Thursday, April 19, 2007

Balanced news?

Updated below, updated again

I have been watching Countdown on MSNBC for a while now, and something is happening to that show. I’m not sure what it is, but I am losing interest. There is a lack of balance, perhaps, a growing sense of self-importance.

I commented last week on the fascination with Don Imus; 30 minutes one day and 25 minutes the next. Yesterday I observed that the mainstream media was obsessed Monday evening with the shootings at Virginia Tech, and last night Countdown went berserk on the same subject, devoting the entire hour to it.

Let’s look at some of the happenings from yesterday that Olbermann did not seem to consider worth discussion:

Baghdad experienced the worst violence in months, 183 reported dead. Not worth reporting.

Turkey is threatening to invade northern Iraq due to Kurdish problems, with serious consequences for the US. Not worth discussion.

Bush met with Congress to discuss funding for the Iraq war. Nah, not important.

The Supreme Court upheld a law prohibiting an abortion procedure. Minor detail, not worth talking about.

Sudan sanctions delayed by UN. Who cares?

IAEA confirms Iran advancing on nuclear enrichment. Minor issue.

Republican Congressman’s office raided by FBI in connection with Abramoff scandal. What the heck, Republicans and scandal is not news.

Breast cancer rates remained at 2003 low level in 2004. Only women care about that, and Keith Olbermann is a man.

American Idol finally dumped Sanjaya. How could he not mention that? He has been braying about American Idol almost every day for months.

He needed the full hour for the Virginia Tech shootings because the shooter mailed his “manifesto” to NBC and so, of course, it was necessary to fully explore the ramifications of the shooter’s psyche as revealed by that manifesto because NBC had it and no other network did.


Sort of staring me in the face, but missed until now: if you want to be noticed and have your name on the air do something ugly, obscene. Aim a racist and misogynistic epithet at a group of accomplished young women, or murder a bunch of college students. Keith Olbermann will give you a full hour of air time. You may have to accept that he will spread it over two evenings, but you will get a full hour of sensationalism.

Update Number Two, April 20

The networks, I’m happy to see, are getting quite a bit of heat for airing the hatred provided to them by the Virginia Tech killer. There are arguments pro and con for the case, but the pro arguments are pretty weak.

The students at the school and the families of the victims felt that they were being attacked a second time, and that the networks showed a lack of sensitivity for their feelings. Exactly.

Keith Olbermann claimed justification in that the network had cleared it with law enforcement. I do not have the quote that he played, but the agency that he quoted said only that airing it would not harm the investigation, and it included a caution by that agency to consider the nature of the material – a caution that the network did not heed.

One network talking head claimed, "We have a responsibility to tell you what we know, and you would not want us to conceal what we know."

Dead wrong. If you know the identity of a rape victim, for instance, or of a child who was molested you not only do not have an obligation to tell us that, you have an obligation to the victim not to do so. If you have films of a grisly death scene, you have an obligation to the families of the victims not to air the scene, and you routinely honor that obligation. In the VT case you showed a stunning lack of consideration to the families and friends of the victims, and to the public in general.

There is a claim that there is something to be learned from the killer’s “manifesto” and I would not disagree with that. But let law enforcement and health care professionals view that material and present the conclusions to the public: we, and especially our children, do not need to see that sickness on our televisions.

I am not alone in my thinking on that point. I am heartened that a psychologist, Michael Welner, is speaking out to the same point today.

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