January 23, 2008
I won't keep this brief
Is anyone else tired of being told that they’re too busy to deal with complex issues? The media love to announce that they’re doing us a favor by winnowing news coverage to a few carefully selected sound bites and factoids.
The latest offender is John Wilcox, publisher of the San Francisco Examiner, who wrapped a fake front page around yesterday’s paper to tell us about the “new kind of newspaper” he’s made available to us. His statement doesn’t appear on the Examiner website. (In fact, a search of the website fails to turn up any mention of Wilcox at all.) But as he says, his statement is brief. In case you missed it, I’ll record it here in its entirety. The language is simple; even if you’re very very busy, you should have no trouble understanding it:
The real problem, of course, is not that offerings like this show a deplorable lack of respect for the gray cells that inhabit our crania. We’re too intelligent to let the insult smart for long. The real problem is that such offerings allow little space for information about any one issue. Official press releases usually hog all the room, with loud snorts and ferocious head butts that effectively remove all critical responses. And then we’re surprised when investigations reveal that we’ve been had.
The obvious example from today’s news is the report issued by the Center for Public Integrity providing excruciatingly careful documentation that “following 9/11, President Bush and seven top officials of his administration waged a carefully orchestrated campaign of misinformation about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.”
Polls demonstrated that the campaign was having its intended effect, molding public opinion to support a U.S. invasion of Iraq. For example, in answer to the question, “Do you think the Bush administration has clearly explained the United States position with regard to possibly attacking Iraq,” the Center found:
We the public weren’t asleep on the job. But somebody decided that we were too “busy” to pay attention.
Like Samson after Delilah worked her scissor magic, the strength of the once-obstreperous U.S. media has been sapped. Today’s Chronicle places the damage in proper perspective, in a small item from the AP titled, “Student sentenced to die for Internet paper.” (The Chron actually published only the first three paragraphs of the AP story.)
Imagine a country where people die for what they write!
Or in this case, imagine a case where the vengeful arm of the law sweeps up not merely writers but also their family members. In the case of the young Sayad Parwez Kambakhsh, Reporters Without Borders, notes,
But our handsome American Samson is safe. Any threat he might have posed has long since been snipped away, nibbled away by sound bite after sound bite.
Not to worry, the Examiner tells us today. Handsome Samson is still good for a good story. A new book by Michele Weldon called Everyman News,asserts that a “colorful narrative style can well attract more readers than a traditional news story” that begins with a boring recitation of what and why and when and how and where and who.
But in the Examiner’s desire to save time for its busy readers, the paper ran only the first five paragraphs of Carl Hartman’s review. If it had carried the rest, it might have had to acknowledge that
Maybe Lincoln didn’t know we were busy.
— Copyright Betsey Culp 2008