Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Media — Rick Moran @ 8:37 am

Every once and a while - usually after some feeding frenzy that the press needlessly engaged in - we read and hear the beginnings of a debate in the press over whether or not it was truly necessary to cover some celebrity’s drunk driving trial or give 24 hour, wall to wall coverage of another missing college girl or some other story that clearly doesn’t deserve the attention it gets but is covered to the nth degree anyway.

The debate begins and then, curiously, trails off into the ether, disappearing before the real issues that drive these kinds of stories are examined. The reason for this is simple; the media is not introspective enough about itself. As individuals, they exercise a nominal influence over politics and policy. But as a pack, the can alter history, drive debate on important issues like war and peace, make or break Presidents, generally set the agenda for our national conversation about politics. and engage in the silliest and most irrelevant celebrity watching imaginable.

All of this is done with a dangerous disconnect about the consequences to journalistic integrity and the public perception of what is truly important to the nation. In essence, if it is indeed the people’s right to know, then the people whose charge it is to fulfill the unwritten contract between the news consumer and the news provider have let us all down with potentially catastrophic effects.

That’s because this lack of introspection allows for the media to be used by not only politicians from both sides of the political spectrum here in this country, but also terrorists seeking to destroy us all. And this curious disinterested attitude on the part of journalists toward what makes news, who makes news, and why only serves to make it possible for the designs of calculating politicians and bloodthirsty terrorist alike to succeed.

How can this be possible?

The simple answer the media gives is that relationships that allow the press to be used are “symbiotic” in nature. Then there are the economics of media companies that can, at times, dictate whether or not a controversial story will see the light of day. Finally, there are the journalists themselves who not only have morphed from hard bitten, regular Joe’s into superstar celebrities in their own right, they have, in effect, become part of the story as well.

Not exactly the kind of world they teach about in J-school. And I’m not sure that much can be done about it except for all of us to continue to try and hold journalists responsible for what they write and what they cover. If this “new media” is not going to replace journalists (and I am becoming more convinced every day that it will not), then perhaps the best we can hope for is to force the media to deal with the consequences of its decisions.

For instance, this “symbiotic” relationship the mainstream press has with everyone from politicians to dictators to terrorists - with little or no effort to reflect on the exigencies of cause and effect reporting - can have cataclysmic effects in the near future. Consider this study that showed the vicious symbiosis between terrorist attacks and media coverage:

The researchers counted direct references to terrorism between 1998 and 2005 in the New York Times and Neue Zuercher Zeitung, a respected Swiss newspaper. They also collected data on terrorist attacks around the world during that period. Using a statistical procedure called the Granger Causality Test, they attempted to determine whether more coverage directly led to more attacks.

The results, they said, were unequivocal: Coverage caused more attacks, and attacks caused more coverage — a mutually beneficial spiral of death that they say has increased because of a heightened interest in terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001.

Is there a solution to the conundrum? If dozens or hundreds die in a terrorist attack, this is certainly news. If it happens in the United States, it is a tidal wave that can change politics and policy. How can the media as a collective ignore what is clearly “news” in any sense of the word while also avoiding the pitfall of encouraging the acts themselves?

They can’t, of course, This is one of the very large bills that must be paid for having a free press. We’ve heard similar arguments for years about so-called “copycat killers” who see a particularly gruesome murder or series of murders covered extensively in local media and wish to horn in on the publicity by aping the actions of the original criminal. Here too, there is little or no introspective analysis on the part of the media to try and come to grips with their responsibility to the public to report the news while realizing how their coverage can affect the community.

The real problem occurs not so much in covering what the terrorists do but rather in how the “narrative” of the story is played out. Much of what appears in the media today about the war on terror is, almost soap opera like, part of a continuing “story.” The story has a plot, it has characters (both protagonists and antagonists), and it is reported in serial fashion. Hence, the “story” in Iraq is how many bombs went off in Baghdad, how many people were killed, and totalling the body count of Americans with the usual referrals to previous “episodes” that were similar. It doesn’t matter if almost the same story appears tomorrow because it simply becomes the latest installment in the serial.

