How Dare Those Wogs Bomb Us?

The Boston marathon terror bombings have revealed again the extensive – and typically negative – role American media plays in such attacks.  Regardless of the extent of the damage, regardless of the real impact of the event and inevitably regardless of any sense of perspective the media outlets, especially the television news channels, play any attack for all its worth, indulging in an orgy of strained and meaningless coverage and righteous indignation.  To be sure, this sort of thing also happens when students are massacred, especially children, but the attention only comes when the casualty list is long and fades without any action taken by government.

Nothing obliterates all other news in America like a “terrorist” attack.  More than a week later and with the bombers killed or captured CNN was still devoting all its airtime to this single issue; even ESPN and the NFL channel bumped their programming for a day or two to talk about the incident.  This meant seeing the bombing videos over and over and over and being treated to increasingly vapid and uninformative interviews.  And everyone felt obliged to put their own touch on the story: CNN of course trucked out the heavies, Blitzer, Cooper and Gupta, while my local media scored a couple of New Mexico runners who had been at the marathon.  The unending expressions of grief and outrage could hardly fail to become unconvincing.  Does Wolf Blitzer actually pray for the victims in the news, as he says he does?

The down side of all this media fawning is of course that we are in effect rewarding the terrorist scum with seemingly endless air time and vastly exaggerating the impact and importance of their petty (in the great scheme of things) murders.  This is the dramatic overreaction that accompanies any attack involving an apparent foreign enemy, though the perpetrators themselves might actually be Americans.  Reason and perspective fly out the window, and the deaths of four or five people become a national tragedy, even though such would be a slow day for murder in many American cities.  The suggested message is clear: we can slaughter dozens of our own neighbors, but you foreigners watch out.  And murdering on behalf of some weirdo notion of Islam means “foreigner,” even if the criminals are Americans.  A clear sign of this distinction: donations to the Boston victims have reached $14 million, while those for the victims of the Texas fertilizer explosion, which killed fourteen, wounded hundreds and devastated an entire town, are up to only $1 million.

As Europe has observed, our rage and retaliation in the wake of such acts seems way out of proportion to the damage actually done.  Granted, two skyscrapers obliterated and some 3000 people dead is serious business, but the reaction was two essentially pointless wars and several hundred thousand Iraqis and Afghanis dead, not to mention the squandering of American lives and treasure.  Worse, 9/11 was our Reichstag moment, beginning an ongoing assault on American civil liberties and accepted international law, which has only escalated under the Obama administration.  The Patriot Act, unread by those who voted for it and containing clearly unconstitutional provisions, was a product of fear, ignorance and pressure from the country’s security apparatuses.  To be sure, it falls short of the 1933 Enabling Act that formed the foundation of Hitler’s power, but it has tremendously increased the power of the executive, particularly in the areas of domestic surveillance and detention and waging war independent of Congress.

The Brothers Tsarnaev: Tamerlan, we hardly knew ya.

The Brothers Tsarnaev: Tamerlan, we hardly knew ya.

This time the governmental response has been far more measured, perhaps because the casualties were so limited and the perpetrators were so quickly dealt with, but Rep. Peter King, a man who is as blatantly anti-Muslim as one can be and still hold office, is already calling for increased surveillance of the already over-surveilled American Muslim community.  And of course the petty beings who inhabit Congress are carping about who is to blame and making demands for a level of security that could only be achieved by the complete abnegation of the Constitution.  In contrast the Middleton school massacre has resulted in absolutely no action, even though an incredible 90% of Americans support better gun control.  The jihadist lobby obviously lacks the clout of the NRA.

“National security” has always been the clarion call of political oppression, and now the threat of “terrorism” has allowed for a never ending crisis justifying a never ending period of emergency measures and war.  The definition of these two terms is also deliberately left vague.  In the most obvious meaning of the term there has not been a serious threat to our national security since the Japanese Empire and the USSR, and even terrorists with nuclear weapons could not really threaten the destruction of the state.  Now, however, blowing up a single American raises the issue of national security as readily as an invading army heading for our shores, so long as that individual is blown up by a Muslim or a foreigner.  I seem to recall that Timothy McVeigh did not elicit cries of national security.  Nor was he generally called a terrorist, though destroying innocents to make a point is the typical understanding of terrorism.  You simply must be acting for a foreign cause, which in the American mind means Islam.

