Good is Good: Is Gossip Running Media?

Thursday, May 26, 2011


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Tom Matlack is the former CFO of the Providence Journal and is the founder of The Good Men Project, a non-profit charitable corporation based in Rhode Island and dedicated to helping organizations that provide educational, social, financial, and legal support to men and boys at risk.

I went to my 25th college reunion yesterday at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Driving down I was struck by how it being a day of rapture and final judgment. This, coinciding with facing my classmates of two and a half decades ago was somehow poetic. But mostly I was mentally gearing up for a lecture that I had long ago been roped into giving on Media, Men, and the Internet: Are We Addicted to Stories of Men Behaving Badly?

I met up with Anne Greene, the head of the writing program at Wesleyan now and my freshman writing professor back in the day, just before my talk, and we chuckled about the news of Arnold’s love child and the French IMF rapist. These stories had conveniently played into my master plan to prove once and for all that we collectively are completely missing the point when it comes to gender in this country by focusing all our attention on Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen rather than stay-at-home dads, 20% unemployment rates among adult men, PTSD among our returning heroes, and the 2.3 million men in prison of which over 1 million are African American. I had printed up a little hand-out with the Atlantic’s “End of Men” and the WSJ’s “Where Have All the Good Men” covers just to get the juices flowing.

Men behaving badly

The room was full as I went through my GMP schtick. Then I threw it open. Hands went flying into the air and a lively discussion ensued about masculinity in America as well as how it is portrayed in the media.  One point on which the audience was particularly divided was whether or not there is gender bias in reporting scandal.  I had said that I thought we collectively particularly revel in the story, time and again, of men behaving badly and that this mass obsession is connected to the lack of nuance with which we talk about modern manhood.  Some in the audience offered women like Lindsay Lohan as a counter example.  Others seemed to be saying (and the females in my own household concurred with this point of view later in the evening partially in jest, but still) that men, and particularly men in power, are just bad in a consistent way that women are not.  I tried to the stories of Julio Medina and Michael Kamber but that only seemed to convince them so much.

Who was on the front page of the Times on the day of the rapture?

When I woke up this morning, not only was I grateful to realize that we are all still on planet earth and the rapture was a hoax, but when I collected my beloved New York Times from the front steps in my underwear I laughed out loud.  We are still fighting three wars, dealing with economic dislocation, an epidemic of sex slavery within our own borders…and there she was staring right back at me.  Not even a new picture but one from last July:  Lindsay Lohan.

The times lead Sunday story was a report about the dominance of gossip reporting. In a way this was vindication of what I had been talking about yesterday at Wesleyan. We as a culture really only care about celebrities screwing up (and I would still argue men more than women).  But what made me really laugh was the fact that the Times, who had run this front page picture just three days ago, was pointing fingers. The idea that somehow the mighty NYT is above cashing in on the men behaving badly (who no doubt should be punished btw but just not become the singular news story) cultural obsession is just a hypocritical farce.

The same as an expose on pornography that prints the porn as part of the story

The Times story, “The Gossip Machine, Churning Out Cash” is just the same as doing a expose on pornography and then printing the porn as part of the story.  Reporting on reporting on gossip doesn’t make it not gossip specially when your hands are just as dirty as anyone else.

Thankfully below the front page fold I found this, “Need Therapy? A Good Man is Hard to Find” about the feminization of mental health at a time when men like me (god knows I am a sick bastard) are the ones in need of the most help.  I appreciate the concern but I happen to have a great shrink, masseuse, and personal  trainer.  All male and, as it happens, Russian.  Something about talking to guys who escaped the KGB that puts the nonsense of today’s paper into perspective for me.

For more of Tom's works, as well as other pieces on related topics, go to The Good Men Project Magazine online, here.

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