I got both my degrees from the same college, the University of Wisconsin. There are two student newspapers there, the “official” paper, the Daily Cardinal, and an upstart independent funded by right-wing types the Badger Herald.
Ironically, the “official” paper was constantly assailing the administration and the mainstream of campus culture, while the “alternative” paper was more of a cheerleader for the authorities. But it had some good columnists, and as an undergrad, I gravitated toward the Herald because I was turned off by the mindless leftism I was suddenly surrounded by at college (in high school, I was basically a lefty hippie because I was turned off by the mindless conservatism I was surrounded by there).
So when I went back for my master’s in journalism, I figured I should be at the Herald. That lasted about as long as my first assignment, which involved writing 1 article with 2 previews of upcoming entertainment events, and I was instructed that the “unifying theme” of the article should be “these great events coming to campus.” I headed over to the Cardinal’s office a couple days later, and I’m really glad I did, even though I was surrounded by some people with seriously messed-up politics (I have a lefty-hippie temperament, but I can get impatient with overly simplistic and unrealistic views, and college lefties are full of those).
But I was struck over and over again by the simple fact that the Herald, more often than not, wasn’t so much practicing journalism as imitating it, as best they could. It was cargo-cult journalism, imitating the superficial, surface appearance without understanding what’s supposed to be happening beneath the surface, like the Pacific islanders who built control towers out of sticks and sat in them with headphones made of coconut shells, thinking that would magically bring airplanes bearing cargo, like it did during the war when America was using the islands for transporting materiel for the war effort.
Which brings me to Fox News. If you want to understand why they are the way they are, I think “cargo-cult journalism” pretty much says it all. “The Daily Show” did a nice bit recently (skip to the 4-minute mark).
(Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear sign via Reddit)