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Rantings of a Sandmonkey

Be forewarned: The writer of this blog is an extremely cynical, snarky, pro-US, secular, libertarian, disgruntled sandmonkey. If this is your cup of tea, please enjoy your stay here. If not, please sod off

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

On the fence

I have just read John Tierney's latest column in the NYTimes, and i've got to say that even though his argument makes sense, i am kind of on the fence about it. I can't figure out if he is right or wrong, so i am enlisting your help and asking for your opinion. Ok? If a man-bites-dog story is news and dog-bites-man isn't, why are journalists still so interested in man-blows-up-self stories? I realize that we have a duty to report suicide bombings in the Middle East, especially when there's a spate as bad as in recent weeks. And I know the old rule of television news: if it bleeds, it leads. But I'm still puzzled by our zeal in frantically competing to get gruesome pictures and details for broadcasts and front pages. [...] The standard advice to newly arrived journalists at that time was: "Relax. It's not nearly as bad here as it looks on TV." Correspondents complained that they'd essentially become cop reporters, and that the suicide bombings took so much of their time that they couldn't report on the rest of the country. They were more interested in other stories, but as long as the rest of the press corps kept covering the bombing du jour, that was where their editors and producers expected them to be, too. You could argue that their bosses were simply responding to their audiences' visceral urges. Everyone rubbernecks at car accidents; cable news ratings soar when there's a natural disaster or a heinous murder. But how much shock value or mystery is there anymore to suicide bombings? How intrigued are people by murders when the motive, the weapon and the murderer's fate are never in doubt? He is right, you know. Honestly, i just skim through the suicide bombing news nowadays. I don't even bother with the details, just the headline, which usually tells me the location and the number of the dead. It's starting to become as desynthasizing as the palestinian -Israeli conflict in 2001- 2002, when you had a palestinian suicide-bombing and an Isareli Helicopter attack almost everyday. When it's an everyday occurance and phenomenon or the weather, it's not even news anymore at that point, you know? Anyway... I suspect the public would welcome a respite from gore, like the one that New Yorkers got when Rudolph Giuliani became mayor. He realized that even though crime was declining in the city, people's fears were being stoked by the relentless tabloid and television coverage of the day's most grisly crime. No matter how much the felony rate dropped, in a city of seven million there would always be at least one crime scene for a live shot at the top of the 11 o'clock news. Mr. Giuliani told the police to stop giving out details of daily crime in time for reporters' deadlines, a policy that prompted outrage from the press but not many complaints from the public. With the lessening of the daily media barrage, New Yorkers began to be less scared and more realistic about the risks on their streets. And it worked. In 1992 you couldn't walk in Time square without seeing a couple of hookers on street corners and people were afraid to walk there after certain hours at night. Now that area is the center of NYC, with MTV studios relocating there and all. Giuliani seriously cleaned the city up and made it a lot safer and better, and you can't deny that people's perception of how safe it is has something to do with it. I'm not advocating official censorship, but there's no reason the news media can't reconsider their own fondness for covering suicide bombings. A little restraint would give the public a more realistic view of the world's dangers. See, here is where i am on the fence. The little restraint thing. I am with him on the concept, i am just afraid it would get abused. That the little restraint becomes slightly more restraint and then morphs into censorship. However, on the otehr hand, one could argue that such censorship exists nowadays anyway, in the form of which stories the editors chose or don't chose to run. So if they all agreed to do it, then we wouldn't get such glorified coverage on those bombings. Just as New Yorkers came to be guided by crime statistics instead of the mayhem on the evening news, people might begin to believe the statistics showing that their odds of being killed by a terrorist are minuscule in Iraq or anywhere else. Terrorists know the numbers are against them and realize that daily bombings will not win the war. All along, their hope has been to inspire recruits and spread general fear with another tactic, the bombing as photo opportunity. For some reason, their media strategy still works. You see, it makes sense, but still, i don't know. I can't help but feel that if they did that, there would be something dishonest about the whole thing, but i understand that if they did it, it would make the terrorists look weak and their attacks miniscule, which would mean that it would take the glorification out of joining them and committing such acts, which would defitnly decrease their numbers of recruits. It's like the whole "would you commit a little evil for the greater good?" question. I am not sure where i stand on that one really, you know? Help!

