“9/12/2001. Dateline New York City: Yesterday sucked. But to talk about it only encourages the bad guys”
Believe it or not, I’m starting to miss William Safire. As Media Matters points out, John Tierney seems to share a brain with David Brooks (which explains so much), so why both of them?
Probably because Tierney has lost the will to report.
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.
When the other reporters and I finished filling our notebooks, we wondered morosely if we could have done a service to everyone – victims, mourners, readers – by reducing the story to a box score. We all knew the template: number of victims, size of the crater, distance debris had been hurled, height of smoke plume, range at which explosion was heard.
There was no larger lesson except that some insurgents were willing and able to kill civilians, which was not news. We were dutifully presenting as accurate an image as we could of one atrocity, but we knew we were contributing to a distorted picture of life for Iraqis.
Call me skeptical but if I’m living in a country where, at any time, a Honda Accord might explode and take out a dozen people, and it happens on a daily basis, well, I might consider that to be a teensy weensy sliver of the old daily grind worth mentioning. But you see, what’s really at work here is that these bombings are happening elsewhere and frequently and, unless they claim an American soldier, they’re just so much blah blah blah about some people who are more than six degrees removed from Kevin Bacon, so what’s the big dealio? Borrriiinnngg.
He then writes:
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?
And, dammit, he’s absolutely correct. If a few recently liberated Iraqis standing in front of a fucking police station looking for jobs get cuisinarted into Muslim tartar, why should a hardworking corresponent have to report on that when there might be a Iraqi runaway bride out there just begging for 24/7 coverage? I mean, Wolf Blitzer didn’t get where he is today by filing police procedurals, did he? (Actually, that’s a good question. How the hell did Wolf Blitzer get where he is today?)
But Tierney has a plan to protect our delicate sensibilities:
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.
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.
Because a stupid don’t-know-their-ass-from-a-hole-in-the-ground public is a…well, actually it’s a public that watches Fox News a lot and thinks we’re winning the war.
Ignorance is strength
War is peace
Freedom is slavery
John Tierney is a wanker