Lopsided Priorities: The Media and The Public

It becomes embarrasingly evident, how the American media, is losing touch with reality. On the one hand you have the hard right bullies like FOX TV and talk radio, and on the other you have a completely indifferent left of left media like the LA Times, who cannot focus on the issues at hand without pointing fingers.

The former are dangerous, and sadly the scum of the earth when it comes to radio, or tv journalism. Sometime ago while channel surfing on my radio, I came across two radio talk show hosts, who apparently have a huge fan following. They proselytize to the White Trash of America, the majority being male, holding forth the microphone and spewing venom against everything from Mexicans, to Muslims and everything in between. You just have to hear Bob Grant and Michael Savage, to see how decadant American broadcast journalism has got. And these two ain’t even the biggest loonies let loose. That would be the 800 pound gorilla named Rush Limbaugh

Dont get me wrong. I am not saying that they form the majority. There are a lot of people whose writing and views i respect and even look forward to on a weekly basis. Nicholas Kristoff, Paul Krugman, and Thomas Friedman come to mind immediately.

It would be interesting to see how many people listen to trash talk radio, and how many read NYTimes and their op-ed contributors.

Today’s op-ed article by Kristoff, is what got me thinking, and hence this blog .

In today’s world, it is becoming practically impossible to take anything you hear or read at face value. News is not objective fact-reporting, anymore. Its moving more and more towards opinions, branded as facts in slick fancy packaging.

I am sure the case is the same with media in other countries. In India too, we have the two camps…the TOI and the IE, the HINDU and the TELEGRAPH, etc. The only optimistic trait in this is that the media functions in a democracy, and there is a lot of public accountability. I dread to imagine what happens in despot nations like China and North Korea, where every aspect of life is controlled either by the Communist Party, as in the case of the former, or the lunatic ruler Kim Jog-Il in the latter.

Source: NYTimes

All Ears for Tom Cruise, All Eyes on Brad Pitt
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Some of us in the news media have been hounding President Bush for his shameful passivity in the face of genocide in Darfur.

More than two years have passed since the beginning of what Mr. Bush acknowledges is the first genocide of the 21st century, yet Mr. Bush barely manages to get the word “Darfur” out of his mouth. Still, it seems hypocritical of me to rage about Mr. Bush’s negligence, when my own beloved institution – the American media – has been at least as passive as Mr. Bush.

Condi Rice finally showed up in Darfur a few days ago, and she went out of her way to talk to rape victims and spotlight the sexual violence used to terrorize civilians. Most American television networks and cable programs haven’t done that much.

Even the coverage of Ms. Rice’s trip underscored our self-absorption. The manhandling of journalists accompanying Ms. Rice got more coverage than any massacre in Darfur has.

This is a column I don’t want to write – we in the media business have so many critics already that I hardly need to pipe in as well. But after more than a year of seething frustration, I feel I have to.

Like many others, I drifted toward journalism partly because it seemed an opportunity to do some good. (O.K., O.K.: it was also a blast, impressed girls and offered the glory of the byline.) But to sustain the idealism in journalism – and to rebut the widespread perception that journalists are just irresponsible gossips – we need to show more interest in the first genocide of the 21st century than in the “runaway bride.”

I’m outraged that one of my Times colleagues, Judith Miller, is in jail for protecting her sources. But if we journalists are to demand a legal privilege to protect our sources, we need to show that we serve the public good – which means covering genocide as seriously as we cover, say, Tom Cruise. In some ways, we’ve gone downhill: the American news media aren’t even covering the Darfur genocide as well as we covered the Armenian genocide in 1915.

Serious newspapers have done the best job of covering Darfur, and I take my hat off to Emily Wax of The Washington Post and to several colleagues at The Times for their reporting. Time magazine gets credit for putting Darfur on its cover – but the newsweeklies should be embarrassed that better magazine coverage of Darfur has often been in Christianity Today.

The real failure has been television’s. According to monitoring by the Tyndall Report, ABC News had a total of 18 minutes of the Darfur genocide in its nightly newscasts all last year – and that turns out to be a credit to Peter Jennings. NBC had only 5 minutes of coverage all last year, and CBS only 3 minutes – about a minute of coverage for every 100,000 deaths. In contrast, Martha Stewart received 130 minutes of coverage by the three networks.

Incredibly, more than two years into the genocide, NBC, aside from covering official trips, has still not bothered to send one of its own correspondents into Darfur for independent reporting.

“Generally speaking, it’s been a total vacuum,” said John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, speaking of television coverage. “I blame policy makers for not making better policy, but it sure would be easier if we had more media coverage.”

When I’ve asked television correspondents about this lapse, they’ve noted that visas to Sudan are difficult to get and that reporting in Darfur is expensive and dangerous. True, but TV crews could at least interview Darfur refugees in nearby Chad. After all, Diane Sawyer traveled to Africa this year – to interview Brad Pitt, underscoring the point that the networks are willing to devote resources to cover the African stories that they consider more important than genocide.

If only Michael Jackson’s trial had been held in Darfur. Last month, CNN, Fox News, NBC, MSNBC, ABC and CBS collectively ran 55 times as many stories about Michael Jackson as they ran about genocide in Darfur.

The BBC has shown that outstanding television coverage of Darfur is possible. And, incredibly, mtvU (the MTV channel aimed at universities) has covered Darfur more seriously than any network or cable station. When MTV dispatches a crew to cover genocide and NBC doesn’t, then we in journalism need to hang our heads.

So while we have every right to criticize Mr. Bush for his passivity, I hope that he criticizes us back. We’ve behaved as disgracefully as he has.

2 Comments

  1. Dilip D'Souza August 5, 2005

    What happens in despot nations? What “news” they get is what the despots want them to have, that’s it. I wonder, do you remember a beautifully produced rag called “Soviet Land”? Available for free in the 70s, I think. You read that and you’d think the USSR was a paradise.

    But even despotic countries eventually crumble, and one reason, I’m convinced, is the way they treat the press and information.

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