March 20, 2003

By Michael Strickland

Three Rings of Shock and Awe

The media circus is back in town. Twenty-four-hour coverage of nothing. Gaggles of reporters and anchors on duty to report the latest fender bender or kitchen fire in Baghdad the moment it happens. No story is too small to be reported and repeated a hundredfold. No cliché is too tired to use in every third sentence in order to drum up "shock and awe" in a bored television audience.

War may be hell, but the television news networks love it—especially arch rivals CNN and Fox News. Since 9/11, when CNN dominated the nonstop televised mayhem, Fox has overtaken the cable news network to become #1. Now, with a new international crisis to cover like a dead horse, Fox struggles to keep its place while CNN jockeys to retake the top spot. And they'll stop at nothing to out-sensationalize one another.

Last night, a Fox News anchor interviewed a brassy ex-military-officer-turned-consultant (of which there are far too many) shortly after the ridiculously named "decapitation attack." Suddenly, in mid-conversation, a visual of a Navy ship firing cruise missiles replaced the talking heads onscreen. The obviously nettled news anchor had to interrupt the military hawk to explain to viewers what they were seeing. Apparently the Pentagon had just released the cruise missile footage to the news pool. Rather than exercise even a small measure of restraint by waiting to run the file footage after the interview, the network just threw it onscreen with no introduction or explanation, as if it were happening live. They didn't dare risk the chance of another network showing it first.

I'm saying nothing new here. We saw such journalistic feeding frenzies before 9/11, and we'll see them again after Gulf War II. They are an inevitable byproduct of the information revolution. And I suppose information can be useful. The constant news updates keep us informed about anything we could possibly want to know, and being informed makes one a good citizen in a democratic society. But, as with everything, one can get too much of a good thing. And the news media could learn a thing or two about the military intelligence concept "need-to-know." Sometimes the media cross the line during wartime coverage to try to get that exclusive angle. Do we really need to know the down-and-dirty details of the military operations as they happen, or even right after they happen? I agree that we have a right to know, since we're paying the bill, but what's the rush? To us, such instantaneous information constitutes harmless voyeurism, but to Saddam Hussein, it could be valuable intelligence. All for ratings.

While the might of the U.S. military has yet to elicit "shock and awe" with the impressiveness of its prowess and precision, the news media has certainly shocked and awed me with its amazing ability to create 24/7 programming out of virtually nothing. Let's hope there's a good "Seinfeld" rerun on tonight.


Development note: I've noticed that this site doesn't look like it should in Netscape Navigator. Rather than waste time jury-rigging it to look right in a soon-to-be-obsolete browser, I'll just add the cliché "This site best viewed with Internet Explorer."
Michael Strickland ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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I have long called myself a writer, but too often I don't do what a writer must do daily: write. So you, dear reader, are the beneficiary of my resolution to make a positive change in at least one area of my life. Every single day of this new year, I will write something, anything, and post it here. It is my intention to use this daily exercise to jump-start my too-long-dormant creative energies, and perhaps generate some worthwhile material this year. Hopefully you will find at least an occasional amusement or insight in my daily musings.

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3/19: Paris—A Beautiful Blur
3/18: Ignorant Idiot Man
3/17: The Pirate Queen
3/16: To War or Not to War
3/15: So Long, Seau
3/14: Telemarketing Pays
3/13: Free, For Now
3/12: Chicken Little Gets Respect
3/11: Axis of Evil
3/10: Writing Kept Me From Writing
3/9: King Arthur
3/8: The Women are Smarter
3/7: Salt on Old Wounds
3/6: 3/3/03, 3:33 p.m.
3/5: Beer Day
3/4: Pulling the Trigger
3/3: Make 'Em Laugh
3/2: Whither Iraq?
3/1: Strickland Cellars
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