Along the Tracks

Monday, July 28, 2003

Whose line is it anyway?

The major problem the media presently faces is a lack of credibility - to the point of farce. How did we reach this state of affairs?

Well, there is the liberal bias thing ... but let’s set that aside for now. What is far more damaging to the relationship between news outlet and news consumer is the presentation and regular regurgitation of known, proven falsehoods, as well as continued deference to known, proven liars.

Do you ever watch “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” on Friday nights? Comedian Drew Carey and his band of improvisers do a number of routines and sketches without rehearsal. One of these is “Newsflash” in which Colin Mochrie stands in front of a green screen as a “reporter from the scene.” He can’t see anything but green; however, the audience and his fellow comedians see him (through the magic of television) standing before some sort of creepy or sensual or disgusting or terrifying footage. He’s asked to describe what’s going on behind him, based on little clues from the other comics. It can be hilarious, as Colin waives away unknown threats and acts like he’s ducking or running.

I mention this bit of TV humor because several networks have run stories that seem to do almost the same thing (not to mention the newspaper equivalent with Jayson Blair). We have BBC reporters telling us no American troops are in Baghdad while embedded reporters actually show us troops in Baghdad. We are shown footage of angry demonstrators in Falujah on one channel, with the reporter woefully relaying dire warnings of death and violence, while letters from troops and reports from others on the scene indicate the vast majority of Iraqis appreciate our military efforts and do not want us to leave prematurely. We are told the economy is the worst in 60 years, while job figures remain nearly at what just 15 years ago was considered “full employment.” We are told the states are in a financial “crisis,” while in Ohio, the governor and legislature just passed an 11 percent increase in spending. Afghanistan, on the rare occasion it warrants network attention, is presented as a disaster which we have abandoned; meanwhile, the Afghan foreign minister visits to thank and praise America’s deep commitment and gives a positive report of progress in that poor, long-troubled nation. The “blood in the water” reaction to pre-war intelligence is just the latest: Tony Blair says he stands by the information he gave to the president, and the press dismisses this unequivocal statement by America’s chief ally, then completely ignores his appearance before a joint session of Congress - not so much a snub (although that was intended) as a dereliction of the duty to give news consumers the whole story.

And the whole story is: Iraq is a work in progress, certainly with some serious problems, but with a large reserve of goodwill among the people and a general determination throughout the different factions to make the experiment in freedom and representative government work. In America, too many people do not have quality job opportunities, but the economy’s improvement, which began slowly last year, has accelerated this summer, and dare I say, may be called a “boom” before next spring. Afghanistan was in the Stone Age when we threw out the Taliban, and more progress has come to that land and people in the last year and a half than came in the previous 25 - if anything, Afghanistan should be considered a credit to the administration. The Iraq intelligence brouhaha, precisely because it is politically motivated (“Bush lied!”), is missing the proper investigative targets of information quality and mid- and upper-level analysis and decision making. Any “lies” would be quickly discovered and factually supported; that the media is focused instead on who suggested which line in a single speech after the war resolution had already passed just shows how trivial the media has become.

It’s as if these anchors and reporters don’t see what’s going on behind them. They need a clue.

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