This is not so much “symbiosis” but rather a reflection on how Americans want their news reported. We like story time journalism because it makes it easy to put the news in context. Since the press has pretty much abandoned the effort to give the War in Iraq any kind of meaningful framework that would allow people to connect what is going on there with what is happening elsewhere, we substitute narrative for “big picture” journalism simply because it is easier.

Outside of the political class in America (a group too small for anyone in the news business to make much money from) no one pays much attention to what is happening in Iraq. Signs of progress are ephemeral. Since they don’t fit the daily narrative of war, death, and chaos, they can be relegated to think pieces in the Sunday magazine section or the odd late night report on CNN. The same could be said for Darfur genocide, oil for food scandals, and even the real progress the US has made in stifling funding for al-Qaeda and rolling up dozens of their cells. If it can’t be pigeonholed, it simply fades into the background.

This is why stories that “march” or progress day to day are so prevalent on 24-hour cable news. One would think that with 24 hours of programming to fill, the cable news networks would be able to cover every aspect of the Iraq story. But, of course, the news nets don’t work that way. Instead of in depth reporting, we get barely more than headlines. This is actually a function of how Americans watch TV news. Most people apparently switch on the news for only minutes at a time. So before the consumer has a chance to press the “forward” button on the remote, the network feels as if it has to keep the consumer’s eyeballs glued to their station long enough to sell them something.

The latest on a celebrity trial or the search for an unfortunate missing girl is a godsend to cable news because it keeps those eyeballs trained on their coverage of these stories long enough to build viewership, allowing them to both sell more advertising and charge more for the privilege.

This kind of thing is no secret which is why the lack of introspection about this form of “journalism” is so disturbing. Straight news reporters may occasionally bemoan these facts of life, but one rarely hears about any solutions to the problem. In a competitive market environment for news, there is apparently no way to stop it as long as the public is demanding it. If one outlet refuses to cover the story, viewers will gravitate to where they can get what they want. And sadly, it appears that people would much rather hear about Angelina Jolie’s new baby than the Marines supplying a hospital nursery in some remote corner of far away Iraq.

But what about the new media? More and more Americans are getting their news from the internet. What are the most popular sites for news? You guessed it: Entertainment and celebrity news websites. It appears that as long as Americans have the freedom to remain relatively ignorant, they will exercise that freedom with a vengeance.

The internet will always be there as an alternative news source for those so inclined. But the kind of mass audience drawn by 24 hour cable and the half hour news summaries on broadcast networks is still far beyond the reach of even the most popular sites. And if we ever do achieve some kind of rough equivalence between internet news and mainstream media, I would hazard a guess and say that the two would be indistinguishable from each other. Being able to draw 50 or 60 million people a day to a website or even a limited number of sites would by necessity mean that people were interested in the same things that attracts them to the news nets.

I don’t know if a serious attempt by journalists, network executives, and corporate managers of media companies to actually think about these issues and talk about them on a regular basis would change the dynamics of news as it exists today and refashion journalism into a more valuable part of our political culture. But it couldn’t hurt, could it?

UPDATE: 6/19

Thank you, Dan Abrams.

Former MSNBC host and current General Manager of the network makes my point about the current state of American journalism for me:

Kaplan added Fox alum Rita Cosby, but despite CNN’s frequent missteps MSNBC remained a weak third in the cable ratings scrum, making another shakeup almost inevitable. As for the tilt of that switch, Abrams told the Wall Street Journal, “We need to reflect excitement and even irreverence. I don’t think news has to be boring.”

Damn right. If there’s anything we need less of, it’s boring news.

