this one's not quite dead yet
Media is not reporting what matters
Posted: 2004-10-22 00:00
1 comment(s)
Author: Phil Gengler
Section: The Stute

This election is going to be one of the closest in our nation's history. Polls conducted nationwide show John Kerry and George Bush neck-and-neck both overall and in the dozen or so "swing states."

Our country is now divided along partisan lines to an extent never seen before in our lifetimes. With such major issues as national security, the economy, and Iraq—just to name a few—facing the country this election year, the mass media in this country is failing its citizens.

Jon Stewart, a stand-up comedian and host of Comedy Central's Daily Show, recently appeared on CNN's Crossfire. He pleaded with the show's hosts, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson, to "stop hurting America" with their "theater." As Stewart put it, "we [Americans] need help from the media and they're hurting us."

Stewart's comments are spot-on, given the way the mass media has been covering news lately. During the three weeks of the presidential debates, major television networks, and to a lesser extent, newspapers, have had a significant amount of coverage of the Scott Peterson trial in California. Analysts and anchors on news shows have spent countless hours discussing the case and the trial, despite the fact that a good number of women go missing and turn up dead every year.

This coverage of singled-out murder trials comes at the expense of coverage of what really matters—the election.

It goes without saying that even with over-coverage of "news" like the Peterson trial, there has been a good deal of attention on the two main presidential candidates. Much of this attention, however, is misguided. Kerry's "heroic" service in Vietnam was repeatedly called into question, a campaign led by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group. Bush's military service during the Vietnam era was also a subject of discussion, culminating with CBS's use of, what were later shown to be, forged documents.

In both cases, attention was diverted from important campaign issues and shifted to events which took place nearly 30 years ago. The effect of the CBS forgery 'scandal,' however, goes beyond just putting the organization in a position of distrust. A scant few weeks after impeaching Bush's Air National Guard duty with forged documents, management at CBS deemed it "inappropriate" to air a story concerning the intelligence used to justify the Iraq war.

Indeed, the entire Iraq affair went completely under-scrutinized in the mass media. The New York Times printed an apology for "coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been," saying that "we, [the Times editors], wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged—or failed to emerge."

Iraq is not the only issue that has not received the coverage it is due. It is a little-known fact that there was a chance the third presidential debate would not have happened. A lawsuit launched by the Libertarian Party in Arizona sought to stop the debate, alleging that Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian candidate, was being unfairly excluded from the process. In Arizona, Badnarik is the only third-party candidate who will appear on the ballot.

Badnarik should also have been in the news again when he, and Green party candidate David Cobb, were arrested at the second presidential debate. Badnarik was attempting to serve the Commission on Presidential Debates with a court order from an Arizona court when he was arrested. In national polls, the Libertarian party is polling fourth, behind independent candidate Ralph Nader. Despite this, no major news organization even mentioned the incident.

The "war on terror" is another area where the media has failed to meet its obligations. Whenever the government raises the threat level or announces some new development, the media laps this up and reports statements from government officials nearly verbatim.

The information regarding changed in the alert level has always been vague. In nearly all cases, there is "credible" evidence, but no indication of a time or methodology for an attack. When the threat level was raised locally for certain alleged targets in the New York City area, it was later revealed that some of the intelligence used to justify this was based on three-year-old information. From the outset, however, the story was reported as though an attack were imminent. UPI reported that there was "very specific" information that was "alarming in both the amount and specificity of the information."

New security initiatives are also reported without much questioning. The government's move toward biometric passports is one example. Local news shows are full of warnings about how new security measures, such as metal detectors or random searches, may cause delays or inconvenience to some people. These segments do not even mention the possible violation of civil liberties such measures may cause.

Much of the media's coverage of the "war on terror" is little more than a campaign of fear. When Jose Padilla was arrested and accused of planning to detonate a "dirty bomb" in a U.S. city, the media was abuzz with warnings and graphs about the effects of a dirty bomb. As it turns out, the casualty figures for such a device were overstated—they assumed there would be no clean-up and that no one would leave the area for a year.

This fear-mongering plays right into the hands of the government, and is not a partisan affair. If the government can convince people to give up certain freedoms in exchange for the illusion of security, those people will be more accepting of a stronger government role in people's lives.

While the media has been solidly in the government's pocket, it has been missing the chance to challenge the government on many controversial assertions and programs. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, much of the media felt it was a prudent move to appear as patriotic as possible, and to put a lot of blind trust in what the government was telling them. This condition has persisted to this day.

CBS anchor Dan Rather spoke to a British audience about this back in June 2002. Rather said that no reporter was willing to "bore in on the tough questions" and that many people in news were "limiting access, limiting information to cover the backsides of those who are in charge."

Major media organizations have a greater responsibility to the citizens of this nation, just as this paper has a responsibility to the students of Stevens. When these groups fail to meet their obligations, people should not stand for it. This is true for The Stute, and it should be true for all media organizations. It is truly a sad state of affairs when not only is this happening, but people are willing to accept it.


Posted: 2004-10-24 03:47:19
Author: Michael

Eric Alterman may be a bit of a jerk, but he makes a good point when he asks, "What liberal media?"

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