Wednesday, August 05, 2009

And once again, the media applaud themselves.

I'm glad that those two female journalists are coming back, apparently unharmed, from North Korea. It's a nice development. Their captor, Kim Jong-il, is manifestly nuts, and though one suspects his bite is not as bad as his bark, who knows how long he might have held them, or what he might have done to them, under the worst of circumstances.

But is this really the biggest, most important thing that has ever happened in the whole wide world?

I ask because that's how it's being played this morning on all three networks, CNN, FOX, etc. The story is getting "wall to wall" coverage, in media parlance. As I write this, in fact, a SPECIAL LIVE REPORT has preempted regular programming on ABC, with Diane Sawyer and her GMA cohorts working an extended session as they wait breathlessly for The Plane to land. The Plane, of course, contains freed journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, as well as former president Bill Clinton. Clinton, I hardly need to tell you, was and remains a media darling
one always got the feeling he was still "sort of" the president, even after he left officeand is today being treated as an authentic American folk hero, now that he has secured the release of the two journalists. (In the background, Diane Sawyer has just informed us all that Hillary Clinton yesterday referred to Bill as "my husband." Wow. What a scoop!)

I'm reminded of the media's total absorption some years ago in the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. That ended tragically, you will recall, and nothing said here is intended to diminish the horror of Pearl's fate or the grief of his family, friends and coworkers. Still, I think we'd all be better off if journalists spent less time covering other journalists. And it's not just that I think the stories are too lightweight and personality-oriented to merit this kind of coverage, per se; it's that I think the media excesses in this area symbolize their inflated sense of (a) their own importance and (b) the active role that they, journalists, presumably play in world affairs. Journalism is not supposed to be active. It's supposed to be a basically inert lens through which we're afforded access to events we'd never see otherwise.

Look up the word medium, and think about what it's saying, and what it connotes for the news biz. You'll get the idea.

(A gushy Diane Sawyer, again, in the background: "There's former president Bill Clinton now..!" Gack...)

13 comments:

Noadi said...

The saturation of meaningless coverage was too much. It had practically no substance to it at all.

What I'm interested in and want to hear about is the negotiations and backstory on how it came off to get them freed. I also want to hear what those two women experienced in North Korea. Those would be real news stories and I hope to hear them.

Steve Salerno said...

Noadi: Oh, I'm sure you'll get more of "what those two women experienced" than you ever wanted to hear, in due course. Can you say, "seven-figure book deal with movie rights attached"? Hey, if Sully got seven figures for 10-15 minutes of work, I'm sure these gals will get a commensurate sum for their several months of confinement in North Korea. As Ling was delivering her tearful it's-so-good-to-be-home speech, describing that tense moment when she and her fellow prisoner were told they were being taken to a mysterious "meeting," I could already see some screenwriter sketching out the scene in his head: Their hearts race as the two women are suddenly told that they must go to a "meeting"...they wonder if this is the end of the line, if it's their destiny to end up like Danny Pearl, headless on some video that circulates forever on the Web. They take each other's hand and, together, whisper a quiet prayer...and then...the door creaks open...and...it's BILL CLINTON! The relief floods through them! They are SAVED!

But you're right, this morning's saturation coverage, which amounted to "I think they're coming, I think they're coming, oh goodie, here they are, they actually came!", was absurd.

roger o'keefe said...

Steve, ugh, it was ridiculous, you're right. You know that I never use language like this, but didn't you get the feeling that what Sawyer and the two journalists really wanted to do was f**k Clinton and be done with it? I also have another question, about how objective those girls can ever be again in their political coverage. Sad as it is to say, this event might disqualify them from covering any political matters in the future. When you credit a specific political party for saving your life, where are your sympathies going to be from now on?

roger o'keefe said...

Steve, ugh, it was ridiculous, you're right. You know that I never use language like this, but didn't you get the feeling that what Sawyer and the two journalists really wanted to do was f**k Clinton and be done with it? I also have another question, about how objective those girls can ever be again in their political coverage. Sad as it is to say, this event might disqualify them from covering any political matters in the future. When you credit a specific political party for saving your life, where are your sympathies going to be from now on? Although I guess that's a moot point since they already work for Gore.