The “news,” of course, is neither exciting nor boring; it is simply news. To sex it up in order to attract eyeballs for advertisers (without regard for the consequences to context) puts us in Howard Beale territory. And for that, Paddy Cheyevesky appears to be a prohphet rather than a satirist.


  1. The base emotion in Westerners is sentimentality, and the symbiotic cycles of ink-blood-ink-blood in their newspapers are just another theme in their symphony. Other themes are the wretched poor, ethnic injustice, etc. Readers pick up the NY Times (could be renamed The Sentimental Journal) and gasp ‘Oh, how horrible if that happened to me,’ and ‘Oh, those poor souls,’ and ‘Oh, we must do something about that (so I can stop thinking it could happen t me).’ Eastern people don’t react in this manner; show one of them an unfortunate person and he mostly likely will shrug and say something to the effect “Hey, they got their troubles, I got my troubles,” and intervention would be considered an interference with a person’s destiny.

    Comment by tyk — 6/18/2006 @ 10:35 am

  2. “The results, they said, were unequivocal: Coverage caused more attacks, and attacks caused more coverage—a mutually beneficial spiral of death that they say has increased because of a heightened interest in terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001.”

    BS. Terrorist have always used the media and always gotten a ton of coverage for their acts. Part of their doctrine is to use propoganda created by a free press, in combination with their own. Their is not new news here. None.
    If anything, the increase in attacks has made coverage less per specific event. There was a time, when a bomb killing dozens would be huge news, now, it is just a blip on the screen. The attacks need to be larger and created more death and destruction to get “good” news coverage after 9/11. That is, a fact.
    Attacks are up becuase we have projected power in the region, and there is a huge mix of insurgent and terror activity, and the two are often muddled, or purposly manipulated by both sides of a political argument in order to make the case for or against the Invasion of Iraq.
    Of note, is the grace period we had after the invasion when we were welcomed by the Iraqi people, and journalists could get out and around the nation because the security situation was not dismall, like it is today. The majority of Iraqis now believe, that killing US troops is ok. Heck, terrorists are being offered amnesty by the current government.
    Attacks increased because of a poor plan, and a lack of boots on the ground to secure urban and rural areas and provide a large enough quick reaction force to events. Ie- the contractors being killed, burned, and hung from a bridge in Fallujah. Bottom line, this administration did not pay attention to the generals who wanted a larger force structure, and more of a plan for nation building. They gave way to those that adhered to their plan,which called for a small force structure and the premise that we would be welcome with open arms. Everyone can see, where it has lead us.
    When are the neo cons going to stop blaming the media,and start blaming the policy makers that put together a lousy plan, based on bogus intel, with poor international buy in? Let me guess.. NEVER.

    Comment by PC — 6/18/2006 @ 11:45 am

  3. When are we going to face the facts and change course in this war. When are the Republicans going to grow some balls and deploy enough men to get this job done? They control the WH and both houses, when are they going to lead? Having a political debate on the floor is not the same thing as having a policy. Sending out your PC men with talking points and sound bites is not the same thing as having a policy. THESE MEN ARE NOT LEADING.
    “plan for victory, In another six months…last throes, cut and run, a small group of desperate die hards, this is the turning point…blah blah blah.” When, are we going to get some leadership that looks to win this thing? Right now, the only difference between the Republican plan in Iraq and the Dem plan is rhetoric. Both sides are looking for an exit. Both sides are re defining “victory” and the reasons we are there. “Mission Accomplished”….dude, please!

    Comment by PC — 6/18/2006 @ 1:02 pm

  4. Ignorance and the Media

    Rick Moran over at RightWingNuthouse wrote another thought-provoking article on the need for more introspection in the media. I couldn’t agree more with his description and analysis of the problem. The most important connection he makes is the confli…

    Trackback by Non Partisan Pundit — 6/18/2006 @ 2:36 pm

  5. As a fellow Illinoisian, I am glad I found you! I agree with you 100%!! Bloggers, the internet, etc., have become a resource for the MSM. It is folks like yourself who need to get the truth out on stories that really matter. I respectfully couldn’t disagree more with what PC said. The Democrats whine and moan about “no plan” yet their plan is to “cut and run”, while Republicans understand the course. You see, many have forgotten 9/11 and the terrorist attacks against Americans that occurred a decade before. But I won’t debate the rest.

