Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media by Brooke Gladstone

Many people have low opinions about media and the reporters and commentators that they read, hear, and see. That's actually not a new phenomena, according to NPR's Brooke Gladstone. Regard for media moves in cycles. In her new nonfiction graphic novel, The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media, she recounts how the bearers of bad news have often been singled out for vilification throughout history. Ironically, she also shows how the public has continued to harken to the news, no matter what the era, technology, or message. We want to know what is happening and how it will effect us, though we may choose to disregard news and analysis that does not fit our political or philosophical views. The global digital age has made our contradictions more glaring and possibly more dangerous.

Gladstone includes many topics and trends specifically about media in The Influencing Machine, but in a sense her book is really about everything from the workings of the brain to our way of life. The back cover says that she is "visionary and opinionated," which I think she would accept readily. She discusses the longing for fair and unbiased reporting, but she holds that because reporters and media people are just people like everyone else, they can not be totally disinterested in the news they broadcast. Reporters at the war front are in the protection of the military; White House reporters need access to the White House; advertising revenue pays for the reporting of all news, including news of business and commerce; and most reporters do sympathize with their own countries and governments. No one is truly disinterested. Also, being fair does not mean the media has to repeat opinions from the uninformed equally with opinions from experts. For example, a scientist knows more about science than a politician.

Illustrated by Josh Neufeld and looking like a comic book, The Influencing Machine is entertaining and difficult to set aside. It will probably make some people on both ends of the political spectrum uncomfortable. Gladstone ends with eight double columned pages of source notes supporting her arguments.

Gladstone, Brooke. The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media. W. W. Norton, 2011. ISBN 9780393077797.

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