06/28/2012 04:39 pm ET Updated Aug 28, 2012

The "Momentary Media" Strikes: Epic Fails by CNN and Fox Highlight Dysfunctionality

The networked personal computer and the culture and tech which flows from it give us tremendous capabilities for inquiry and communication. It all provides us the opportunity to find things out and get them right, much faster than before the tech existed.

But somewhere along the way, for too many information producers and information consumers at least, an ethic of fastest and simple displaced that of faster and smart. Instead of writing, there is tweeting. Instead of analyzing, there is reflexive spinning. Instead of contemplating, there is churning. It's certainly easier.

It's also shallow, frequently stupid, and sometimes wildly wrong.

Like, say, today, with both CNN and Fox News blowing the breaking report of the Supreme Court decision on President Barack Obama's national health care law.

Even Obama, watching the "news" coverage on split screens in the White House, believed for a few minutes that his signature law had been struck down.

Which is ironic, since the O Team appears to have a rather thinly veiled contempt for much of the current media culture. (Which dates back to 2007 and 2008.)

Folks at a once great news channel (that would be CNN) and a disastrously popular (that would be Fox News) news channel failed to understand what they were reading but reported it anyway. All around the world.

What a spectacular indictment of what I think of as the "Momentary Media," which has sold much of America on a diet of Fast Food News and fostered a snarkoleptic media culture.

How did CNN and Fox blow it in such epic fashion? They may have some spin, but I suspect they screwed the pooch because they reported what they expected. And what they expected was the congealed conventional wisdom.

I expected it, too, but I would have bothered to read through the decision to see what it actually was before bleating and tweeting.

The conventional wisdom, which I paid a lot of attention to since health policy is decidedly not my field, had the Court overturning the law, throwing out the mandate, which lies at the core of the "Obamacare" program, just as it did with "Romneycare" in Massachusetts.

The two big cable "news" outlets were so intent on being fast that they were totally wrong. The reporters, producers, on-air "talent," nobody could be bothered to actually read through the decision before broadcasting their stupidity to the world.

What an indictment of a dysfunctional media culture.

There is living in history, which is what we ultimately must do. And there is living in the momentary, experiencing time as a series of moments, describing it moment by moment, without context or understanding. Without narrative.

Which is a perfect way to get things wrong.

These are dark and serious times, with far more complex challenges than the ability to read a single document.

A still very uncertain recovery from economic and financial meltdown, a struggle over the nature of democracy marked by the expansion of money politics, unprecedented environmental/climate challenges, a big geopolitical pivot from over-engagement with Islam to increased engagement with Asia while still deeply entangled in war and potential war.

These are challenges that require sophistication and savvy, both to grasp and to explain. Especially so since there are major crosscuts between these issues.

Media that can't report a simple court decision properly is hopelessly over its head in grasping and explaining these challenges.

We're about to celebrate the 236th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, in which the founders of this republic, led by such Enlightenment intellects as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, rejected feudalism, royalism, superstition, and religious prophecy in favor of applying the reason of science to society.

Just imagine what they could do with the tools for knowledge that we have.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ...

William Bradley Huffington Post Archive