Mindless Infotainment from Folks Who Ought to Know Better
Yesterday’s Sentinel brought this little jewel:
UF med students found with questionable Facebook pages
The Associated Press
7:02 AM EDT, July 22, 2008
JACKSONVILLE - Would you visit a doctor who wore a lab coat labeled ``Kevorkian Medical Clinic?'' Or dressed as a pimp? Or posted online photos of themselves cross-dressing?
But that's the kind of material University of Florida researchers found when they studied the Facebook pages of the school's medical students.
The study found that almost half the medical students had Facebook pages, but only 37 percent of those limited viewership to their friends. More than half provided lifestyle information, including sexual orientation, dating relationships and political opinions.
Researchers found pictures of students grabbing their breasts and crotches, posing with a dead raccoon and many photos of students heavily drinking.
Of course, this is pretty typical of the Sentinel these days as it slides further into the slime of infotainment while cutting its news staff. So, I suppose I should not be surprised. Nonetheless, I couldn’t restrain myself from sending this response at their blog:
Good job, Sentinel! Never pass up an opportunity to titillate us with pseudo-scandal. It’s a lot easier than finding, reporting and critically analyzing real news including the news your “story” here failed to report.
The headline tells the reader up front that we are supposed to be morally outraged: “UF med students found with questionable Facebook pages” Questionable? Questioned by whom? No one is identified as questioning these websites. Perhaps that’s because they’d then be required to answer the more important question: Who is presuming the right to draw into question the private lives of would-be professionals still in college and upon what basis?
Next the scandal raking lead – if it bleeds, it leads: “Would you visit a doctor who wore a lab coat labeled ``Kevorkian Medical Clinic?'' Or dressed as a pimp? Or posted online photos of themselves cross-dressing?”Of course, none of those things actually occurred. If a doctor actually came to work in such a manner, the public might have a right to question their professional judgment, if nothing more than their failure to adhere to the unofficial professional middle class dress code that we so readily confuse with professional competency.
The infotainment piece continues with this comment: “The study found that almost half the medical students had Facebook pages, but only 37 percent of those limited viewership to their friends. More than half provided lifestyle information, including sexual orientation, dating relationships and political opinions.” Perhaps this is an indication of poor judgment. There is certainly a virtue to keeping some aspects of one’s personal life private. But the aspects which follow – sexual orientation, dating relationships and political opinions – are commonly displayed in public. Turn on your television. Or just go to the entire section the Sentinel devotes to gossip each day under the rubric of “Entertainment,“ not to mention the Opinion section.
Of course, the reference to “lifestyle information” tips off the reader that we probably are dealing with a moralist writer here passing off information in code to the like minded. No doubt the pastors and congregants of conservative religious institutions are already atwitter. Great sermon material for Sunday. But what we don’t have is any justification for this information being passed off as news.
The real news story is the conduct of the University of Florida researchers. Why does a state university feel the need – much less the right - to check its students’ Facebook pages? In a day of strapped budgets requiring cutting of programs and instructors, how is this an appropriate use of limited taxpayer moneys? What other students might be under similar surveillance? Again, under what sense of need, much less of right to do so? Ironically, this is precisely the kinds of questions philosophy programs raise as the conscience of any university. Is it coincidence that the same university which spies on its med students’ webpages also just cut its doctorate in philosophy.
In short, the Sentinel missed the real story here because it was too willing to leap at the opportunity to engage in cheap scandal raking. No doubt it will find shallow consumers more than willing to accept this from their “hometown newspaper.” Frankly, I think the Sentinel can do better. And as a resident of this hometown, I’m sure we deserve better. Never estimate the critical role of the media in creating and accelerating false moral panics.
The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.