Comic Fodder

Mainstream Media gets Silly with Comics

Bulletin! We interrupt my plan for talking about comics permeating our lives to continue a rant on the coverage of comics by your official news sources.

Early in the morning Thursday, October the 15th, I spotted a teaser segment on comic books. I tend to flip through five news channels until I get news instead of commercials, so the TV was on MSNBC when they announced a politician would be featured in a comic book. Since I have a day job, I taped it and then played it back when I got home that night. These teaser segments tend to be topics that they think are interesting, and often pose a question. They tease the viewer for a number of news segments, and then much later they cover the story and allegedly the viewer has toughed it out through all the boring parts to get to this neat story they have been waiting to see.

It doesn't work. Most of us move on and forget about it, because we know it will take forever for them to actually get to the story, and we have lives. In this case, I forwarded past several segments, spotting them continuing to tease this story three or four times (thank you, Mr. DVR). When they finally got to the story, it was not anything worth waiting for. Setting aside their archaic practice, their last-millennium style of journalism that assumes they can make us sit and endure an entire hour's worth of boring drivel before getting to the good stuff, their segment was actually drivel itself.

Showing that they could not possibly grant the topic the same respect with which they treat movies or television, they started by playing the theme song to the old campy Batman TV show... for the entire segment. The tease was all about a comic parody of Michelle Bachmann. It's actually a series being put out by the Dump Bachmann blog, an effort to convince voters to vote her out. The first issue of the comic quoted her actual statements, while the second veered off into the authors implanting crazy things into thought balloons for her. None of this was actually mentioned by the news report. If you want substance and actual analysis, try checking the folks at talkingpointsmemo.

No, the MSNBC tele-journalists, all three of them, quickly moved from saying that Bachmann had a comic out based on her (this was the tease for an hour or so), and went directly into mentioning other political figures with a comic book treatment, showing covers of Michelle Obama and Ted Kennedy. I was hoping they might mention why people might be interested in these comics, but they distilled it down to an immature talking point: trend or talker. I had written an article back in August that covered my own thinking about this emerging trend, but these three just called it a trend and made little jokes. The female reporter talked about the political comics and made a weird comment about their humorous content, as if any or all of them were "funny books" made to amuse. In point of fact, all of these comics were made for serious reasons. The Blue Water comics were produced to give information and insight into characters, and the Bachmann comic was purposely designed for political purposes to help defeat a politician in an upcoming election.

What's weird is that I know somebody who watches the entertainment shows on TV, the ones like E! that cover movies and TV and celebrities. While their hosts are always upbeat and chipper to the point that you want to shove them into a wood chipper, they still concentrate on talking as fast as they can to deliver the news. Maybe it's even gossip, but whether the gossip turns out to be true or not, you can bet they had people trying to do some digging and see how much truth there was to it. They don't play a campy TV song for their entire news segment on any one topic. Anyone hoping to learn any legitimate information about the Bachmann comic was at a loss, because after advertising it for a little over an hour, they spent less than fifteen seconds to discuss it before they used it as an excuse to have a 'trend or talker' subject for the morning. They never even mentioned Bachmann's political affiliation, or why the comic was being produced.

This isn't the first time the news has gotten things wrong about comics or pop culture. I've covered some of the more obvious comics mistakes in the past, and even took Katie Couric to task when she gave a Warner Brothers tagline to a Disney character. But at MSNBC, they weren't even trying. So I'm using my ability to rant (it just might be my super power) for this column to highlight the mainstream media's continuance of their pattern of fading importance, and their inability to even recognize that their own actions are contributing to their slide into oblivion.

Remember the old reputation of reporters? They had fact-checkers, they had hard-hitting investigators who asked tough questions, they had Pulitzer-prize winning people of high intelligence that uncovered the truth and told people what they needed to know. This new internet thing was pablum for the masses, something of inferior value, because anyone could use it to say anything they wanted. Where was the validation? Where was the massive budget to pay for people to make sure that the end product was the truth? The internet was a sewer! Wikipedia was a joke! But as time marched on, the internet started kicking butt.

You can argue about whether it began with Drudge leaking news during the Clinton era or when Dan Rather lost his job over a hoax memo, but you might think the media people would learn from this; instead, the entire week became nothing but one humongous reminder of how lousy the press is at their job. MSNBC’s little comic book hit job would probably not be considered worthy of notice compared to the other two errors. Evidently the media also falsely attributed a racist comment or two to Rush Limbaugh (setting aside the argument of whether he is a racist or not, the specific alleged quote was not made by him in this particular case). They also got taken in by a guy who said his son was in a balloon, except for the small fact that he wasn’t. And that balloon experts were saying there was no way he could be in there. Except the media didn’t bother to call a balloon expert and have them on TV anywhere. This week, they figured out it was a publicity stunt, which means that one man can successfully bamboozle the entire nation's press for the whole day.

So if you only had a few seconds in front of the news channels this week (thankfully I was away from the TV and working most of the time, so I don’t have the full story on the other two incidents), you would think that a kid had been carried away by a balloon, a radio host who had an interest in buying a football team made a racist comment, and comics are funny books, including the ones that focus on political figures, and deserve campy background music and jokes. All of which is false. The coverage of all of these topics was poor. The comic coverage is admittedly of lesser importance than the impact that proper reporting would have had on the other two stories, but they all serve to put more nails in the coffin of legitimate journalism versus we little people on the internet.

As I mentioned regarding Couric's faux pas, the folks on the internet have a genuine interest in what they choose to cover; I don't have to worry about "filling dead time" by talking heads, desperate to avoid a day or two of silence, let alone two seconds of airtime. We get our facts right more often, we make a better effort to contact sources directly to settle conflicting reports, and the world is spending a lot more time reading our stuff than watching you. This week, you only reinforced your image as uninformed, lazy, gullible people who condescend towards the subjects you cover, oblivious to the fact that you are losing ratings, viewership, and money.

I actually prefer to write about almost anything other than this type of topic, but I find it hard enough to let so many misrepresentations of our hobby stand without being corrected. If this keeps up, I’ll have to create a name for this series, which seems to be taking on a life of its own, as once a month the media decides to cover something in the comic world in a big way, but with mistakes that are just as big as the coverage. I understand "it's just comics," but if they're getting all of these small details wrong, what else are they telling us that's also incorrect?

Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.