Inner Michael » Media: To Inflame or Inform?

Media: To Inflame or Inform?

“Story has the infinite power to connect us across time and space, and frame the human narrative by transcending borders, cultures, boundaries, and barriers. It gives voice and meaning especially to those who may have been silenced or where no voice existed before.

Story can be an extraordinary force for good; for transformation; for positive social change, influence and impact. And, at this critical moment in our human history, there is a need, more than ever before, for new diverse humanistic voices to be heard and for new stories to be told and delivered over a multitude of platforms that digital technology has democratized and made available to everyone.

I think story has the ability to save our world. It can galvanize, inform and move millions of people to action around the world. Just look at how individual stories created by simple, inexpensive cameras and mobile devices and distributed across all forms of social media sparked the Arab Spring. These were stories that captured the hearts, imagination and courage of so many. This is only one example of the power of story to positively impact social change; to move the dial; to connect us in ways not imagined before; to change the course of human history.

If I might take this one step further, through film, television, digital media, theater and animation, we know that we have in our hands some of the most powerful tools and platforms in history for creating and delivering stories to the widest possible audiences around the world. Why not use this power well and for the greater good? Why not make it imperative to build social and civic responsibility even more deeply into the very fabric of our film and theater school curricula so classes and workshops encourage student filmmakers, television creators, digital makers, performers, scholars and faculty to work collaboratively across disciplines to use their stories, their performances and their research to not only delight and entertain, but to enlighten, engage and inspire change for a better world? Well, we can, if we have the will and intention to do so.

We must be more strategic for the long term. And, by that, I mean, the “collective we”. We, who are educators and leaders in schools of entertainment and performing arts education around the world, are sitting in a central position to harness our resources to nurture and develop the kinds of artists and scholars who can make a difference in the world through the power of their stories. And, with technology as the game changer as to how we can create and deliver our stories over a multitude of platforms not dependent, anymore, on big money, we can help a wide, diverse array of students develop into the kind of artists and scholars who can make a difference whether through mainstream or indie films, television, animation, digital media, DYI platforms, interactive games, experimental theater or Broadway.

But, to do this, it means that we must re-frame the educational approach by putting a stronger emphasis on social responsibility and humanistic storytelling into our missions.”  ~ Dean Terri Schwartz, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television


Does the Media have a “Common Duty of Care?”

If you want to enter the field of entertainment, UCLA is THE school you want to attend. To see someone represent the media as having a responsibility to its consumers is a heartwarming idea. Dr. Schwartz makes a relevant point. The media is a substance that is offered for consumption by an audience that consumes the product with the expectation that it should do no harm.

But does it?

A court case appealed by Rupert Murdoch where he cited the first amendment and freedom of speech actually gives Fox News the right to lie.

The court case that Fox won, which essentially gives the media the right to lie, came from an appellate court decision that states that the FCC’s news distortion policy does not qualify as a rule, law, or regulation.

Here’s what happened:

Jane Akre and her husband Steve Wilson are former employees of Fox owned-and-operated station WTVT in Tampa, Florida. In 1997, they were fired from the station after refusing to knowingly include false information in their report concerning the Monsanto Company’s production of RBGH, a drug designed to make cows produce more milk. They successfully sued under Florida’s whistle blower law and were awarded a US $425,000 settlement by jury decision. However, Fox appealed to an appellate court and won, after the court declared that the FCC policy against falsification that Fox violated was just a policy and not a “law, rule, or regulation”, and so the whistle blower law did not apply.

The court agreed with WTVT’s (Fox) argument “that the FCC’s policy against the intentional falsification of the news — which the FCC has called its “news distortion policy” — does not qualify as the required “law, rule, or regulation” under section 448.102.[…] Because the FCC’s news distortion policy is not a “law, rule, or regulation” under section 448.102, Akre had failed to state a claim under the whistle-blower’s statute.”

In 2001, Jane Akre and her husband won the Goldman Environmental Prize as a recognition for their report on RBGH.

In 2004, Fox filed a US$1.7 million counter-suit against Akre and Wilson for trial fees and costs. Akre and Wilson both appear in a major portion of the 2004/5 critical documentary, The Corporation.

In 2007 Jane became the editor-in-chief of the national news desk at

Fox appealed and prevailed February 14, 2003 when an appeals court issued a ruling reversing the jury, accepting a defense argument that had been rejected by three other judges on at least six separate occasions…

The whistle-blowing journalists, twice refused Fox offers of big-money deals to keep quiet about what they knew, filed their landmark lawsuit April 2, 1998 and survived three Fox efforts to have their case summarily dismissed.  It is the first time journalists have used a whistleblower law to seek a legal remedy for being fired by for refusing to distort the news.   Steve and Jane are now considering an appeal to the Florida state Supreme Court.