There is of course in all this a huge element of hypocrisy and double standards.  Presumably every national/ethnic group considers its own people more valuable than others, but with its superior technology the west was able to take the “wog” idea to extremes: “Human life is cheap for them.”  Well, we may plead self-defense as we assassinate people around the world, but the “just wogs” attitude is perfectly clear in our disregard for the innocents we are killing daily.  Because of the staggering amount of secrecy – they only acknowledge the drone strikes because an exploding missile is difficult to cover up – accurate numbers are difficult to obtain, but even allowing for the most conservative figures we are on the average slaughtering with each strike far more innocents than the Chechin brothers did.  But of course they killed Americans.  The President and his spooks are just killing wogs, who probably intended to hurt us anyway.

My poor country.  What happened to us?

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Goodbye, CNN

(Be advised: this might legitimately be considered a rant.)

I have seen a LOT of the domestic variety of CNN.  Except when reading or writing I like to have a television buzz of some interest in the background, but henceforth that buzz will be supplied by the NFL channel.  The deficiencies and accommodations of the Cable News Network can no longer be abided.

Where’s the News?

I recognize the sorry reality that a commercial news operation must attend to the bottom line, which means providing what the public wants.  During the initial stages of the war against Iraq, for example, the ratings of Fox News left those of other networks in the dust because of its smothering overlay of unabashed patriotism and lack of even the slightest hint of critical analysis.  CNN is hardly in the same league as Fox, whose “news” is so distorted that it must call itself Fox News and Entertainment, but the pressure is nevertheless there.

One would have to surmise that the viewers of CNN have virtually no interest in events outside the US, unless there is a spectacular disaster or somehow Americans are involved.  And then engaging video and a chatty correspondent easily trump any but the briefest analysis of the situation, the video clip being endlessly repeated if there is not enough to cover the entire story.  Even in stories originating in the US action and emotion are preferred, and weeping victims abound.  This is not news.  Neither are the antics of Paris Hilton, but celebrity buzz is a regular feature.  Not even the need to produce 24 hours of programming can break the grip of vulgar appeal. 

What’s Israel Doing?

A particular instance of catering to the audience rather than what is newsworthy is the treatment of Israel, which has in general received special treatment in American media of all kinds.  Major events such as Operation Cast Lead in Gaza must be covered, but only in terms so neutral as to distort the presentation of facts.  Excesses so blatant that they cannot be ignored will be mentioned but never with the sort of in depth examination and implied indignation associated with the activities of, say, the Palestinians or Iranians.  To be fair, this bias is a facet of most commercial media in America and appears now to be breaking down in the face of increasingly provocative behavior by the current Israeli government, but it is a fact of CNN life.

Obsessive Focus

Further limitation of the news presented results from the inclination to devote incredible amounts of air time to a story deemed important, regardless of whether there is actually anything more to be said concerning the issue.  This is most obvious, as is presently the case, when dealing with American elections, during which process an army of correspondents will say essentially the same thing over and over, almost to the exclusion of reporting on anything else.  An exceptional example of this came in 1999 when a plane piloted by John Kennedy went into the drink.  Although there was virtually no information to report, for hours CNN repeated that non-information, all the while showing a live view of the sea where the plane was thought to have crashed.  One can only conclude that because this event involved a high profile figure – a prominent Kennedy – CNN felt justified in presenting hours of what was in effect dead air time rather than turning to other news until there was more information to present.

