Thursday, May 22, 2014

(No.264) Prefer pap to real news? Try CNN

"If you prefer pap to hard news content try the 'new' CNN"

by Alastair Rickard

When Pat and I are in Savannah Georgia we make a point of visiting the Tefair museums located in the heart of the old city. There is a particular painting that has long interested me: a huge work (approx. 5 ft by 10 ft) painted in the late 1800s by Jozef Brandt.

The subject is a battle in the mid-1600s involving Swedish and Polish lancers. It is well done for a military battle piece, not at all a highly stylized depiction as many so-called war paintings are.

I think of that particular painting whenever I encounter some reference to the 200 year period from 1660 to 1860, a period in European history which some historians regard as an age of 'contained warfare' (if one ignores the Napoleonic period).

Wars were fought for material gain with generally understood rules that tended to limit the slaughter. They were not fought, as they have been in the last century, based on religious differences or political ideology or as 'crusades' supposedly about one principle or another.

The shocking estimates in the tens of millions of military deaths in the two world wars of the 20th century plus the millions of civilians who also died plus the six million victims of the Holocaust are still familiar matters to many today despite the historical ignorance of an increasing proportion of the graduates of school systems in Canada and elsewhere.

If one drills down a bit into the details of the past century, including the historical statistics, one encounters the even less well known numbers which draw pictures the informed citizen ought to know but too often does not. This is a subject to which I will return in a future column.

In terms of violent deaths there is a general absence in American mass media, especially on cable news networks, of context and perspective. The most obvious recent example was the ridiculous, ratings-driven wall-to-wall coverage, day in and day out for two months, on CNN of the disappearance of Malaysian Airline Flight 370 and its passengers and crew.

The hard news reported on CNN about this event could have been given in 10 minutes; the rest of the time was taken up with a mixture of speculation (both informed and idle) from the talking heads appearing on innumerable CNN panels who had no more hard information about Flight 370 than did CNN's viewers.

Result as of today: nobody on or off CNN knows anything much more factual about the missing flight than was the case when the plane first disappeared from radar.

Another example, unfortunately ongoing and apparently endless, is the treatment by cable news and most other media (with honourable exceptions like the New York Times) of murders committed with firearms in the United States.

The next time a cable news network devotes hours upon hours of coverage to the minutiae of the latest school shooting somewhere in the U.S. (and, sadly, they occur inevitably and regularly) , watch for absence of meaningful perspective provided about what is being presented as the media spends much of its time pursuing grieving friends and relatives of the victim(s) and -- of course -- first person comment about how they 'feel' and about their seeking of 'closure'.

As tragic as the deaths of innocent people (children and adults) are, how often are American viewers asked to consider these tragedies of violence vis-a-vis their causes and their societal implications in the context of numbers such as the following:

-- The next time a single shooting in the U.S. attracts hours upon hours of CNN 'news' coverage, consider that nearly 32,000 people are killed by guns each year in the U.S.; or

-- consider that a total of 4,486 American troops were killed in the Iraq war from 2003 to 2012 but in
2012 alone 14,827 people were murdered in the U.S. of whom approximately 11,000 were firearm homicide victims.

Which is more deserving of endless hours and countless pages of attention?

The sort of pap and celebrity journalism dominating so much of today's media or some serious effort at providing meaningful perspective and context, an effort that surely goes beyond the news equivalent of 140 characters and Facebook pictures?




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