10 Comments:

At 5/10/2005 09:24:00 AM, Blogger Kat said...

I'm not looking for restraint, I'm just looking for more information about everything else. So, if they can't cover every suicide bombing in depth for 10 hours of the day, I don't care, but tell me something else. How's business? How's social life? Is there enough food and medicine (I think there are stories in that last one that is not being covered).

That's it. cover some other things. If you can't cover them all and they keep choosing to cover the explosions then they will probably loose viewer ship. And, I don't count Michael freaking Jackson's trial as part of the stuff I really wanna hear about.

 
At 5/10/2005 09:55:00 AM, Anonymous valerie said...

Both John Tierney's column and your post refer to these bombings as "suicide" bombings, and say that is what makes them news. However, there have been incidents of children, people of limited intellectual capacity, and people who have been fooled or coerced into carrying bombs, either on their person or in a car.

Further, there are some reports coming out of Iraq that suggest that the bombers who get killed are nearly always -- foreigners. This information begs the question of whether the person carrying the bomb spoke the local language and knew of his planned demise.

Perhaps the thing that makes both you and Mr. Tierney uncomfortable is the potential lie in the term "suicide bomber." As far as I can tell, there is no reason to assume that any given bomber committed suicide, absent some sort of proof, and frankly, a statement from a terrorist website would not qualify.

 
At 5/10/2005 12:07:00 PM, Blogger Moron99 said...

It's no secret that the terrorists greatest weapon is not the bomb, but rather the news coverage of the bomb. The bomb kills 20 but the news coverage intimidates 20,000. Free media needs to recognize that they are being manipulated and act responsibly.

Personally, I have a policy of rejecting sensationalist journalism. There are two types of news. One gives you pictures of a car wreck and bloody bodies. The other type tries to explain why the wreck happened and what future steps are being taken. One is sensational and the other is meaningful. If a show, for example 60 minutes, prefers to air the sensational over the meaningful, then I will not buy any products that they advertise. It's not much, but it's the best I can do.

 
At 5/10/2005 03:39:00 PM, Anonymous Shari said...

I'd like to see a network experiment with allocating their news coverage in proportion to how many people are directly effected by an event. For example, when a new water treatment plant begins service in Iraq, it directly effects a few hundred thousand people. That story would get more time than a suicide bombing, which directly effects a few thousand people (the victims and responders and their families and friends). How do you fill more time up talking about a new water treatment plant? I imagine there's a lot of technical challenges, human interest stories, etc. involved in getting the plant built and running. Pick out the highlights of the most interesting "behind the scenes" stories. It may give the public more appreciation for all the people who work hard to provide for the public's needs. The audience might get used to spending more of their time watching positive news, instead of negative news, and actually enjoy it! Positive news seems to have a unifying effect on people, towards greater patriotism and optimism in general. While negative news tends to cause anxiety and division. I don't believe anything should be censored, just a change in the amount of air time relative to the number of people involved. At least, I think it would be an interesting experiment.

 
At 5/10/2005 11:09:00 PM, Blogger coldoc said...

I think the term "restraint" is perhaps the wrong word. It implies that the entire news "canvas" is infinite and you choose to hold back on one item. I propose that the Media (newspaper, TV, Radio, Blogs, magazines, etc.) have a finite "limit" on how much information can be published at one time. The editor's job is to sort and prioritize the available material to fit within the available "space".

The "editorial process" is already practicing a form of "restraint" or as I prefer "triage", since the available material ALWAYS exceeds the available space. Triage is the word normally used by medics in mass casualty situations to put the limited resources where they will do the most good. It is a very subjective process, but the concept applies here!

I submit that what you want is for the editors to change their "triage" rules. To do that you have to convince them that this is "good" for them and their customers. This is probably difficult since the triage rules include a significant portion of the economics of the business. "If it bleeds, it leads" is another way of saying blood and guts "sells". Of course there are other factors involved with creating these triage rules, including ones personal belief structure and the perception of the audience being served (the CUSTOMER).

Asking for "restraint" probably won't work. You have to change the entire paridigm.

