The ghoulish media…

So, the big controversy of the week revolves around the death of 12 miners after a mine collapse in West Virginia. At least that’s what the mainstream media says. But wait, the controversy revolves around the mainstream media itself because they swarmed the site of the collapse and then reported that all 13 of the trapped miners had survived, only to have to retract that report hours later because 12 of the 13 were dead as doornails.

Naturally the family and friends of the dead miners were pissed. They had spent almost two days wondering if their loved ones were going to survive and then were told, in no uncertain terms by CNN, Fox and the rest of the major networks that all of them had been rescued alive, only to find out shortly thereafter that only one man was still alive, albeit in grave condition. The mining company is also cheesed off because the rocket scientist reporters around them tried to shift the blame for the false report onto the company itself (they’re actually still trying to do this).

What’s getting missed in all this hubbub is one simple question – what the frak were the national media doing swarming all over this story in the first place? If you were a relative, a friend, a coworker or a neighbor of one of the trapped miners the collapse of this mine was a big deal. Biggest deal there could be. Someone close to you was in mortal danger. But beyond the boundaries of the local community this really was not news.

People die every single day. Many of them die due to horrible accidents or tragic mishaps. This is simply not news. So, what’s going on here? The answer is simple: The mainstream news media are bloodthirsty ghouls. Every news editor at every network knew that there were only two possible outcomes to this story. Either the men would be miraculously rescued, in spite of impossible odds against them, or they would be dead. If they were rescued the TV cameras could show the families weeping for joy and probably some weak, injured miner showing the kind of “strength of the human spirit” nonsense that TV movies are made of by waving to the cameras and giving either a big thumbs-up or the victory sign. If they were dead then the cameras could show the inconsolable weeping family members rending their garments and tearing their hair as the bodies were hauled up out of the mine.

And guess what – every news editor at every network was hoping for the latter. Their reporters could look grim and serious and talk about the senseless loss of life, the human tragedy. Dozens of follow-up stories could be done about the children of the miners who would have to go on without a father (nevermind the simple fact that odds are that dad drank too much and probably beat them to sleep with his belt) and on the naughty corporation who cut corners on safety and caused this senseless tragedy. As they say in the biz – if it bleeds, it leads.

And why did the networks all get it wrong and report that all was well? Simple – they don’t check their facts because they’re all in too much of a hurry to be the first out with the story.

As citizens we should be appalled at the utter lack of journalistic quality displayed by the cable and network news shows. In the SF Bay Area where I live we spent three days seeing nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, but reports on the big storm that passed through here last week. I watched three separate network affiliate newscasts during the storm and none of them reported on anything but the weather. The braindead part about this is that reporting on the weather is a waste of everyone’s time. You can look out the window and see that it’s fucking raining. If it’s raining hard and water is pooling in your street you might need to head for the hills. If the sherriff comes to your door and says you need to leave, well then you leave. You certainly don’t sit in front of your damned TV watching Trisha Takanawa stand in front of a flooded creek saying, “well Jim, it’s raining out here and has been for several hours, now back to you,” and learn anything of any depth about what’s going on.

Even the weather reports themselves are largely useless. They tell you what you already know and then make a guess as to what might be on the way. Generally speaking if you’ve got a weather vane, a thermometer and two working pairs of eyes you can figure that shit out for yourself. And if there’s a really significant piece of weather about to happen in your area, like say, a huricane, the TV reporters are hittin’ the road, Mabel.

Not that local news is a heck of a lot better when it’s not raining. I will never forget the night a few years ago that I tuned in to a local 10 o’clock newscast and saw 20 minutes of reporting on a police officer who had died when his car crashed on his way to a crime scene. 20 minutes about one cop who died because he was driving too fast. The flippin’ mind reels.

For the most part local news in this country is, as Michael Moore described it in Bowling for Columbine – a series of vague stories of seemingly random violence that seem to always be perpetrated by “a black male in his early 20s.” And if you look at the police sketches from these news reports all over the country one thing becomes increasingly clear – whenever people witness a crime involving a dark-skinned man they invariably describe the same generic black guy who they’ve seen in police sketches on local news shows for years.

The world that the local news has been selling to us for at least a decade, and now is being sold to us by our national news outlets as well, is far more dangerous and scary than the actual real world out there. Yes, random unpleasant things do happen to people from time to time, but for the vast majority of us life is pretty uneventful. But if you believe the TV news you’re liable to be scared out of your wits half the time. It will lead you to look at your neighbors with a suspicious eye and to regard strangers not as other people who we should be friendly and compassionate towards but as potential enemies ready, willing and able to do us great harm.

Another great crime that results from this ghoulish focus on the violent ends of random people on the part of the news is that the public remain largely uninformed about real news – major events that not only might but WILL have an impact on their lives. Think of it this way – 20% of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were in cahoots and that Saddam orchestrated the 9/11/01 attacks. That’s like saying that 20% of adult Americans still believe in the Easter Bunny. While the networks were swarming all over a collapsed mine shaft in West Virginia waiting to get pictures of grieving families and corpses to show over and over again on their broadcasts Jack Abramoff plead guilty and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors who are investigating the members of Congress and the Bush Administration that he bought with his dirty money. This is very likely going to be the biggest case of political corruption since the Teapot Dome scandal. The entire leadership of the GOP could come clattering down like a wobbling Jenga tower because of this and the mainstream media have barely squawked about it because they’re too busy behaving like vultures circling roadkill in West Virginia.

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