Topic: The Media
What's Important: You Don't Know Dick
The intention of these "current events" reviews, trying to sift the real news from the sham news - stuff that doesn't matter much to anyone (news for the nosy and easily amused) - with commentary. It's an attempt to find out what's going on that may make a difference in this sorry world. Of course, secondarily it's always amazing to see what matters to people - last year the Michael Jackson trial and the missing girl in Aruba, this year the gay cowboys and, at present, the fellow who seems to have murdered his wife and child and fled to England (he's on his way back to face charges). Thus it's a sort of anti-journalism, as mainstream American corporate journalism has settled into a joust for market share and a guessing game - what will keep the "news consumer reading, listening or watching long enough for them to tolerate the advertising that pays for it all? There is a niche market for "serious news" - those big stories about who we are and where the country is heading. But it really is a niche market. For the most part those who market the news know what big swaths of the public what to know, and the sensational is not "sham" to that massive demographic. One big story Wednesday, February 15, was this - Willie Nelson Releases A Song About Gay Cowboys. It's what people want to know. That's the service they provide. This is a service to the elitist niche market.
Of sometimes the "serious" melds with the mainstream news. Constitution law and international law, the issues underlying the NSA spying business and most everything to do with the war and how we conduct it - torture or enhanced interrogation for example - may be arcane and dreary to "big target" demographic, and New Orleans wiped out and the Muslim furor over the Dutch cartoons maybe be just old news now. But when perhaps the prime architect of the Iraq war, and the driving force behind all administration policy, the Vice President, shoots a man with a shotgun, the two join in an odd way.
Mid-week, Wednesday, February 15th, that was the news, most all of it, in the domestic media. That was the day, four full days after the hunting accident, the Vice President broke his silence and decided to explain himself, to one reporter, Brit Hume, on one network, Fox. Otherwise he's saying nothing.
That's juicy - the man is strange in so many ways - but not exactly "serious" policy stuff that will get us in or out of this war or those to come in Iran and Syria and wherever else, and it doesn't have a whit to do with the current claim the administration has the inherent right to ignore quite explicit laws and disregard court decisions, and can conduct warrantless wire taps on citizens, ignore treaties and recent statutes regarding torture and that sort of thing, and disregard court decisions about arresting citizen without charges and holding them incommunicado for years on end without any right to challenge the arrest in any way. But for the nosy and easily amused the man had a beer (just one he says) and shot an old guy, then said nothing for four days. Good stuff. Great story.
Important? The Just Above Sunset email group wrestled with that.
Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, from Paris, said this -
Well, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, disagrees, and he was one of the folks who started CNN twenty-five years ago - back when CNN did news and didn't dump "news guys" for "warm personalities: like Anderson Cooper. Rick sees this as "serious" news -
Then Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, sent a second email to the group -
The reply from Paris? This -
Well, you can read about that old French aircraft carrier full of asbestos here - Chirac Orders Return of Ship Over Asbestos Concerns (New York Times) but the conflict is clear. It the "Vice President Cheney Shoots Man and Says Nothing for Four Days" an important story? And, if it is, why is it important?
Out here in Hollywood late in the afternoon you could watch Tony Blankley, the pleasant fellow in charge of the Op-Ed page of Reverend Moon's hyper-Republican Washington Times and a Fox News mainstay. He had the new line - this is a non-story, it's no big deal. He was on a panel on Chris Matthews' Hardball on MSNBC with Byron York of the conservative National Review, who was actually amazed at that idea. Blankley trotted out the concept that the whole thing was in the news because the Washington reporters, the White House press contingent, got scooped by a tiny Texas paper, felt the White House was mocking them, and they were angry and jealous, so they were making a big deal about what was really nothing. That concept (would-be meme) has been bouncing around on the right side of the web for a few days. Right now it's just a talking point, and hasn't snowballed into a meme. In any event, York and Matthews looked dumfounded. They may not agree with all that
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, said above, but they seemed to agree with a large part of it.
How about a counter-meme, one from the land of tin-foil hats? There's this - something about the big confession (or whatever it was) about the shooting, this hunting accident, is too convenient. The administration knew this bad week was coming - the nasty hearings on this and that that would make them look very bad, the cartoon wars raging, Iraq still and mess and the Iran bomb thing getting even more tense - and the Abu Ghraib torture photos. Good day for Cheney to drop by Fox News and chat with Brit. Keep the rubes for attending to the other stuff. (Not advanced - was the shooting itself planned as a distraction for all the hits the administration was taking and those that might come? That's too far out.)
But what got short shrift was this - Senate Republicans Criticize Rice on Iraq. Yes, while the nation wanted to know if Vice President Cheney would say, yes, he shot the guy while buzzed on Jack Daniels and his heart medications (he did have two drunken driving arrests many years ago, here), Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was facing a bunch of Republican Senators asking here what was going on, as Iraq was is chaos and thing were getting worse and not better. Photos show her looking angry and defensive.
This would have been big news on another day. Not this day. Cheney looked a tad sad and thoughtful on Fox News, mellow and contemplative.
