Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.
The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”
In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.
It’s always interesting when a competition in the Olympics doesn’t pan out exactly like the story NBC and the commentators have been trying to spin. They always sound so absolutely shocked and disappointed, and plagued with uncertainty. What’s the story now? Who is the hero? Who are we supposed to support as the clear winner now?
Today, when Gabby Douglas was performing, the commentators kept talking with wistful regret about how they’d wished Jordyn Wieber had made it into the All-Around finals. I don’t think it would have really made a difference; Gabby was very clearly the best gymnast in the room. I also don’t think this was any sort of intentional, or even unintentional, racism on the part of the commentators. It just didn’t fit the story they were trying to tell, and watching them struggle to come up with another one as the competition progressed was interesting. First they seemed to be favoring team captain Aly Raisman (the object of several celebrities’ recent attention), but it soon became clear that Gabby Douglas was the unquestionable leader (with Aly following close behind - you got robbed, m’dear!).
Still, the commentators tried to create tension by focusing on the threat from Russia, and finally seemed to find their center again during the floor exercise, when they finally declared Gabby an unequaled champion, something which her teammates clearly already knew, whether they were in the stands or on the floor. It was like the commentators were gymnasts who’d taken a spill on the balance beam and had to go through a parade of balance checks before finding the focus needed to dismount with style. Had they been more focused on narrating the incredible athleticism as it was and less on trying to come up with a relatable, manufactured story, they wouldn’t have floundered so much before the end. Yet another example of the athletes showing more sportsmanship and grace than the network covering their feats.
This is also true of any other sport in the Olympics when the unexpected happens and the network’s story has been interrupted: commentators are momentarily flabbergasted, and spend a minute or two reeling as they try desperately to pull together a new story that will look good when a montage is later edited together by NBC, which will, inevitably, circle back to its original hero. This is a network used to telling neat, finished stories with a beginning, middle, and end, after all. Changing a story suddenly right smack in the middle of everything is something new and frightening. You can lead a horse to water …
Elliot C. McLaughlin for CNN, in the article “Children Shot, Knifed, Axed to Death in Syria’s Houla Massacre, Reports Say.”
Oh, spare me. I call bullshit. This is why you became journalists. Situations like this are the reason you even exist or matter in the wider scope of the world. Does the footage from Houla make you uncomfortable? Are you afraid it will offend or upset your viewers? GOOD. It SHOULD offend and upset your viewers. It SHOULD make you uncomfortable. If it doesn’t, seek help. You do not, as ethical journalists, declare footage of human rights violations and mass murder “unbroadcastable.” You broadcast it as you would a spectacular murder or footage from the Holocaust. That’s your responsibility.
And I’m honestly shocked that this statement came from a member of what I assume is the BBC. Seriously? That is the news network I would consider the LEAST likely to pull this kind of idiocy. I am seriously disappointed.
I didn’t have internet access on my main computer which meant that I had no access to my beloved BBC podcasts…
1.) Apparently, Syria looks to be getting very, very close to a full scale sectarian war and the Annan Peace Plan is on the rocks.
2.) Sudan and South Sudan stopped talking for a bit to…
I get my news from BBC America and The Weather Channel. In my opinion the major news networks are barely worth watching anymore.
It seems like most of the poor reviews of the Hunger Games were made by so-called star critics demanding more blood and guts. They complained that the movie wasn’t shocking or violent enough, didn’t have the impact it should have had on its intended audience. I’m very uncomfortable with this opinion because, as John Green says in his wonderful review, The Hunger Games is all about the “morally fraught” relationship between observer and observed. Gary Ross and the cast and crew did a great job of making the violence uncomfortable and shocking without making it gratuitous; demanding more gratifying bloodshed inflicted upon children makes us like the people of Panem.
