RE: UNITED STATES, THE MEDIA, CULTURE OF CRISIS
Randy Black says: Jon Kofas hits on a sensitive issue: the use of language to achieve a goal. Recalling spot news reports in the 1960s, one of my journalism professors gave us students a list of overused words that modified other words. Grinding two-car collision, fiery plane crash, untimely death, and so forth. (All car crashes are grinding, most plane crashes involve some type of fire, and all deaths are untimely at least to a few of those involved.)
Many in the media, and more especially in the church report constantly on the teenage pregnancy crisis when the facts show that US teen pregnancies are at historically low levels when compared to the 60s and 70s. A British report this week says that sexually transmitted diseases in England are at epidemic proportions among teens, thus the US is not the only party to the exaggerations by the media. Some among us speak of a gun-crazy American society that endangers school children when the facts show that only 3 out of millions of school age children died from gun shots in the US last year, a number that is a fourth of what it was a decade ago, despite that there are more guns in circulation today. Others speak of our crisis culture without realizing that much of the rhetoric is a media-driven event for the most part meant to do nothing more than attract viewers and sell newspapers.
Today, I listened on National Public Radio as an embedded reporter in Iraq, traveling with a US Army combat company, described the less-than-expected resistance regarding the current battles in Falluja. The reporter in the US, interviewing the reporter in Iraq, asked the leading question, “That can’t be good, can it?” I darn near had a grinding two-car collision when I heard that nonsensical comment. In a disappointed tone, the US NPR reporter went on to declare that “someone must have let them get away.”
Later, another reporter on NPR stated, “Arafat’s untimely death could mean more attacks on Israel,” without disclosing that the opposite might be true. Today, while CNN carried a few minutes of the Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, and a subsequent speech by President Bush at a different ceremony, CNN actually preempted the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns and gave way more live coverage of Arafat’s coffin being carried out of the hospital to a helicopter, flying to a French air base, and the French ceremony including a band playing La Marseillaise as the plane took off for Egypt. What kind of objective reporting is this? A dead terrorist in France gets more ink in the media than the ceremony honoring Americans who died to free the French?
Answer: It’s not objective reporting as we all know, and while we may accept the biased reporting of Dan Rather, or from the London Mirror, we are lead to believe that NPR is above the fray. Therein is my disappointment with a portion of today’s media. Regarding Mr. Kofas’ comment about the US tendency to jump from one crisis to another, whether diet, terrorism or knocked up teens, he is correct, but it may be a true indicator of the kind of society that Americans are. We are concerned with the plight of others and it shows up daily in the way the news is covered.
I spent only two years in Russia but it took me about 30 days of watching Russian television before I realized their media covers mostly ceremonies, hand shaking representations of politicians making one declaration or another and “fluff.” In the USA, you are far more likely to see news features regarding “human interest” issues. Whether the homeless, the pregnant, the overweight, the unemployed, the uninsured, or the other issues, it shows up on a regular basis on US television and in the print media. It’s who we are and evidently what we like to watch. I’ve been watching Russian television for more than a decade now, while living there and via satellite while living here, and Russian television remains the same, filled with self-serving politicians congratulating themselves on a building being built, or sitting at long desks with others listening dutifully and so forth. I am watching NTV-Moscow today and there is nothing about the people who are murdered for the title to their homes, the 500,000 orphaned children who are begging and prostituting in the streets, or a follow up report on he Reuters story one week ago about a nuclear accident at a power plant outside of Moscow.
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Ronald Hilton 2004
December 5, 2004