From Cease Spin:

Appellate Court Rules Media Can Legally Lie.
By Mike Gaddy. Published Feb. 28, 2003

The court did not dispute the heart of Akre’s claim, that Fox pressured her to broadcast a false story to protect the broadcaster from having to defend the truth in court, as well as suffer the ire of irate advertisers. Fox argued from the first, and failed on three separate occasions, in front of three different judges, to have the case tossed out on the grounds there is no hard, fast, and written rule against deliberate distortion of the news.

The attorneys for Fox, owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, argued the First Amendment gives broadcasters the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves.

In its six-page written decision, the Court of Appeals held that the Federal Communications Commission position against news distortion is only a “policy,” not a promulgated law, rule, or regulation. Fox aired a report after the ruling saying it was “totally vindicated” by the verdict.


There is a law, however, that says it is negligent to not consider the “neighbor principle” and that there is a common law duty of care. It says that a manufacturer of a product has a duty of care that the product will not harm the consumer:

“If there is one case that every law student has read, it would surely be the case of Donoghue v Stevenson. This case set the very foundation of the tort of negligence and contains Lord Atkin’s famous ‘neighbor principle’ which forms the basis of the common law duty of care:  

“The rule that you are to love your neighbor becomes in law, you must not injure your neighbor; and the lawyer’s question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ receives a restricted reply. […] The answer seems to be – persons, who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.”

I wonder how the media would react if there was a class action suit from consumers that would sue in order to require that at the very least, the news would tell the truth and would find gossip to be harmful.

I, in fact, spoke to an attorney who knew Jackson and knew the harm to him at the hands of media. I asked him about filing a class action suit on behalf of Michael Jackson fans citing negligence, harm, pain and suffering for the media’s treatment of Jackson. The making of Jackson into a caricature precluded projects by Jackson that not only fans, but the world, might have benefitted from. The attorney took me seriously as he thought it a relevant question. The question surprised him but he agreed to entertain the idea telling me he would have to mull it over. That attorney sadly passed away a year after we spoke. I don’t know if there is another attorney with the knowledge and savvy to go forward with such a request by Jackson fans. It would have to be a civil attorney who knows the background well.

Because of the media portrayal, Jackson was often not taken seriously as an artist. Even now he is relegated to “the greatest entertainer” who ever lived– which he may well be. But he is also the most prolific, creative and imaginative artist of the twentieth century. While his persona was designed to get attention and “entertain,” he was very serious about his legacy message according to those close to him.

As Joe Vogel pointed out in his book “Man in the Music,” reviewers often adopted the cultural abuse and caricature meme in their reviews, thereby diminishing not just respect for his work, but the work itself. That full impact is not yet revealed but is just now being discovered and uncovered after his death.

I wonder the loss to the culture and the evolution of consciousness that his ridicule engendered. I think it perhaps it can’t be calculated.

For the latest information from a media-watcher and activist, see Sue Wilson’s work:


  1. B. Kaufmann said . . .

    This is worth repeating from comments in response to the last post:

    Someone who apparently is new to Inner Michael came anonymously (a woman from California who is an MJ fan) and flamed here shouting in CAPITAL LETTERS, beginning the comment with an insult to me and with stunning (and surprising) vitriol, repeated the [current cultural] meme about [Justin] Beiber in an extremely ugly and judgmental way that implied more immature and reactionary spewing than thoughtful discourse. I am not going to publish it in Inner Michael’s space.

    The danger in condemning and labeling is that we become caught up in the trap of the media game.

    Let me be clear: I am not condoning anyone’s behavior. I, in fact, find some recent behaviors concerning and not just Biebers’. I am attempting to enlighten about the media formula– to target a personality that is very popular and deconstruct and decontextualize him or her (it’s easier to elicit hate if the target is male) aggressively in order to sell copy and perpetuate an industry that only exists as a parasite feeding off real people. There is an actual trajectory that this type of “entertainment” news takes over time. It is a formula designed to chip away at the target’s humanity, to decontextualize, deconstruct, caricaturize and eventually dismember someone who is a human being.

    The danger in thoughtlessly flaming and condemning while labeling is that it creates perpetuation of the meme and the industry. In other words– “gotcha!” You reacted exactly the way we planned, wanted you to, manipulated you toward, by sensationalizing information, using heat-seeking linguistics and clever startling, revealing and scandalous revelations about a pop culture figure! The methods are designed to bypass your mind and reasoning and aim for the gut, lower intellect, and the ego’s shadow. A figure targeted is in fact a target for lots of ugly human faculties– Schadenfreude; gorilla decontextualization; the ego’s shadow; jealousy; Tall Poppy Syndrome; pernicious envy and an evil invisible virus that is parasitic, epidemic and endemic that lurks and lives in the unexamined assumptions and unconscious regions of the human mind. We will be unaware participants in our own destruction if this tendency remains invisible in our culture.

