Some people are annoyed by crying babies in a movie theater, people driving under the speed limit in the passing lane, any movie with Pauly Shore in it — you know, normal stuff. While all those things irritate me too, I get more perturbed with some of the things the mainstream media does on a regular basis. I know, I know, it’s a bit odd to find Dan Rather to be more irritating than Carrot Top, but that’s the price you pay for being a right-wing political junky. Here are my biggest pet peeves with the media…
Your son just died, can you tell all our readers how you feel?: In their never-ending quest to find bad news about the war in Iraq, one of the things members of the media do every so often is interview either family members of soldiers who have been killed or their buddies from their unit. This isn’t because the media cares what they think, it’s because they’re hoping that they’ll rage against the war or the Bush administration in their grief. Then the reporter has some juicy quotes they can run with. Of course, this is a callous & cruel way to take advantage of people who have just experienced a terrible loss, but that’s the media for you.
Headline — WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! — Story: Average life expectancy goes up!: Occasionally the press will spit out shocking headlines that generate more attention than the stories that go with them. Perhaps that’s because the headlines don’t really match the stories. The most famous one from the last couple of years has been the “Bush Knew” headline, which implied that Bush knew that 9/11 was going to happen and didn’t stop it. Yet the story only said that Bush had gotten a non-specific briefing that said Al-Queda wanted to hijack a plane. Putting this sort of headline on a story is not about accuracy, it’s about generating buzz.
The Mainstream Media Won’t Like It, They Don’t Like Anything: You know, I do understand why there tends to be a negative slant on the news. That’s because “good news isn’t news” much of the time. For example, “Celebrity lives another day, plays with kids, gives money to charity, planning to go to party” isn’t news. But, “Celebrity busted with hooker” or “Celebrity caught in sex scandal” is probably going to end up on the Drudge Report.
However, the media’s constant negative slant is so insistent, so pervasive, that they come across as about as unbiased as PRAVDA in the mid-eighties when it comes to certain subjects. For example, you can get a better idea of what’s happening in Iraq from a letter written by an American soldier than you can from an article on CNN or ABC. That’s because the mainstream media is so cynical & negative that every story seems to start with the assumption that things are going horribly wrong. We’ve seen countless articles riddled with phrases like ‘things are getting worse’, ‘resistance is rising’, & ‘morale is fading’. If all the post-war gloom & doom the media has been spouting were accurate, we would have have already been forced to pull out of Iraq while leaving a country caught up in a swirling morass of violence & revolution behind us. But as per usual, we can’t expect the mainstream media to correct the incorrect impression its coverage has undoubtably left on many people. Instead they’ll just move on to another subject, probably one they can be just as incessantly negative about.
I bet you’d love to know who said that.: We get these sorts of stories all the time. An anonymous source, supposedly from the intelligence community or the Bush administration, makes some kind of wild statement and it generates headlines across over the net, makes all the Sunday Talk shows, gets everyone talking — and then turns out to be totally bogus. Here’s a quote from one particularly egregious story of this type that was released during the the war in Iraq ….
“Hersh, however, quoted the former intelligence official as saying the war was now a stalemate.
Much of the supply of Tomahawk cruise missiles has been expended, aircraft carriers were going to run out of precision guided bombs and there were serious maintenance problems with tanks, armored vehicles and other equipment, the article said.
“The only hope is that they can hold out until reinforcements arrive,” the former official said”
Of course, all of that was complete garbage, but no one was ever held accountable for it. Did the guy who wrote that, Seymour Hersh, make it up Jayson Blair style? Did his editor ever verify or speak to his sources? Is he still using the same sources today? We don’t know. The mainstream media loves those sizzling quotes from anonymous sources, but when they turn out to be wrong, there’s no follow up. But if papers like the New York Times and Washington Post want to act like the National Enquirer, then they shouldn’t be surprised when their readers start treating them more like gossip rags and less like credible sources of news.
This is the 5th story of the century this year!: Watching the media go crazy — like a school of piranha attacking a leg lamb — over a story that turns out to be a big bag of nothing, is particularly frustrating. While the media does the same thing with Democrats as I’m sure Gary Condit & Bill Clinton could tell you, George Bush has had to endure media frenzies over Enron, ‘Bush Knew’, the ‘Iraqi quagmire’ & The African Uranium story, all of which had little substance to them. It usually starts with a story or a juicy quote, then the Democrats claim this is the biggest scandal since Whitewater or Watergate, old stories about the subject are dressed up and treated as if they were new, every minute detail is treated as a shocking revelation, & the news coverage itself even becomes a story, all while the press frantically tries to keep the story going.
But when you look back, usually only bitter partisans see much worth getting excited about. Bush knew Ken Lay, a man who ran a huge company that went belly-up and was engaged in skeevy accounting — how shocking! The ‘Bush Knew’ frenzy was over the fact that Bush was told Al-Qaeda wanted to hijack airplanes before 9/11 — as if most Americans didn’t already know there were terrorists trying to takeover our planes. About a week after the war in Iraq started, the American media almost immediately sunk into deep despair and started telling the public we were in a quagmire despite all evidence to the contrary. The African Uranium “scandal” which just petered out was about 16 words in the President’s STOTU speech, all of which were completely true. Yet all these non-stories dominated the news cycle for weeks.
Anecdotal evidence, it sure beats real work!: If you’re a reporter in Iraq and you want to get back to the hotel early for drinks, but you still want to write a story that’ll get a lot of attention, here’s what you do; go find 3 or 4 Iraqis holding anti-American signs or railing against America and talk to them for 5 minutes each. Write down the best of their crazed rantings and then put together a story implying that their hostility is representative of the entire country. Don’t feel any pressure to inform readers about whether these people are former Baath party members, from some anti-American Shiite faction, or if you ran into them conveniently protesting right outside of your hotel, since your editor won’t demand that info anyway. Maybe your readers are being misled by your story, but it’ll get lots of attention and you can be passed out drunk by 10 PM. What a life!
I could go on and on with these pet peeves, but I think that’s a sufficient list for now. So if you’re in the mainstream media, get to work on fixing those problems before your readers start to desert you for talk radio & the internet’oops, too late.