    Thank you for a great read, and if you don’t mind, I am linking my website to yours.

    Comment by Pamela Reece — 6/18/2006 @ 6:59 pm

  6. When are the neo cons going to stop blaming the media,and start blaming the policy makers that put together a lousy plan, based on bogus intel, with poor international buy in?

    This is a prime example of the reason for the problem. Mush-minded political agenda driven thought with no basis in actually thinking the issues through.

    First of all, we never went there with the plan being to invade Iraq. We went into Kuwait with the intention that we would show sufficient force and wherewithall to cause Saddam to allow the inspection regime we needed to comply with UN resolutions. I believe we thought Saddam would take the peaceful way out that we offered him right up to nearly the last day. If he accepted unfettered inspections, there would have been no invasion.

    This kind of speaking from the commenter is the psychological 180 that people pushing that political agenda would attempt to foist onto the public. They would attempt to portray the invasion as some goal of the President’s. What really happened is that France and Russia convinced Saddam that we were bluffing. Basically France and Russia precipitated the war we are now in. Had they not been so protective of their own economic interests in busting Oil for Food sanctions to make a quick buck, Saddam would still be in power.

    Maybe they realized this. Maybe they figured that by appearing side against the US, they could actually precipitate the removal of Saddam and not be held responsible for it knowing that he was going to have to be removed at some point in the future anyway and better to do it when the job was on our plate.

    Also, we had plenty of “international buy in”. The last resolution passed by the UN Security Council that adopted “grave consequences” for not *completely* complying with inspections passed unanimously. What didn’t get a vote was an explicit war resolution because Germany, France, and Russia stood against it. Practically the entire rest of Western Europe and Eastern Europe supported us.

    France and Germany were at the time attempting to create an EU as a nation that would be a counter-balance to the US. They were taking this position for internal political reasons. As it turned out, Chirac has worse approval ratings now in France than Bush does in the US. Schroeder in Germany was removed from office and replaced by Merkel who is much friendlier to the US. Chirac will likely to be replaced by Sarkozy next year. Sarkozy is a big fan of Tony Blair and Merkel. The cost of not supporting us has been high for the center-left parties in Europe. Staring next year, you will see a Europe that is likely to be increasingly favorable to the US.

    The notion of requiring “international buy-in” is flawed for another reason. The only people on the planet that it appears to be important to are American leftists and countries too small to defend themselves. In every other case a country’s policies are set by their own interests, not the interests of others. We are not going to allow our foreign policy to be dictated by China’s or France’s interest. Neither will their policies be dictated by our interests.

    The line of thinking shown by the poster is a perfect example of how the media has been able to distort the reality in the minds of those who would already want to believe a certain outcome to be true. By saying something to be so, the media has caused it to become so in the minds of those who wanted that to be so to begin with.

    The reality is different. Saddam had in his power the ability to prevent an invasion right up to the last minute and I believe a major part of our lack of planning for the peace afterwards was because we didn’t really think we were going to have to invade. I don’t believe we thought France, Germany, and Russia would encourage Saddam to resist the inspection demands.

    That we are in this situation today isn’t the fault of Bush, it is mainly the fault of Chirac and Saddam. All that was needed to avoid the entire thing was inspections.

