Later On

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Cultivating ignorance

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Philip Cunningham writes a guest column for Informed Comment:

When the Roman empire fell into decline, the people were treated to bread and circuses. With America’s might on the wane, it’s more like breadcrumbs and circus reruns.

Just take a look at American news coverage these days; it’s rock around the clock infotainment. The latest mega story is the trial about a shooting that took place in Florida a year and a half ago.

A local tragedy, and yet it gets wall-to-wall coverage, day after day. The TV pundits go on and on about what they think the judge is thinking, what they think the jury is thinking and who they think is going to win and who they think is going to lose. They are the chorus to the tragedy, a shooting, converted into mass spectacle and spectator sport.

Criminal violence sells. It’s a central narrative of a country that puts more guns into more hands and puts more people behind bars than anywhere else on earth.

Given so many lurid cases to choose from, it takes a perfect storm of factors to transform a news bit from last year’s police blotter into the trial of the century. Enter George Zimmerman, who is standing trial for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Their inter-racial scuffle has been reconstructed and scrutinized over and over, second by bloody second, word by bloody word in prime time coverage.

During breaks in the much-trumpeted, heavily advertised, televised trial, wedged in between noisy commercials, there are news updates from around the world. Hey look! There’s some endearing footage of the American president, now touring Africa, dancing upon arrival in Tanzania. Wow, he can really move. Then there’s also some tidbit about some hacker dude named Snowden holed up in Moscow airport and what’s that? NATO air controllers scrambled to force the landing of the Bolivian President’s jet? Sounds a bit like the Zimmerman approach to controlling the space. Oh, and looky here, the hacker dude released some kind of secret documents, but hey, it’s the human angle, blame-the-messenger and the catch-me-if-you-can narrative that really gets the bovine pundits chewing the cud. And in between the cracks and commercials of the full Florida court criminal trial, there’s even a little something about some popular uprising in Egypt, or was it a coup?

Nightly news is top dollar billing time, so the bottom line makes foreign news a hard sell. Every second counts. No time to give it the Zimmerman treatment unless it’s smoking hot, unless it really sings, unless it has that extra special zing.

Burn baby burn.

There’s no denying that trials have a natural narrative appeal and that America is rife with racial tensions, but the media makes too much of such things. Trials such as that of OJ Simpson, and now this one, serve to turn up the heat and stoke civic mistrust, depriving viewers of other news while subtly dividing the public into irreconcilable camps. Who are you for and against? It’s not as much fun as the Coliseum or bread and circuses, but it serves a similar function. Keep the masses distracted and off-balance so as to diminish their attention and weaken their solidarity. If it’s a slow crime day, there’s always terror to stoke fear about.

Burn baby burn.

It’s news, unless it isn’t. The epic upheaval in Egypt was badly eclipsed by uneventful non-events in a TV light saturated courtroom until the July 4 holiday opened up just enough air-time for the day-after fireworks in Cairo.

Even essential news about the United States has been getting the short shrift, especially the shocking revelations of NSA abuse. It’s classic misdirection, stealing attention while emptying the treasury to steal secrets.

In both cases Obama and his foreign policy team have been caught flat-footed, and in the wrong, but don’t expect much in the way of explanation or apology. The White House has a non-answer to everything; spin, spin, spin.

But why fret about such things when you have a charming President who’s got game? There’s a little bit of something for everyone, nothing concrete of course, but a little symbolic something.

The media-pleasing president . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 10:28 am

Posted in Media

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