Saying that the movie needs more bloodshed, more violent entertainment is more a commentary on our society’s darker desires rather than an honest understanding of the film and book’s message. It’s like how the Western world pays attention to the struggles of developing nations when they spit out a hero or a particularly brutal event, but the media immediately drops the subject when the situation no longer proves entertaining. Why the hell should we stop paying attention to something when it ceases to amuse us? Doesn’t that make us no better than Effie Trinkett & co.? We liked hearing about Egypt when it was giving us heroic young people battling against a totalitarian regime (sound familiar?), but now that it’s into the boring politics we don’t really care anymore. And may I remind you that more attention was paid to Kenya as the possible birthplace of Barack Obama than it was as the graveyard for thousands of innocent people killed by famine.
So to those reviewers crying “MORE GORE!”, I have this to say: You didn’t get it. At all.
I am in total agreement with ONTD on this. I hate the fact that the Grammys, the music business, and our media as a whole are all just treating Chris Brown’s return to the stage and to success as just another story of a down-on-his-luck celebrity in the middle of a well-earned comeback. I nearly threw up in my car today when I heard a Lexington radio announcer say this about Chris Brown and Rihanna: “They’re tweeting to each other. Go on, you two, get back together! We know you’re going to do it anyway!” Chris Brown has won a Grammy, a new lease on his career and now also has his girlfriend back, yay!
Ick. Chris Brown is not a down-on-his-luck celebrity struggling with bankruptcy or substance abuse. He made the conscious choice to commit an act of domestic violence against his girlfriend. Society should find his actions deplorable and the Grammys should have abstained from inviting him back and nominating him as a clear message against supporting those who decide that beating up their girlfriend/spouse is okay in the long run, as Brown seems to have assumed. We should find the possibility of Rihanna taking him back even more deplorable and disgusting, and I hope that she has the sense to decide against it (because it is ultimately her decision that counts).
Our culture likes success stories, and the media enjoys swinging wildly from bitter accusations to cooing worship when it comes to reformed criminals who turn out shiny records and films. It’s sort of like how so many critics, stars, and whatnot are still trying to say that Roman Polanski’s talent should pardon him from raping an underage girl. I’m not saying that forgiveness is out of the question for Brown, but the “Oh, we’re so happy he’s back; It wasn’t that big a deal!” is NOT the message our culture needs to be sending young men OR women about this particular situation.
… Lex18 News out of Lexington, Kentucky, is covering the OccupyWallStreet events fairly heavily. See more here:
Glad they’re doing it!
One trend that always infuriates me is that when a reporter arrives in our county after some significant incident, they always interview the most backwoods, missing-teeth-and-crazy-eyed person possible. Do they actively seek out the most cartoonishly “hillbilly” witness possible? I’m sure there are other people standing around. Many Southeastern Kentucky towns, including mine, are home to college professors, schoolteachers, artists, successful businessmen, and plenty of well-spoken and perfectly normal individuals who you absolutely never see on the national news.
Part of this is that you do have to be a little crazy to want to be interviewed by a reporter after some traumatic incident, and most reporters, especially local news reporters, just want to grab the first witness they can find and get on to the next house fire (Seriously, they’re at house fires - anywhere in the state, mind you - before the emergency services. How exactly is that possible?), so they’re not very picky and will go ahead and interview the first nut who wanders up. However, I also think another important motivation is that news services know that this is the Appalachia the world expects to see and so that’s what they provide.
Whether it’s due to laziness or crowd-pleasing, this trend bothers me and makes me mad whenever I see it, especially when I know better people were on the scene at the time. Why did they interview the town nut when our library’s hilarious and well-spoken janitor saw that house fire as well? Why did they speak to an obviously drunk county fair attendee when they could have spoken to the longtime school teacher who now sculpts fish, the head of the historical society, or the stylish wind-chime-making yoga instructor, all of whom were probably also in attendance? This kind of journalism is lazy, unprofessional, and irresponsible. Take the time to find a coherent and sober interviewee when you visit our area. I swear it’s not hard and will take almost no effort. Appalachian people are smart, honestly.
