Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Journalism: Cable news is killing journalism

In the real-life wartime reportage portrayed in The Killing Fields, Sidney Schanberg and Dith Pran did whatever it took -- whatever it took -- to get to where the killing was happening in order to report the truth of the Vietnam War first-hand. They risked their lives every day in what now amounts to "the glory days" of war reportage.

Then we were anesthetized by the live coverage of the First Gulf War. Next, the news was sanitized by the Bush administration's mixed blessing of "embedding journalists" during the Second Gulf War (which is still ongoing). Meanwhile, earth-shaking events occur around the world (the Venezuelan strikes, the Nuevo Laredo murders, the Darfur genocides) that are barely mentioned on U.S. cable news. You have to go to the BBC or any foreign-language broadcast to find out what is really going on in the rest of the world.

The neoconservatives with, yes, the "liberal news media" (which is noticeably beginning to suck up to the conservatives while never reporting the truly liberal stories you will hear on Democracy Now) have hermeticized this nation like a packet of giblet leftovers. For years now, it seems CNN and the other cable TV news stations repeat the same four headlines every 15 minutes throughout the day. Most of these snippets originate from politically motivated spin doctors, sensationalistic celebrity accusations or tragically missing women and children -- rarely from actual news events (which I define as "something significant and new that happened today, or even in the last hour").

Today, CNN reported on a major clash between insurgents and Iraqi police with coalition forces by training a camera into the misty urban distance. It explained the trenchant view by saying, "We saw smoke in that direction in the beginning." Interspersed with this view, CNN interviewed a retired military figure who had written a book on the coalition.

Did any reporter go there to see what was happening? Did anyone do anything but sit on their asses in the studio, "reporting" what was fed to them by phone or "background color" interview (which they pay their slate of "experts" to provide)?

Cable TV is no longer about reporting the news, but managing the news cycle. It does not report that a giant anaconda swallowed a pig, but that on day 20 of the anaconda crisis, the pig is now 50% of the way through the anaconda's digestive tract -- or maybe 40%, if you face off a conservative anaconda expert with a liberal one and let them yell at each other for a while.


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