Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Real Backlash

[posted by Callimachus]

Is against the media:

[Taylor Marsh ] makes a good point when she notes that the same news organizations who gave us blanket coverage of V-Tech, including Fox having Mike Gallagher argue for concealed-carry in the hallways of the school the day after the shooting, have not covered the dead and injured of Iraq in that kind of detail. I would also add that they do not cover the efforts at rebuilding Iraq, either, and that they do not give much air time to anything that lacks a really good explosion. Part of the reason for that is that news outlets don't embed any longer, and many of them do not have any resources outside of the Green Zone.

As a nation, we seem to demand this dance of grief, expecting it to move along a timeline of our choosing, with anchors and other talking-head experts telling us when the "healing process" will begin, and how to achieve "closure". My goodness, some of them started talking about healing processes on the same day of the shootings! It seems as though the nation has a greedy demand to make the grief of strangers our own, in order to connect ourselves to the real victims of the crime -- and then to impose a schedule on grief on them. In that sense, the tone of the coverage is nothing short of ghastly.

My newspaper, somewhat against my advice*, ran one of the Cho photos this morning: The one with a gun in each hand, but not pointed at the viewer. Boy, did they hear it from readers. [Not as bad as the time they ran a photo on A1 of a large pregnant woman getting an ultrasound, though.] People hate those photos of Cho. Every time you see one, he wins again. He gets what he wanted.

I'm aware most of the backlash is against TV coverage (which is what people mean by "news" and "media" and even -- heaven help us -- "journalism" anymore) and I'm writing about newspapers. But the ghoulishness and the cynicism and the sickening, cloying, palpably false grieving of it are transcendant.

Yes, 200 died in Iraq terror attacks Monday. And 33 apparently died in one of China's notoriously dangerous coal mines. And it's a statistical certainty that many times 33 people died that day in every African nation of starvation and preventable diseases. And how many fetuses were aborted? And how many women died of improper natal care? And how many smokers died of lung cancer?

Journalism always has been like that: Lives are measured out in ink, like the Anglo-Saxons in their day measured out a life's worth in wergeld:

If any one with a hloth slay an unoffending twy-hynde man, let him who acknowledges the death-blow pay wer and wite; and let every one who was of the party pay thirty shillings as hloth-bot. If it be a six-hynde man, let every man pay sixty shillings as hloth-bot; and the slayer, wer and full wite. If he be a twelve-hynde man, let each of them pay one hundred and twenty shillings; and the slayer, wer and wite. If a hloth do this, and afterwards will deny it on oath, let them all be accused, and let them then all pay the wer in common; and all, one wite, such as shall belong to the wer.

In journalism? "If it bleeds it leads" is only part of the story. Not all blood is created equal, when you squeeze it into newsprint. I heard this version years ago: I suspect it dates from the 1960s. The wergeld might have changed since then, but the essence is the same: 5,000 starving Africans = 50 Arab political prisoners = 5 London bobbies = 1 local firefighters.

So the readers call in a rage and cancel their subscriptions because of the photos. Well, on the Internet there is no editor, there is no gatekeeper. People can choose to see, or not see, what they will. Go see what the "most viewed" photos have been the last three days.

* By which I mean, it was my stated advice, but nobody had asked for it.

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