Saturday, July 30, 2011

Why the media miss the story

Jeff Cohen’s Common Dreams column, “Mainstream Reporters: Too Close to the Field and Teams to get the Debt Story,” uses sports' play-by-play coverage as an analogy for why the Press is missing (and the Public isn’t getting) the real story about the country’s economic and fiscal crisis.

He blames the Press’s “cult of balance” and “impartiality” for its woeful short comings.

The analogy to game coverage, while helpful, misses the point.

The real failing of the media is that underlying causes aren’t “news” to a Press corps working the 24-hour news cycle. A cause doesn’t “develop” or change each and every day. Causes are “old news” and hence unreported.

And so we, the public, forget or ignore the causes of our problems.

It is hardly breaking news that this country has a shameful disparity of income between the wealthy and the poor, that the rich own the political system, and that the tax code is shot through with loopholes benefiting the wealthy and corporations.

It isn’t news that the military accounts for nearly half our budget and shovels money (and retired generals) at corporate America.

Meanwhile our infrastructure, our health system and our schools crumble. No “news” there, either.

Instead, the “news” of the day, and hence the public’s focus, is play-by-play coverage between the 10-yard markers on the field, as Cohen notes. Such coverage results in headlines like, “Boehner gets debt plan through House.” Big deal.

Imagine a front-page story with this headline: “The richest 10 percent account for 80 percent of Republican campaign coffers” or “Tea Party: bought by, beholden to Billionaires” or “The Richest Americans scapegoat the Poorest.”

The problem is that each of these stories did not "break" in the “news cycle.” In short, it doesn’t fit the definition of "the news." No, to find out about these mega-causal issues, you have to read books.

Who in this knee-jerk, instant analysis, Twitter world has time for that?

Finally, Cohen knows, but doesn’t mention, that the Press is beholden to its advertisers, stockholders, interlocking corporate boards and financial chiefs. And just who might they be? (think Rupert Murdoch...) And to what extent do they define the news and determine the information the public receives?

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