July 22, 2006

Spin cycle

Posted in Media, Musings at 2:26 pm by The Lizard Queen

Like most liberals, I have been finding myself increasingly disenchanted with the mainstream media. Indeed, is there anyone out there who’s happy with it? Conservatives think it has a liberal bias; liberals see it as–among other things–desperately trying to reinforce the status quo. At any rate, when I’m online I’ll usually check CNN.com to try to get a feel for what’s going on in the world (as you can probably tell from my links, I like to have a variety of perspectives, even if they do all lean towards (or are firmly entrenched in) the left). Today I did so, and couldn’t help but notice both a spin of opinion in theoretically objective articles as well as a tendency toward irrelevant commentary.

First, there’s an article under the World heading entitled Taylor ‘unhappy with jail food’. Former Liberian president Charles Taylor–who is facing “11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for backing rebels who raped and mutilated civilians during a brutal 1991-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone, Liberia’s neighbor” and whose actions I do not mean to excuse by any means–had other complaints about the conditions in the Hague jail where he is currently being held, some of which might invoke more sympathy than his complaints about the jail food. However, through the title the author of this article seems to me to be sending a clear message: this man does not deserve our sympathy. And, indeed, it’s probably safe to say that he doesn’t, but I don’t think it’s the place of a supposedly objective news source to tell us so.

Also, as I mentioned, the article contains at least one phrase that I found somewhat irrelevant: “Taylor, wearing a gray suit to the procedural hearing…” There are, I think, two possibilities here. The first is that this phrase is indeed completely irrelevant, and the author was merely trying to set the scene without, in my opinion, much luck. The second is that the author was subtly pointing out that Taylor was wearing a gray suit and not, say, an orange prison jumpsuit–which would then drive readers to wonder what makes Taylor so special that he gets to have nice clothes and good personal hygeine in a court appearance.

Another article that caught my attention (which, I feel I should note, originated with the AP) was under the Technology heading (and also labeled Offbeat News): Bush’s German back rub magnified on Web. While the title refers specifically to the shoulder rub Bush surprised German Chancellor Angela Merkel with at the G-8 Summit, the article in general discusses the way the rise of blogs and sites like YouTube has made it so that politicians and other public figures must be more conscious of their actions lest they be ridiculed online. (Not that Bush has needed much help from us these days…) One segment of the article that I found… mmm, intriguing, let’s say, is the following:

Many writers saw a sexist aspect to Bush’s back rub. “This isn’t a Sigma Chi kegger, it’s the G-8 Summit,” wrote blogger Christy Hardin Smith on Firedoglake.com.(Bush was actually in Delta Kappa Epsilon. Another Web 2.0 truism: Blogs are not always friendly with the facts.)

Okay, here’s the thing: Christy Hardin Smith was not saying that Bush had ever been in Sigma Chi. It was an analogy (remember those from the SATs?): Bush’s behavior at the G-8 Summit is to what his behavior might have been in a perfect world as a frat boy’s behavior at a Sigma Chi kegger is to behavior one might expect from any major world leader at an important summit. Sigma Chi is a reference most people who’ve ever been on a college campus will understand; DKE much less so.

So, not only is the author belittling blogs and bloggers, I think he or she (or even they?) is belittling the fact that Bush’s behavior with Chancellor Merkel absolutely shows a pattern of sexism. He does not treat her like he treats males who hold similar positions of power. And then the article ends with this little nugget: “But now sites like YouTube can strike anytime, anywhere. Even when you’re getting a massage.” So, wait, the one who has to be afraid of YouTube’s ridicule here is the one who was receiving the massage? Awesome.

This article has a casual tone and thus it might seem okay that there’s fairly obvious editorializing within it. However, to do some editorializing myself, as it were, I expect more from a site (CNN) and newssource (the AP) that would claim objectivity.