Steve Salerno said...

Why Roger, I'm...shocked.

Stever Robbins said...

No, I'm not joking as I write this:

What journalists?

I guess I heard something in the last week or two at some point about someone being held hostage somewhere. It took all of 10 seconds for me to conclude that the story had no implication for me or my life and I immediately popped in the next DVD in Six Feet Under as a better use of my TV viewing time. Only reading your post did I learn that they're both women. Are they both young and attractive, too? (That would explain some of the media coverage.)

I also understand that while I was off camping, apparently there was some flap here in my neighborhood with a Harvard Professor and the police. Obama got involved, they all had beer together, and it seemed to have occupied much of the national spotlight for the entire time I was away.

To be fair, I invested the 30-45 seconds it took to learn every known fact about the Gates affair. That gave me enough to comment on your prior post. But even that...

The only justification for that making any headlines is if it sparked, say, a genuine national self-reflection on race. But when was the last time anything sparked any actual self-examination of Americans?

Forget the Gates race scandal. Forget the first black President. Those haven't done one thing to encourage self-reflection. I'm still waiting for us to notice that an entire city got wiped out, with poor, black people taking the brunt of the impact.

If the genuine tragedy of Katrina couldn't stimulate a substantive national discussion that led to some kind of action, none of this shallow, sensationalistic racially-overtoned journalism is likely to make any headway.

Cal said...

I agree with the comments so far. And I have some sympathy for the two women. But I'm sorry, there needs to be some form of admonishment for what the two did. Anyone who wants to go over to these hot spots in the world should be totally aware of the consequences if they are in the wrong place. These rogue countries do not play games. I know that their intent was to get the horror stories from these places out to the world.

It will be interesting the fate of these hikers that were caught in Iran. What the hell were they doing hiking in Iraq? I really don't understand the mentality. You couldn't pay me enough money to try that.

Does Bill Clinton have another humanitarian trick up his sleeve? Especially when the USA is not officially recognizing Akma-what ever his name is as the legitimate leader of Iran. (No offense to anyone of Iranian descent who reads this, I can't spell his name and am too lazy to search for it now.)

Elizabeth said...

I'm shocked too, Roger. I'd never suspect you of such... language. ;)

Be as it may, what's somewhat forgotten in the story is how these two journalists ended "unknowingly" crossing the NK's border. These are not some bimbos* who can tell North Korea from North Beverly Hills. They obviously must have known what they were doing. What exactly did they expect? Candy and flowers?

Well, thank God for Bill, is all I can say. Let's hope we won't have sex with THESE women.

*Not that there is anything wrong with being a bimbo, mind you.

Or wanting to f..., I mean, have sex with Bill.

Cal said...

Well, it looks like the two did it under the guise of Al Gore's TV network. He should be admonished also, or whatever executive at his network that approved the story.

Steve Salerno said...

My, my. Such cynics are we. I honestly didn't expect this reaction. (And no, I'm not being facetious. Nor am I being judgmental or critical of anyone. I'm just stating fact. I'm surprised.)

Elizabeth said...

"I'm still waiting for us to notice that an entire city got wiped out, with poor, black people taking the brunt of the impact."

Oh, Stever, but poor, black and old people are not story-worthy. Do you honestly want our free media to waste its precious time and resources on covering people who don't matter? Do you see any market for it? Who'd watch and/or sponsor it? C'mon, we only want to see happy, shiny people laughing, preferably with money and power (thus shiny and laughing).

(Hope it's not too cynical for ya, Steve. :)

Cal said...

In staying with the cynical theme, I wonder if the person "awarded" the humanitarian mission was decided by Obama between Bill and Jesse. (I think we all know which Jesse I am referring to). And since Bill's wife is Obama's Secretary of State, the ex-President got the nod.

RevRon's Rants said...

"I wonder if the person "awarded" the humanitarian mission was decided by Obama between Bill and Jesse."

No matter one's opinion of Obama, I don't think anyone would ever classify him as being stupid. And sending Jesse to North Korea would have been profoundly stupid. On the other hand, perhaps a hostage exchange... :-)