    Comment by crosspatch — 6/18/2006 @ 9:36 pm

  7. Great comment CrossPatch…

    Comment by DEagle — 6/18/2006 @ 9:43 pm

  8. Why we need nore introspection from the media is an excellent article. But it misses the point. The point is that the war is not important to most of the liberal media. The objective of the liberal media and those working outside the media is to destroy our form of government and to install socialsim. If you do not believe this spend a very small amount on Amazon and find a used copy of “Commies” a journey through the Old Left,the New Left and the Leftover Left, by Ronald Radosh, Encounter books, San Francisco.cio. Born as a red diaper baby, he played the role for years and wrote a tell all that will catch your breath. The same media now wanted the US to lose in Korea, in viet nam, and now in Irag.

    Comment by Henry — 6/18/2006 @ 9:45 pm

  9. Henry,

    I think the point is that Americans don’t want to hear much about the war on TV because most of them would rather be catching the latest developments on the critically important Duke LaCrosse scandal.

    What American TV viewers want, American TV viewers get.

    Comment by Andy — 6/18/2006 @ 10:21 pm

  10. The real problem occurs not so much in covering what the terrorists do but rather in how the “narrative” of the story is played out. Much of what appears in the media today about the war on terror is, almost soap opera like, part of a continuing “story.” The story has a plot, it has characters (both protagonists and antagonists), and it is reported in serial fashion. Hence, the “story” in Iraq is how many bombs went off in Baghdad, how many people were killed, and totalling the body count of Americans with the usual referrals to previous “episodes” that were similar. It doesn’t matter if almost the same story appears tomorrow because it simply becomes the latest installment in the serial.

    Exactly. The news has become entertainment not unlike cheap serial novels and the “journalists” not unlike the authors of it. Every day Gretta has the latest from Aruba (maybe she is off that story now and on the Duke “rape” drama”). Every day we have the latest on Haditha. It is about “following stories” so the flip side of that is about “keeping stories alive” so they can be followed.

    What works REALLY well are stories with anonymous sources that can’t be confirmed. Where additional detail can be added later if the story needs a little push and nobody knows if there really is a source or if the journalist is making it up. I suspect there is a nugget of truth someplace but the rest is fabrication. If it were about whistle-blowing, you would think the reporter would want the whistle blower to go public as to give them a HUGE exclusive story and even more juice as the debate went public.

    News is entertainment these days. It is the news manufacturing industry more than the news reporting industry.

    Comment by crosspatch — 6/18/2006 @ 11:37 pm

  11. Damn, 2 for 2… Please don’t go away CrossPatch… I just love it when thoughtful logic is applied. Where is your blog?

    Comment by DEagle — 6/19/2006 @ 1:34 am

  12. Andy:

    I really do believe the many would like to hear detail information about the war (and associated news), but the MSM just does not provide the information. Me, I go to the blogs, especially military blogs for more information on real activity. It’s too bad that they have to cater to the majority that do not give a hoot about what is going on (money don’t ya know)…and probably don’t care… All this is leading not only to a downfall of the media, but a downfall of America… I see no reversable trend….

    Comment by DEagle — 6/19/2006 @ 1:47 am

  13. If you click my name it should take you to my blog but I don’t post often for a couple of reasons. First it is on blogspot which is really owned by Google and I have a problem with Google these days in their manipulation of Google News. Secondly I don’t like the interface there. It is just a pain in the rear to enter articles with it. I am considering taking my blog someplace else but I don’t feel like messing with it much, usually.

    Comment by crosspatch — 6/19/2006 @ 2:13 am

  14. Sorry for missing the obvious…as to your blog. I’m sure that you can change blog provider if you wish…although I must admit that I have lost a bit of interest since reading you comments at RedState… You still provide logic though which is much needed…hang in here.