So, in the end, I find myself agreeing with Kathleen Parker in the sense that I want news that “offers depth and context without spin. Straight reporting without commentary, implicit or otherwise. News that respects viewers’ intelligence and allows them to draw their own conclusions.” (Of course, when she says that real Americans are “the ones trying to raise families with familiar values, who volunteer to serve in the military, and who believe that the media are working against the country’s best interests,” I begin to suspect that she and I would disagree on which direction the mainstream media leans…) However, Evil Bender recently made a very good point:

If someone’s profiting off the news you watch, it’s a fair bet that even the most scrupulous journalists there are being pressured about what to cover from someone above them. There are lots of great journalists out there, but if they’re working for a for-profit, then they’re almost certainly being forced to compromise for the Great God Profit.

I suppose I’ll just have to keep on doing what I do: listen to NPR, watch PBS, read the blogs, watch local and network news, read CNN.com and Newsweek (which we recently got a free subscription to), and decide for myself who’s got truthiness’s best interests at heart…

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2 Comments »

  1. DavidD said,

    Dear Liz, as timid as I am to use the word “irony” around an English major, isn’t that what was driving the piece about Taylor? It’s not as compelling as sex, but it sure is an easy way to go with a story when you see it.

    Then speaking of sex, our President is a walking mixed metaphor, isn’t he? Is he a compassionate conservative, someone who stood alone among conservatives to say no, we aren’t going to treat prisoners like that, though he didn’t do that much about it, or is he this throwback of a man who goes to war on God’s orders (which I’ve never seen documented – I need to do a search on this) and doesn’t even know enough not to pat a woman on her butt, or something like that?

    Oh, who cares? I never voted for him. He can’t be elected again. He’s just a force of nature at this point, a name your grandchildren will memorize like I did John Quincy Adams. There weren’t even baseball statistics to go along with that, like Mickey Mantle hitting .353 in his big year of 1956, with 52 home runs and 130 RBI (you can look it up). Now Mickey was someone memorable, the speedy and powerful #7. I think it’s documented that he did certain inappropriate things with women. It didn’t make the news then.

    It is striking how current journalists are so opinionated, in part because they are transparent about the source of their bias. I don’t find it to be profit. I find it to be a matter of perspective. Conservatives like simplicity like all liberals are stupid, all governments are bad, or whoever disagrees with me is biased. Liberals like to focus on greed or religion or ignorance as these insidious forces that hold the world back instead of admitting that people mostly vote for what they would want even if I could tell them everything I know to the contrary.

    People do what they want to do, and even God has to adapt to that. Now that’s a story. But God is so lousy at interviews, and I don’t know what pictures one would use to illustrate such a thing. I guess there are many good reasons why people do little hatchet jobs instead.

  2. DavidD said,

    Well, that search went easily enough, so I thought I’d report back. It seems last fall The Guardian Weekly published a story in the UK that claimed Bush told someone that God ordered him to invade Afghanistan. The White House firmly denied that for both Afghanistan and Iraq, but it’s too powerful an idea just to die from a denial. So lots of blogs and other sites simply state that God ordered Bush to war, some I’ve seen, in ways so dogmatic that it made me suspicious. If that were such a certain truth, wouldn’t I have heard it? So that’s the story told in an unartful way.

    Now I could put this on my list of wrongs to right, but it would be so far down, there’s not a list any more that far down. There are some things that have been on my list so long there’s a grandfather clause that will keep them there forever, things like how poorly most educated people understand Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, that schizophrenic doesn’t mean dual personalities, that amnesia doesn’t cause the loss of personal identity, that 90% of Christian apologetics doesn’t work except for people who can’t believe anything else. There’s a pattern here, isn’t there? “Truthiness” is entrenched. So what is there to dig it out, mustard gas? Or just let it rot? I don’t like the latter option. So many people are rotting with it. Yet all my life, ideas that people want to be true, even though they aren’t, have had a life of their own. I’ve never killed one. Maybe there are people who trust what I say about these among friends and family, or who might look for themsleves if not, but I’m sure even they have limits.

    If you don’t have the Spirit living in you, life sucks. That’s not the final version of my motto that will address everything on the above list, but it’s in that direction.


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