The very same day Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff faced another group of senators, who wanted to go over the just-released nearly six hundred page report on how the response to Hurricane Katrina was so messed up. The report explicitly said he and the president were "disengaged" (putting it kindly), and pretty much asleep at the switch and ignoring the incoming facts on the ground, and people dies because of their incompetence. They weren't prepared, and then reacted stupidly. Reuters covered the report itself here. ABC covered the basics of the hearing here - it was nasty. Chertoff said they did do some good things but yes, they messed up badly, and said he takes responsibility, and he will fix things.
This would have been big news on another day. Not this day. Cheney looked a tad sad and thoughtful on Fox News, mellow and contemplative. (And Fox News covered the hearing with this - Everybody and Kitchen Sink Faulted for Katrina Response - as they thought everyone misinterpreted what was in the report and said in the hearing - both really showed everyone messed up and the feds did fine, considering.)
Would this be news on another day? UN Urges Haiti Poll 'Fraud' Probe - we arranged that the previously elected ruler there was removed, and urged elections to bring "democracy" (better outcome), and that's falling apart. Not news this day.
Go southeast a few hundred miles. Iran Open To Helping Venezuela Nuclear Program. What? The game Iran is playing these days just got local. This is a major in-your-face challenge. How will we react? Would this be news on another day?
ABC chose the day for this - airing tapes of Saddam Hussein himself back in the mid-nineties saying some terrorists were sure to attack America but they'd obviously not be associated with any state. It was inevitable. Interesting. Would this be news on another day?
Would this - Vice President Cheney won't say a word about the CIA leak scandal because now it seems he will actually be called as a witness in the trial of Scooter Libby? The VP will take the stand? My, my. At least the trial has been postponed until after the fall elections. This will be hot, but not cost seats in the senate or house.
What about this? Congress back in 1978 passed the FISA law to specify the precise conditions under which the executive branch could secretly wiretap and generally spy on American citizen in America, and amended it in 1995 or so, and again with the first version of the Patriot Act. You can do that. Just get a warrant. We'll make it easy. The president ignores the law and says no law congress applies to him if he thinks what's he's doing is in any way related to terrorism. They can pass anything they'd like. He can decide to ignore it. And even the Republicans in the senate call him out - the Senate Intelligence Committee calls for hearings on the whole NSA business. Explain yourself, sir! While Dick is chatting with Brit in the shadows on Fox News, the American Bar Association, across party lines, announces that, damn it, you have to get warrants - that's the law. (See this.) And the Washington Post reports this - the White House, led by Rove and Cheney, will soon get the Senate to cancel the hearings and effectively admit the president has the authority to ignore whatever laws they pass he judges tiresome and inappropriate. That changes the nature of our government. After two hundred and thirty years things change suddenly. But the story is a sidebar.
Is this news? No one was shot. 325,000 Names on Terrorism List - "The National Counterterrorism Center maintains a central repository of 325,000 names of international terrorism suspects or people who allegedly aid them, a number that has more than quadrupled since the fall of 2003, according to counterterrorism officials." That's a lot of names, and a four-fold increase means what? The war has created four times the number of terrorists in the last three years? Things are worse? Or are they better - our intelligence efforts are finally paying off and we know more? Or did they just add Americans who don't care much for what the president has down in the last three years? Hard to tell.
Oh well, while the Vice President was reliving his personal agony on Fox News the world was attending to this -
This is trouble, and our reaction is to say someone should do something about all these leaks, as reported here - these could "further inflame and cause unnecessary violence" and we already took care of the low-level people who did this stuff, so everything is fine now. Excpet the rest of the would snickers when we say such things. This would be a big story another day.
There's complete review of the situation here with links to all the photos. They aren't new. They're part of the original batch but withheld as they were too rough. The ACLU has been fighting to get them released, with the idea we should know what really happened. That's still in litigation. The world gets more dangerous.
And the Cartoon Wars rage on, the third week - Three Killed in Massive Cartoon Protests.
The odd thing is that whole matter has been discussed in these pages, but Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, where nothing has been said, has received these two messages -
Done, for what it's worth.
On the other hand, considering the real news today - "Look! Something bright and sparkly! - if you want to deal with the hunting accident,
this is good, Bruce Reed at SLATE.COM
He gets off some good lines -
The main idea is Cheney is just following the crisis management guidelines the president established during Katrina: Blame everyone else for three days, and if that doesn't work, agree to take the fall. "Bush and Cheney have kept that campaign promise about ushering in 'the responsibility era'; they just forgot to mention the tape delay."
Sigh. Well, it is the news story of the day, and somehow emblematic.
The rivalry between the networks for what is the news story of the day produces some neat stuff, like this exchange on the CNN Crossfire show - Wolf Blitzer host, Jack Cafferty commentator and resident curmudgeon. From Media Matters, what was said -
Jack Cafferty is onto something here. It was carefully managed.
And this has been cited in the pages before -
Where do you go for news?