    Comment by DEagle — 6/19/2006 @ 2:32 am

  15. Crosspatch- It is funny to see your justifications for this administrations dismall performance. Side isses about WMD, no mention of the force levels or the planning. Just some other “reasons” connected to those things. Excuses. We have been there four years now my friend, were mistakes made or not? If so, what is the POTUS doing to correct them? …..But dude, ” MUSHROOM COUDS…they are going to great us as liberators… they are going to throw flowers at us… their gas is going to pay for this…..several hundred thousand men is a gross over estimation of the force level needed.” Give me a break. We still have not changed course. We are still accepting these bogus assumptions.
    As far as your assertation that Iraq resisted inspections…utterly ridiculous. It is not the reason we went to war there. We are there to project power and build a free society. At least that is the reason that is being given, today. Seems like a better reason than a bogus one.
    I understand the reason for this power projection. I really could care less about the “reason” given, besides the fact that it made us look like fools. What I do not get, is how so many people can still defend the planning, and the past and current force levels? I will never understand that. How can Conservatives, look at the situation and say, hey, things are going well. How can Conservatives buy into this notion that our Armed Forces should be at its current size, when we are fighting a regional war with the increased threat from China? Iran, North Korea..?? The press has nothing to do with any of this, and this post is an attmept to blame this Administations falures and lame foreign policy on the media. It’s a joke.

    Comment by PC — 6/19/2006 @ 3:51 am

  16. and…a talking point.

    Comment by PC — 6/19/2006 @ 3:53 am

  17. DEagle,

    There certainly is some liberal bias in the media, but like any business, the media is in it ultimately for the money. I think the lack of war coverage has little to do with liberal bias and a lot to do with what American’s want to watch and what types of programs increase viewership and therefore revenue from advertising.

    I think most Americans come home from a hard day’s work and would rather spend their limited downtime on mindless entertainment like American Idol than digesting the latest war reporting. It’s unfortunate, but that’s simply the way things are in my opinion. Fox News, which certainly has no liberal bias, is just as guilty if not moreso.

    Comment by Andy — 6/19/2006 @ 12:57 pm

  18. Yeah, DEagle … I am not a good little partisan for either side. I tend to have views that are my own and am willing to debate them on their merits. In fact, I believe you completely misunderstood my remark on RS, but that is a different topic. Anyway, don’t expect me to toe any party lines. I like to try to use logic rather than emotion to reach conclusions, that is something that I believe is seriously lacking in both the left and the right these days.

    Comment by crosspatch — 6/19/2006 @ 2:29 pm

  19. Andy, I agree with you to some extent. In many cases news reporting is a business after a profit. I would hold out NewsCorp as one example. But then you have another side of that coin. The publisher of the New York Times told a college graduating class that he was sorry that he had been unable to change the world to fit the leftist vision. He is also losing money hand over fist. I believe NYT recently let around 500 people go. Profit doesn’t seem to me the prime motivator at NYT, agenda does, if you are to believe the words of the publisher and take their financial condition into account.

    NPR is another who doesn’t care about profit. They are all about agenda. So yes, in some cases it is about a business but in other cases it certainly appears to be about agenda and places like NYT seem to set the tone for other news outlets because of their past journalistic history. The current NYT is burning up that professional capital quickly as they become seen as less of a jounralistic powerhouse and more of a propaganda machine.

    Comment by crosspatch — 6/19/2006 @ 2:42 pm

  20. Example:

    Foward Together in Iraq. The first two days were relatively quiet. The second two days saw a resurgance of violence back to about what was normal before the crackdown. Headlines were generally “security crackdown unable to abate violence”. The last two days have been quiet again, in a relative sense. Yesterday (running from midnight to midnight Eastern Daylight) there were 14 civilian deaths reported. Much fewer than the average of 30 or so per day. So far today 10 have been reported.

    Anyone seen any “Baghdad quieter than usual” headlines today? As I type this, on the Google News home page, top center, is an article from Time “Is insurgency on the rebound?” it asks.

    Nope, nothing but doom and gloom out of the press today.

    Comment by crosspatch — 6/19/2006 @ 5:48 pm

  21. Crosspatch…lol…they must be in their last throes again, it is, the current talking point, after all. Cheney said so, AGAIN TODAY, It must be true.
    Talking points are not policy.

    Comment by PC — 6/19/2006 @ 10:27 pm

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