    Fact: humans project their unexamined assumptions, unexamined and non-integrated shadow onto figures that are lifted up and held as easy (convenient) targets for this (usually) unconscious material from the depths of individual’s consciousness that spreads into and informs mass consciousness. Another heat-seeking missile fired for excitement and entertainment has landed! Here comes another convenient target for our own unresolved and unconscious self-loathsomeness that needs a place to discharge itself because it’s unbearable. Unfortunately, there is no damage control for the collateral damage and we are all downwind of the destruction that momentary explosion spreads into mass consciousness..

    Memes, when created and perpetuated (whether true or not, permanent or temporary) can destroy art, music, careers, reputations and people. Once labeled from shadow, the meme can follow a person for a lifetime and infect everything he does (including his art) from this point on. It can’t be OK for some and not OK for others. It can’t be OK for example, for Justin Beiber but not Paris Jackson. (Capish?) Growing up itself is not easy. Growing up in a bubble in an ecosystem of excess while the perfect storm of hormones and identity crisis strikes is beyond strident and impossibly pressurized. The brain doesn’t begin to mature until age 25. Until then the adolescent brain has an undeveloped frontal cortex that might referee effects like fixations on excitement, stimulation, highly emotionally charged and drama-centered content, distorted motivation, poor impulse control, impaired judgment, unpredictability and risk taking.

    The moment Jackson was labeled things like “bizarre,” “wacko,” “weird” and “freak,” that meme entered the consciousness. A meme, and particularly one that is convenient to throw all of one’s disgust, disdain (unrecognized or denied in self) at, becomes a magnet and draws more evidence to itself as truth. From the moment he was dehumanized, Michael Jackson was a cultural whipping boy and fair game for every kind of human evil and shadow imaginable. Once made a caricature, the target is assumed to have no feelings for it is no longer human.

    This is a true virus in human nature. It is real and it spreads when you spread it. It is an infection and makes a culture sick and interrupts its creative evolution. When we aggressively decontextualize, deconstruct or caricaturize a human being we dehumanize and render them non-human and inhuman (subhuman mongrel?) by our inhumane treatment and opinions. Humanity is not separate from itself or each other. Consciousness is a shared agreement. The antidote to the current ugly virus in the consciousness is to awaken to it and … Compassion.

    Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:28 pm | Permalink
  2. Greet Boete Belgium said . . .

    Thank you for the excellent article. A long way to go. A pity that lawyer passed away. I wonder what the French lawyer (who won the case for 5 European fans who claimed to have been harmed by the passing of MJ ) would think about it.

    It comes down to a matter of integrity of the journalist in the first place, but more so the responsible editors, up to the owners of the magazines and newspapers. After all, if you write the truth (like Charley Thomson did) but your article is thrown out and replaced by a “tabloid” story, what can you do ? In the end it is the “corporation” that decides, and we all know that corporations do not have empathy, compassion, and whilst their top-executives often talk about integrity, I think this is a word that they surely do not understand the same way I do, and most of us do. The indifference in people strikes me every day.

    I wish I could motivate more people to read innermichael instead of all the garbage they are wasting their time on, but unfortunately, they are too busy with other, for them more important things. I have been thinking to write “something” about our daily behavior, and how we do not realize what we are doing, or mostly NOT doing. Who knows, maybe one day I can give it a try….

    Posted February 27, 2014 at 6:24 pm | Permalink
  3. B. Kaufmann said . . .

    When you “give it a try,” send it to me. ~B

    Posted February 27, 2014 at 7:36 pm | Permalink
  4. Aberjhani said . . .

    A class action suit on behalf of Michael Jackson fans “citing negligence, harm, pain and suffering for the media’s treatment of Jackson” is an intriguing proposition to say the least. It certainly would make for an extraordinary chapter in the ongoing composition of Jackson’s multidimensional/multilayered biography and might even serve as one turning point in the evolution of collective consciousness.

    For me, one of the greatest attributes of the power of story is its ability to assign value to a specific experience, commodity, or perception. It is unfortunate that so many of those who control what people in “modern industrialized” societies experience as stories do so based on their own desires for cash and power at any and all costs. The destruction that some of their choices bring to the lives of individuals or communities tend to be of little, or no, concern to them. The contrast you present in the form of UCLA is encouraging.

    As noted by your own example of Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, those who dare to take a meaningful stand outside the boundaries of the mainstream often pay a tremendous price for doing so. Tragically, many of us now understand that we pay just as deadly a price for not doing so. There are not too many lone-standing survivors like Prince who battled repeatedly throughout his youth for creative independence, self-determination, and individual artistic integrity, then by the grace of fate lived to reap the benefits in his now middle years.

    Posted March 7, 2014 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

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