympics in South Korea for doping infractions, and it was being told in a very sober, serious manner.
A story for adults, told by adults.
The video footage behind the newscasters voice was of stern Russians with machine guns, scientists doing scientific things, and IOC officials looking like assholes.
These stock images didn’t exactly correspond to the story, but they symbolized it in a recognizable enough manner, which is really all that TV newscast aspire to.
As the story was winding to it’s end, the tone of the announcer changed. The mood was brightening. Full of incredulity, the newscaster said, “And how are they responding over in Russia? Well, Putin is saying that the IOC ban was orchestrated by the USA in effort to discredit him and influence the upcoming Russian election.”
This was said as a joke, the sort of thing that would make you think, “Oh, those crazy Russians!” Most of us, at least over 35, have seen thousands of TV newscasts and unconsciously know the formula—it is the tone of voice that conveys how seriously we are to take a story– and this conspiracy theory was intended as a little bit of levity added on to an information dense segment.
What do we know about Russia?
I know nothing, really. I’ve never been there and came of age during the Cold War, certain that I was to die in some Regan inspired volley of nuclear weapons. I don’t have a clue what, or why, typical Russian people think the way they do.
- Do Russians have reason to think the US would act against their interests?
- Do Russians believe the CIA has the capacity and will to tamper with evidence?
- Has the USA ever tried to influence a foreign election? *1
From any sort of “rational” point of view, the answer to all these questions is “yes.” A Russian might have cause to believe Putin’s claim. It is not insane, but it is delivered to us in the exact same way that a skateboarding dog story would be, and because of this we unconsciously dismiss it, even as we hear it.
Strange, that, but there you have it.
The media shapes the message, and I would love to see the last two minutes of all broadcasts to be person-on-the-street interviews with people from foreign nations in the news, more like Humans of New York than a Hot Take on a topical news story. I need this perspective. I want to know what they are thinking, what their faces look like and how they nervously smile when they’re on camera.
They need to be portrayed beyond symbol, and be seen as complex, fully developed people we can understand and love, rather than targets to demonize, mock and bomb.
*1 For those interested, the Columbia Journalism Review has just published a detailed and fascinating article on the impact of Russian Fake News on the US election.