May 14, 2004


As promised. Or threatened, whatever.

I think I'm finished with getting my news from big media. Particularly if this is true. I believe it is, because I did a little impromptu experiment the day of and the day after the Nick Berg story broke. It didn't take long, and it confirmed for me everything I suspected about the news we're getting and the way we're getting it. Okay, 6:00 p.m., remote in hand. Let's hit the cable news stations and check the leads:

Fox - Nick Berg
CNN - Nick Berg/Abu Ghraib
MSNBC - Abu Ghraib/Nick Berg - lead sounded like they were doing the causal link angle, but I was trying to hit the leads of all the networks, so I didn't hang around long enough to confirm.
CBS - Abu Ghraib
NBC - Abu Ghraib
ABC - Abu Ghraib

So I skipped it. Got all my info off the internet, where I can sample a cournucopia of news with simultaneous discussion and where folks are at least open about their slant. I used to be all righteous about the media in this country and how it was superior to English media because it strove to be "unbiased." Hey England? Sorry about that. I was a moron. It's much worse to claim impartiality and not actually, you know, BE impartial.

I'm a free person walking the earth. I don't need to be "protected from the truth" by a handful of telegenic partisans, smug in their moral and intellectual superiority to the great unwashed. I wash, I'm smart, and I resent the hell out of all of you. Go blow.

Oh, and I can handle the truth. It's the media I'm concerned about--they seem to fear the public's reaction to it. Not in their script, I guess.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at May 14, 2004 08:46 AM

Every morning, I turn on the local news around 6:00 and check out the headlines, weather, traffic. After I shower and get ready for work, I catch a few minutes of one of the network morning programs - for years I watched The Today Show, until Katie's biases got to be too much for me - and see what they have to say.

But I've had enough.

After being fed Al Ghraid prison pictures every day for over a week, and seeing how the only serious coverage of Nick Berg is coming out now - because of his father's anti-Bush comments - I, too, have made the decision to boot the tube. Seriously, what I need from the television media is pretty much boiled down to this: umbrella or not? And that's why there's the Weather Channel.

Posted by: Kay at May 14, 2004 09:43 AM

Let me make sure I understand your argument. Are you arguing that the Berg story was a bigger story than Abu Ghraib?

Posted by: Lex at May 14, 2004 10:29 AM

Lex -

For the day it broke? Yes. Abu Ghraib is ongoing and will continue until the convictions are in/whole story is out.

When I heard about the Berg murder, the media litmus test for me became something along the lines of: "Okay, we've been wallowing in how horrible we are for over a week now. Let's see how much time we'll spend on how horrible other people can be."

The answer: not much, and not even on the day of the event.

And how much time have we spent hearing about Laci Peterson? So it's not like media don't love to flog a murder story.

Look, I know news outlets have to pick and choose. But it's obvious that they aren't doing it based on the defense they traditionally give, which is "this is what the public wants to know about." Berg was what the public wanted to know about--check the net traffic spikes and search requests (Andrew Sullivan and Instapundit both remarked on this). They dropped the ball, and I'm too cynical now to bother wondering why.

Posted by: BAW at May 14, 2004 11:08 AM

A rational argument -- not one I'd necessarily buy, but a rational one -- is that the outlets that led with Abu Ghraib did so for some defensible reasons: numbers of people involved, expectations of Americans vs. terrorists, etc.

And if you looked at big-media Web sites, which of course aren't forced to be quite as linear as broadcast programs are, you saw lots and lots of Berg coverage, prominently displayed.

Don't get me wrong. I've got no use for network broadcast news, either -- haven't watched it regularly since I was getting paid to analyze it during Gulf War I. But I'm not sure Berg is the strongest piece of evidence for an indictment, or even a realistic basis for a one-time spot-check.

Posted by: Lex at May 14, 2004 12:03 PM

Lex -

For me it was the straw that broke the camel's back; not necessarily the only piece of evidence, just the latest one.

I still do the big media thing online, where you're right about the non-linear deal and I'm not being deliberately led to focus one way.

Posted by: BAW at May 14, 2004 01:04 PM

Well, having worked in radio, TV, magazines, newspapers and the Internet (and sometimes two or more at once), I long since decided that they're all like tools: Each is the best tool for some jobs, the best tool available for others and completely inappropriate for still others. I don't think you can really do enterprise journalism on television, and the only thing that makes me question that opinion is that some academics agree with me. ;-)

Posted by: Lex at May 14, 2004 03:00 PM

My poor wife is a pillar of patience with me. She calmly smiles at my constant snarling comments at television news (and I don't have cable, so I guess it could be worse). Nannying is bad enough, but the gimmicky way their stories are presented: [reporter is filmed knocking at someone's front door] "no one is home at the John Smith house, that's because they were taken into custody on rape charges this afternoon..."

That was all I could handle. I turned it off last week - not necessarily because TV is getting worse (maybe it is), but because my tolerance for it is lower and its making me grumpy.

Posted by: Charles at May 14, 2004 06:06 PM

I've had no TV since 1971. It's very nice. I thought it was condescending even then. Aimed at women, in short. Apparently they've gone after even a subset of women now.

The product of news organizations is not news. It's you. They sell you to advertisers. Alas, it's hard to get everybody to watch. The largest single reliable group, and what they consequently target, is soap opera women. Fine, you can just tune out.

The problem though is that they select stories that tie into eternal dramas, frustration, disappointment, tragedy, that these moron women can relate to, because that's why they tune in. Everything relates to my life, is the attitude. So every account of what's going on in the world is filtered by this audience. That's why you see what you see. It's not going to change.

The public doesn't want anything else, meaning not that nobody does, but no group large enough to support a network does.

I'd suggest ridicule of the audience; and ruining the ridiculous posture of seriousness (``as you can see, we are a serious audience''). MSNBC: news for morons.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at May 14, 2004 08:27 PM

I know this is setting the fat in the fire, but I do think the Abu Ghreib story is bigger than that of Nick Berg's horrendous, deplorable death.

Everything I know about Islamic culture, including time spent in mostly-Muslim countries, suggests that the treatment of the prisoners is being interpreted by the Muslim world) as far worse than death by incompetent decapitation.

My own spousal equivalent argues with me about this, that humiliation is never worse than death, but if so, why is the suicide rate so high among rape survivors?

This view of things does not diminish the repulsiveness of Berg's murder, but it chaps my hide to see people acting as though one man's murder (over the course of 45 seconds) is a much greater crime than the torture of hundreds of people. I don't think it even matters who he and they are.

Posted by: meg at May 16, 2004 03:59 PM

Hundreds of people??? Where are you getting that?

Posted by: Andrea Harris at May 16, 2004 04:51 PM

That number lodged in my head from watching the congressional press conference after they saw all the shocking photos we haven't seen. I particularly recall Ben Nighthorse Campbell -- a Republican -- say "hundreds or perhaps thousands."

(For the record, "thousands" seems improbable; only 6000 people tops have been incarcerated in Abu Ghreib since we took it over, and it's not like we were running a well-oiled torture machine along the lines of that prison in Uruguay in the 1970s.)

But I'll be the first to say that my memory isn't exactly a "reliable source," however reliable I consider it.

The Taguba report ( talks about the company charged with most of the wrongdoings having 900 detainees under their command and them being responsible for keeping more than half of them awake.

And we know what "keep awake" meant to them.

For what it's worth, I feel/would feel the same way if the number is/were (never neglecting the good ministrations of the counterfactual)dozens rather than hundreds. I realize that not only may your mileage vary, but my mileage may be unique.

Posted by: meg at May 16, 2004 08:28 PM