See No Evil
John Tierney's column today is such a target-rich environment I can't help but reprint it and snark along the way.
Bombs Bursting on AirI admit, the occasion may appear to be repetitious, but all the victims are actually DIFFERENT dead people than the previous bombing. They all are, in fact, unique individuals who had hopes and dreams before some whack-job decided to make a quick argument with a large quantity of explosives. How about we honor their memory by giving them two minutes of our attention? I guess that's too much to ask from a busy, important Times columnist.
By JOHN TIERNEY
Published: May 10, 2005
If a man-bites-dog story is news and dog-bites-man isn't, why are journalists still so interested in man-blows-up-self stories?
I realize that we have a duty to report suicide bombings in the Middle East, especially when there's a spate as bad as in recent weeks. And I know the old rule of television news: if it bleeds, it leads. But I'm still puzzled by our zeal in frantically competing to get gruesome pictures and details for broadcasts and front pages.Wouldn't want the American people to see the extended consequences of their invasion, would ya? Must be why we don't get to see the flag-draped coffin parade of our dead soldiers coming back. Out of sight, out of mind, that's how we like our wars.
During the past decade I've seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of articles on suicide bombings,But so few on the antics of puppies and kittens!
...but I read to the end of just three of them, and that was only because I wrote them.And NOT because I'm hopelessly self-absorbed or have the gnatlike attention span of my fellow Times columnist, David Brooks.
Those bombings occurred in Baghdad and Kurdistan during the summer of 2003, when they were still a novel phenomenon in Iraq, but even then there was really nothing new to say.Good point. I mean, why report on the President's press conferences or legislative proposals, when they could be summarized by the sentences "Lying again." and "Let them eat cake."?
As I intruded on grieving relatives...(unable to suppress my own insatiable appetite for gruesome details)
...at the scene and wounded survivors in hospitals, I didn't see what good I was doing for anyone except the planners of the attack.Since it wasn't as if I was showing compassion or sympathy or anything, or even fetching a victim a glass of water. Dispassionate observer, people!
It was a horrifying story, but it was same story as every other suicide bombing, from the descriptions of the carnage and the mayhem to the quotes from eyewitnesses and the authorities.I mean, the ragheads are pretty much interchangeable, aren't they? Seen one haji with a couple of limbs blown off or a burkha-wearing grieving mother, you've pretty much seen them all.
When the other reporters and I finished filling our notebooks, we wondered morosely if we could have done a service to everyone - victims, mourners, readers - by reducing the story to a box score.Interesting idea. Could work for our GIs, too, and to think of all that wasted Times newsprint on the pictures and biographies of 9/11 victims! What were we thinking?
We all knew the template: number of victims, size of the crater, distance debris had been hurled, height of smoke plume, range at which explosion was heard.Statistics are my passion. I love baseball. Just like George Will.
There was no larger lesson except that...I can't give a damn about dead brown people with no money.
...some insurgents were willing and able to kill civilians, which was not news. We were dutifully presenting as accurate an image as we could of one atrocity, but we knew we were contributing to a distorted picture of life for Iraqis.Which pretty much has been chocolates and roses since the Americans showed up. Remember the parades? The Iraqis putting palm fronds down in the path of our troops? The cheers, the joyous weeping? The bulldozing of the prison at Abu Ghraib? Remember?
The standard advice to newly arrived journalists at that time was: "Relax. It's not nearly as bad here as it looks on TV.""We only get here AFTER the bomb goes off."
Correspondents complained that they'd essentially become cop reporters, and that the suicide bombings took so much of their time that they couldn't report on the rest of the country.Chocolates and roses, people.
They were more interested in other stories, but as long as the rest of the press corps kept covering the bombing du jour, that was where their editors and producers expected them to be, too.And we wouldn't want to confound the expectations of people removed from the situation by thousands of miles and layers of distraction.
You could argue that their bosses were simply responding to their audiences' visceral urges.Which is our job.
Everyone rubbernecks at car accidents; cable news ratings soar when there's a natural disaster or a heinous murder. But how much shock value or mystery is there anymore to suicide bombings?I'm bored already.
How intrigued are people by murders when the motive, the weapon and the murderer's fate are never in doubt?Apparently, editors and producers aren't "people" in the conventional sense, since they continue to find these stories intriguing. Or at least they have certain "expectations" in this regard.
I suspect the public would welcome a respite from gore,and Lieberman, for cryin' out loud
...like the one that New Yorkers got whenSaint
Rudolph Giuliani became mayor. He realized that even though crime was declining in the city, people's fears were being stoked by the relentless tabloid and television coverage of the day's most grisly crime. No matter how much the felony rate dropped, in a city of seven million there would always be at least one crime scene for a live shot at the top of the 11 o'clock news.You think John's seen local NYC television news?
Mr. Giuliani told the police to stop giving out details of daily crime in time for reporters' deadlines, a policy that prompted outrage from the press but not many complaints from the public. With the lessening of the daily media barrage, New Yorkers began to be less scared and more realistic about the risks on their streets.
I'm not advocating official censorship,even though that would probably be an excellent idea, so we can get back to convering the puppies and the kittens
...but there's no reason the news media can't reconsider their own fondness for covering suicide bombings. A little restraint would give the public a more realistic view of the world's dangers.Chocolates. Roses.
Just as New Yorkers came to be guided by crime statistics instead of the mayhem on the evening news, people might begin to believe the statistics showing that their odds of being killed by a terrorist are minuscule in Iraq or anywhere else.Not that those odds are gradually climbing, or anything.
Terrorists know the numbers are against them and realize that daily bombings will not win the war.Not like we're "winning" in Iraq, anyway.
All along, their hope has been to inspire recruits and spread general fear with another tactic, the bombing as photo opportunity. For some reason, their media strategy still works.Chocolate. Roses. Puppies. Kittens.