of things have been happening in the
last week or two, most of them very troubling. Congress passed
sweeping bankruptcy legislation and got rid of the estate
tax, which should have caused widespread rioting. Bush’s media
friends are happily lying to the public about his Social Security
privatization plan. Iraqi insurgents, apparently having missed
the memo about how elections have transformed the region,
are blowing even more people up than usual. North Korea tested
a short-range missile, and Iran asserted its determination
to pursue nuclear technology. Also, there’s an election going
on in Britain.
then there was the really big story, the one that blew all
the others off the map, the one whose grave import required
constant, round-the-clock coverage on all channels, leaving
little time to inform us of these other events: some woman
from Duluth, Georgia, bailed on her wedding.
first, it looked like just another pointless media frenzy
over a murdered white woman. Some bullshit detail about the
husband waffling over a lie detector test. It gets easier
and easier to detect the patterns. This had “Hacking II,”
or rather “Peterson III,” written all over it. At least with
O.J., he was already famous for something besides spousal
murder. I braced myself for several consecutive days of nothing
but this, a human-interest story which affected only a handful
of people in any significant way, and that’s what I got. No
matter how hard I tried, I could not avoid the story.
detail that Jennifer Wilbanks disappeared just days before
her wedding, pitched as tragic in the murder context that
the media was clearly salivating over, made me wonder. “What
if she just took off?” I thought. “Wouldn’t that make this
whole exercise the most ridiculous non-event in the history
of American media?” Lo and behold, a few days later, Wilbanks
turned up in New Mexico, briefly auditioning a bullshit abduction
story, probably cooked up in a panic when she realized she
was getting more airtime than the President.
than engaging in any kind of self-examination, the completely
unembarrassed media dove right into the new wrinkle without
so much as blinking. Nobody apologized for basically accusing
the jilted groom of murder. Nobody questioned the news value
of covering a single missing persons case as if it were the
most vital, significant story in the world, for hours and
hours and days and days. No one said, “what the hell are we
doing here, anyway?” They just kept right on going with it,
flogging the dead horse back to life. There is no level of
irrelevance or pandering which is beneath the modern American
reporter. There are pimps with more dignity, and spooge moppers
at strip clubs who take more pride in their work.
I write this, the “runaway bride” is still the dominant
story, occupying more airtime than even the all-important
Jackson trial. Little, unimportant items, like “Ex-'Idol'
claims Abdul affair” and “47 die in Iraq suicide blast,” barely
register in the din. While congress goes about methodically
dismantling every consumer protection and worker benefit system
we’ve enjoyed since the depression, the people are presented
with the same damn five seconds of footage of this inconsequential
flake walking through an airport with a towel over her head
about seventeen times an hour.
new angle is: “will she be punished?” This tack is at least
in part driven by the media’s resentment of Wilbanks for turning
up alive, prematurely killing the story before they could
get in a good long frenzy of trial coverage. Still they milk
the story, with piece after piece about the family’s reaction,
public reaction, and even other reporters’ reactions, and
running that towel footage again, and then that one picture
they’ve got of her, and then the towel thing again.
an entire world of violence, corruption, and despair turns
unabated and largely unknown. To say this is ridiculous just
doesn’t really do it justice. It’s not just stupid; it’s a
unwatchable onslaughts of obsessive media overkill are coming
faster, staying longer, with briefer intervals of relative
sanity. Recently, it’s been unbearable, and decidedly Christian-themed:
Terri Schiavo, dying Terri Schiavo, dead Terri Schiavo, dying
pope, dead pope, who will be the new pope, new pope, dead
Jennifer Wilbanks, alive Jennifer Wilbanks, and now Jennifer
Wilbanks, inconsiderate bitch.
isn’t news. This is something different. It’s some kind of
communal orgy of distraction, a new weeks-long anticipation
ritual which effective shields its participants from ever
learning anything of importance. Stories about government
or corporate wrongdoing, when they achieve a certain critical
mass are allowed into the room, but dealt with easily through
inadequate explanation and clownish “discussion.” Tom Delay’s
just another famous personality, skulking around the dim corners
of the party. He’s in trouble or something, but it’s probably
just that muck-raking media.
currently popular theory as to why the news is so stupid goes
like this: after the cold war ended, news organizations cashed
in on the “peace dividend,” closing many foreign bureaus.
This just sounds stupid to me—what kind of journalist decides
that the rest of the world isn’t important anymore, especially
when an empire collapses? The truth is that looser FCC regulations
enabled larger organizations to simply buy up their competition
and run whatever lowbrow garbage was cheapest to produce.
we are witnessing is a not-so-gradual power shift in news,
away from an inquisitive, suspicious urban audience to a sheltered,
naïve rural one. I have no doubt that the trend will continue
until “60 Minutes” is virtually indistinguishable from “Inside
Edition.” The news used to be designed for people who wanted
to know things. People who didn’t, didn’t watch. Now they’re
all watching, but because they still basically don’t want
to learn anything, the programming has changed to suit them.
In other words, it’s stupid, self-indulgent, and infantile;
a perfect mirror of its target audience. I’m not just talking
about FOX News, either.
what’s left for those who want real, hard-hitting coverage
of big, important issues? PBS? Fat chance.
new Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
“is aggressively pressing public television to correct what
he and other conservatives consider liberal bias, prompting
some public broadcasting leaders - including the chief executive
of PBS - to object that his actions pose a threat to editorial
independence,” said the New York Times on Tuesday. “Without
the knowledge of his board, the chairman…contracted last year
with an outside consultant to keep track of the guests' political
leanings on one program, ‘Now With Bill Moyers.’” It continues:
Tomlinson hired the director of the White House Office of
Global Communications as a senior staff member…While she
was still on the White House staff, she helped draft guidelines
governing the work of two ombudsmen whom the corporation
recently appointed to review the content of public radio
and television broadcasts…while a search firm has been retained
to find a successor for Kathleen A. Cox, the corporation's
president and chief executive, whose contract was not renewed
last month, Mr. Tomlinson has made clear to the board that
his choice is Patricia Harrison, a former co-chairwoman
of the Republican National Committee who is now an assistant
secretary of state.
just great. They already took NPR’s testicles years ago. Is
there anything these people won’t do? They’ll regret it when
mobs of Saab driving tea-drinkers in Boston burn down a Starbuck’s
after Frontline’s new episode, “Activist Judges: Why Do They
taking over. Karl Rove knows his Orwell as well as his Machiavelli.
Don’t fall for the “balance” ruse. The GOP doesn’t seek peaceful
coexistence, it seeks total domination in all things. The
only sane choice is to simply stop watching, stop listening.
If you need to watch “Family Guy,” go ahead, but don’t even
click over to CNN during the breaks; they’re selling poison
over there. Find better sources of information (warning: may
involve reading), and keep your head down. And for god’s sake,
if you abandon your fiancée, spare us the brain cells—call