Interviewing Cardboard Cutouts

What is the point of interviewing party hacks and government and business spokesmen?  CNN (and other networks) do this constantly, despite the fact that they – and any informed viewer – know exactly what these people will say, resulting in a complete waste of time for everyone except the guests rattling off their generally meaningless bullets.  Interviewing actual office holders or CEOs is something of a step up, but here also all one will generally get is uninformative canned answers and PR points.  Anchors appear usually unwilling to press an unresponsive guest, especially a politician, presumably because they will never get another interview, and even though nothing is learned by the viewer, featuring a prominent politician is seemingly good for the ratings and they are consequently not to be offended.  The irony of course is that most of these people come away looking precisely as if they have something to hide and are self-serving.  Suffering fools gladly only reinforces the behavior of the fools.  (It should be added that Fareed Zakaria is the grand exception at CNN.)

Cult of Personality

The real heroes of journalism are the foreign correspondents, serving in the trenches of newsgathering and frequently risking life and limb in the process.  Yet it is the anchors in their studios who are lionized and advertised.  Wolf Blitzer is not
Edward R. Morrow or Walter Cronkite; apart from his name he is a completely unremarkable newsman who throws only the softest of balls in his interviews and appears extremely uncomfortable when dealing with the plain-speaking and blatantly honest Jack Cafferty.  And excepting the odd satirical poke, why should we care what these people do in their free time?  Precious hours of air time were expended on stories about Nancy Grace’s stint on Dancing with the Stars, leaving me wondering why this was more newsworthy than, say, sectarian warfare in Nigeria.  And of course no catastrophe can be adequately covered until the arrival of Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta.

One additional note: there is apparently a Nacht und Nebel policy when one of these stars falls from grace.  In the past couple years two very prominent CNN hosts, Lou Dobbs and Rick Sanchez, simply disappeared, so far as I know, without any explanation from the network.

I Am Not a Child

How many pre-schoolers watch CNN?  Then why am I being protected from words most adults have been using since grammar school?  This sort of censorship is especially silly in an age when there are vast numbers of unrestricted cable and satellite channels and even the stuffy FCC is considering relaxing the standards for broadcast television.  This naughty word censorship has always struck me as bizarre inasmuch as anyone hearing “(bleep) you” or a reference to the “F-bomb” will automatically mentally fill in the word “fuck,” just as hearing the term “N-word” leads to the translation “nigger” in every functioning brain.  A word is a symbol, and what is being symbolized hardly goes away simply because another symbol is substituted: is it somehow less offensive if I say to a black man “Hey, N-word!”  Perhaps some sort of mythic thing is going on here; you can’t work evil magic on the sorcerer unless you use his real name.

Further, while I have no particular desire to see huge amounts of gore on the news, dead bodies are a fact of life, and perhaps if we could all see the stunning images of exactly what a Hellfire missile does to a human, especially a child, we might not be so enthusiastic about their use.  Such censorship can only contribute to the notion already suggested to the young mind by movies and video games that there is no serious consequence to the use of violence.  War is not a game, and collateral damage is slaughtered innocents.

Finally, pixilation is getting out of control, and I suspect we will soon see nothing but background landscape in news video, as all the humans are pixilated to avoid any legal problems or offend a single viewer.  Especially galling is the pixilation of the hand with the one-finger salute.  Not only does everyone know immediately what the gesture is (mythic again; if you can’t see it clearly, it won’t hurt you), but the upraised middle finger is one of the most iconic exports of America, rapidly displacing the corresponding gestures of other cultures.  I have indeed seen Israelis and Palestinians flipping each other the bird, but we will certainly not see that on the news, at least not clearly.

Undermining the Serious

Why do anchors need to chat with correspondents?  Is it not more serious and appropriate for thinking adults for the correspondent to simply give his report rather than pretending he is having a conversation with a clever and penetrating anchor?  And no serious journalist should ever employ the word “exclusive,” the use of which catapults one right into the world of Hollywood and tabloids.

Last, and far from least, is CNN’s prodigious use of teases.  It is one thing – and a benefit – to know what stories are coming up, but the tease is exasperating.  “Here are numbers 5, 4 and 3 of the top 5 whatever; stay tuned (through the ads) to discover what 2 and 1 are.”  I suppose this works with the weak-minded.

And you very likely just wasted your time reading something you already knew.