Most of my local friends, all of whom grew up here, know what a Large Hadron Collider is and know what its purpose is. They also know about the struggle for freedom in Myanmar, that Batman is Bruce Wayne, that Pluto is no longer a planet, that the Chinese invented paper and gunpowder, and that O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a retelling of The Odyssey. Did you know that Whitley County was one of the first places in the nation to fully integrate its schools? The whole region has a rich and complicated history oversimplified and trivialized in American media.
Yes, there ARE people around here who have conspiracy alien theories or can’t find Canada on a map, but, as Miss Teen South Carolina infamously showed us a few years ago, you find those people everywhere. The general population around here is not a cartoon. It’s a community with a lot to say. It would be nice if someone would listen.
The news today:
Meanwhile, half an hour on MSNBC:
Seriously, folks, get your news from TWC and know what’s happening out there!!!
Earlier, I posted a little rant about TIME’s failure to cover the Southern tornadoes which killed over 300 people in the span of one evening, obliterating parts of Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and rural Alabama. If you’re interested in reading a more in-depth report on the tornado and the damage it dealt to Alabama communities, check out Sports Illustrated's April 23, 2011 cover story. It's an excellent feature on the losses suffered by and the determination exhibited by the people of Alabama, especially in the sports-obsessed Tuscaloosa. That's right: Sports Illustrated covered an actual news story while TIME went googly-eyed over royal fashion.
Niche magazines, channels and programs have had an increasingly common tendency to outdo general news sources in coverage of important events. Part of this is because of their narrower scope: Less information to cover causes a more intense focus on the stories that are covered in niche resources. Niche sources also seem to be able to more correctly appraise the importance of stories than general news resources. Take Sports Illustrated's Tuscaloosa article as an example, or, in another example, the increasingly austere Weather Channel. TWC first began to win acclaim after Hurricane Katrina. During the time before the hurricane destroyed New Orleans, they were one of the only news sources reporting the possible apocalyptic damage that could be caused by the tremendous storm, and were one of the last major networks to stop covering New Orleans' slow recovery on a daily basis. I'm seriously beginning to get my news only from TWC. The Weather Channel occasionally interrupts its forecast programs to spotlight the day's most important news stories. I could watch for hours on CNN or MSNBC and not once see any of those same news itmes. Additionally, The Weather Channel tends to cover important events around the world during their regular broadcast simply due to the fact that the weather strongly influences every aspect of our lives. I hear about levees being blown up on the Mississippi while TWC covers flooding; I hear about flight groundings in the Southwest as TWC covers a wildfire in my college roommate's backyard in Arizona. You know, important things that could affect me and my friends across the country.
In stark contrast, 24-hour news networks and news magazines seem to have lost sight of their own purpose. Right now, the media is obsessed with one family’s personal tragedy. The death of a child is brutally tragic, but one family’s loss is not the nation’s business. That’s the moment for a sensitive, brief follow-up, not a media circus. Other fixations include the latest senator’s latest scandal (We really should just expect that by now.) and a governor’s re-emergence into the world of celebrity (He left?). Sometimes, when CNN or MSNBC or Fox News find themselves covering the latest cat viral video, they seem to give a humorous, apologetic shrug, as if to say, “Sorry, we’ve got to fill up time and there’s just no news!”
Hate to break it to you, but there’s always news. It would be nice if Appalachia’s needs could get on the air more often. Why aren’t you reporting on illegal mountaintop removal? Why aren’t you talking about the continuing search for peace in Sudan? Why aren’t you talking about the need for education and infrastructure and jobs in the poorest parts of America? WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN THERE IS NO NEWS? Get off your lazy ass and go find some. The same goes for the increasingly People-esque TIME. No news? Cover something new for once instead of the same ten to fifteen stories you’ve always covered.
I have two suggestions: