March 27, 2003

A thoughtful letter…

Carol Johnson is one of the KC Bloggers, and she writes EMUSE. She sent the following e-mail to me yesterday and gave me permission to publish it (note: extended entry, click MORE):

I really enjoy reading your blog. I have some comments regarding Shock & Awe and general news coverage, but I don’t know that they are well-thought-out-enough to post on your comments. If you think there is something interesting to them, perhaps you could just expound upon the points in future posts. Mostly these are just general comments because I feel like expressing my opinion.

First, regarding news coverage of the war: I, too, on the first day of war, turned to tv news. I found Peter Jennings so biased, I couldn’t watch (I generally don’t watch him or the Big 3, anyway). It wasn’t even the fact that I disagreed with him, but just that he was exhibiting such an obvious bias. After the first few hours, it became increasing (re)clear that the “talking heads” had to find *something* to talk about — which meant the news quotient dropped exponentially. I find that I can tune in once a day (or, more often, I tune into various sources on the web — more on that later) or once every two days, and I catch the same amount of actual “news.” I think an unfortunate negative to 24-hour news is that the audience is desensitized, almost conditioned to want a “bigger conflagration” or “better video.” Also, there is a loss of “weighting” of the news — the trivial becomes equal with the significant, simply because there are so many hours to fill.( I think you have commented previously regarding this effect.) And then the whole issue of the medium is magnified: when there is no more “news” to digest, one starts consuming the “reporters” and “anchors” — their mannerisms, appearance, articulation (or lack thereof) — the graphics and images provided. None of which necessarily corresponds to the quality of the news reported.

Regarding Shock & Awe, I cringed when I first heard this. I understand the pyschological benefit to announcing such a campaign, along with the statements that “if you have to ask, it’s not S&A.” My first thought, as a mother and an individual who is particularly sensitive to loud, especially repetitive, noises, was that this would pretty much be hell on Earth for me. My sympathies were immediately with the Iraqi civilians, especially children. Nevertheless, I could agree with it as a military strategy (or, at the very least, the “threat” of it). What bothers me, however, is that it seemed almost gleeful…gloating…boastful. It seemed to pander to the needs of an adolescent male public weaned on video games. (Caveat: as a mother of young children, I’ve become increasingly cynical of Disney-esque movies seemingly animated by males in arrested stages of juvenile pubescence, so I’m no doubt overly-sensitive!) The whole “S&A” theme struck me as needlessly theatrical, and ripe for negative blow-back, especially given the current global anti-American sentiment. It seems to trivialize the war, reducing it (at least, that particular campaign) to a Madison-Avenue sound bite. I think such terminology can have serious negative consequences, especially if the gov’t is trying to prepare the public for a war that may take longer-than-expected, and have more casualities-than-expected. (Those phrases, which are currently popping up, have interesting aspects in and of themselves. Longer than expected by whom? More casualities than expected by whom? I certainly never assumed the war would be short or pain free, and find myself mystified at being told that I did. Am I to assume the gov’t is surprised? Surely not. The general public? On what evidence? The news organizations? Ahhh….)

Regarding the role of the internet, I have to agree with a post I read (somewhere!). My local newspaper has become nearly obsolete, in that most of the news it contains I’ve already read on the web a day or two (or more) before (and not just war-relatd news). Furthermore, the web provides access to a wealth of resources — national and international news organizations, instititutional websites, and blogs. Oftentimes, I’ve not already read the news, I’ve also read the critiques, analyses, and fact-checking. Yes, I still have to be a wise consumer, consider the biases and reliability of web sources, but the wealth of information that is available to me is truly astounding. In the past, a few newspapers and network news programs synthesized information for me — although I might not know their sources or biases. The same can be said of the web, given constraints on one’s time, but if I’ve chosen my resources well, I have much better access to a variety of information that is rapidly updated, well-rounded, and thought provoking.

I think that is more worthwhile than all the “embedded” journalists combined!

Well, sorry for taking up your time with this much-too-lengthy message. I guess that’s what you get for having a blog that gets my synapses firing!

Regards,

cj

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