 
At 5/10/2005 11:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hiya Sam, Really the only way to change the media is to get the readers or viewers to turn off. I do think this is happening, as print sales are way down and many of the news channels are losing audience. The only problem with personal restraint is that many of the MSM do not want Bush to look good and they'll continue to put out the worst stuff so they can say, "See, it won't work, blah, blah." They're playing into the Jihadi's hands and I can't believe they don't know it.

I'm glad to see that it has finally occurred to a NYT writer. Maybe that's a start.
Jan

 
At 5/11/2005 12:22:00 AM, Anonymous ViceGrip said...

We also have an issue here with the news media taking the easy way out. If it was not for the war and the suicide bombers, then they might actually have to go out and dig up a story.

Don't kid yourself one bit. For the media, blood is money. and the more people who are bleeding the better the media likes it. Oh we will see the commentators ringing their hands and whining about how all this death and destruction is a horrible waist of life, but will they stop showing it?

I don't believe for a minute that the media does not understand that they are bing used by the terrorist. But remember before 9/11 the biggest news story was about a missing senators aide. For our media, terrorism is money in the bank.

Oh how they cried about how much the 9/11 coverage cost them in commercial revenue, but every one of them brags about how fast they covered every detail of the attack and how long the covered it. Have we seen any reports about how the survivors are doing now? We probably wont because it would cost good money to produce that type of story and there are plenty of car bombs to report for free.

I do remember when news was news and not entertainment. I will admit that at first glance the new over-sensationalized news we have now is better, until you start looking for the real substance to the stores and you find out that the McDonald's had been cited several times for excessively hot coffee long before the lady sued them. Guess that part was not as sensational as the lady getting $mill.

I sometimes don't know who is worst, reporters or lawyers.

 
At 5/11/2005 03:05:00 AM, Blogger J. Francis Lehman said...

Don't believe for a second that the decision-makers in the MSM do not know they are playing into the jihadis' hands.

Walter Cronkite lied his fuggin' ass off about Viet Nam and how badly we were losing it. Guess what? Ol' Walter has admitted to being a socialist. Therefore, making capitalist America look bad was Job #1. The truth? The truth was that America is bad; therefore lying was good, because the end justifies the means. Viet Cong, Intifada, Insurgency, Fidel Castro; as long as it makes the US look like a failure, it's good stuff to these asshats.

The douche-nozzles running things today are cut from the same cloth as ol' Walter. A column like Tierney's runs in the NYT for two reasons:

1) It gives "cover" to the editorial staff, NY liberal elites all; they can say "Look! We're balanced!" It's only when you do a statistical breakdown that you find out the truth, which is that bad slanted stories outnumber AND get preferential placement over positive ones. Good news has to be injected with negative commentary, i.e. "The sun was shining all day, but there's bound to be rain soon, and probably a tornado too." It's relentless and systematic all throughout each day's edition.

2) —and this is only in recent years, thanks to the rise of the "conservative" media—their readership is wise to their games and increasingly demands a more balanced approach to reporting and news gathering. The NYT is merely trying to stop the bleeding out of their audience.

But make no mistake, my dear Sandmonkey; this shit is happening on purpose, and the agenda is the same as it ever was. The public actively protests the spin job occasionally, so they retreat, in order to live to spin another day.

 
At 5/11/2005 02:04:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy said...

Tierney's on the right track, but he does not take it far enough. The real question is not how much coverage to give suicide bombers, but how representative is news coverage of the real situation in Iraq. Stories about other happenings in Iraq should be given just as much front-page coverage as attacks. Rebuilding the infrastructure and creating a new Iraqi government are just as important news-wise as body counts and bombings. As things stand now, it is hard to get a complete and accurate picture of how things are going in Iraq using only MSM sources. I think a lot of people in the media have gotten tunnel vision, and can't see the big picture because of politics and focusing on sensationalism over substance.

 
At 5/11/2005 06:54:00 PM, Blogger Brian H said...

Let me get this straight, SM. Restraint in dishonestly creating the impression that the terrorists are winning and that Iraq is in continuous violent chaos would be dishonest?

So they should honestly continue dishonestly distorting the situation because that's what they really want to do?

I don't think so.

As for the "sells" argument, check out this old link. The real mass market is being starved and ignored.

 

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