[JPL] Iraq war songs

Lazaro Vega wblv.wblu.fm at gmail.com
Thu Sep 27 10:36:38 EDT 2007

One study, but a massive study. (Start Quote)

This article can be found on the web at

*the liberal media* *by* Eric Alterman
It Ain't Necessarily So...

[from the September 10, 2007 issue]

Along with the (now stalled) rush toward massive conglomeration and the
(accelerating) rash of budget-cutting in news-gathering operations, perhaps
the two most visible trends across nearly all mainstream US media in recent
decades have been an increasing inclination toward tabloid-style coverage
coupled with an intense effort to win over conservative critics of alleged
liberal media bias. Both have been routinely justified by the media moguls
by what they deem to be the demands of the marketplace. "We'd like to report
on important stuff," goes the argument, "but these bozos want Paris and
Britney, preferably with Rush or O'Reilly reporting."

In fact, if decades of public opinion data are to be believed, both aspects
of these arguments are false. The vast majority of Americans profess little
interest in tabloid trash and right-wing reaction. The Pew Research Center
recently synthesized two decades of American news preferences and
discovered, personal finance stories aside, that they haven't much changed.
When it comes to American attention spans, disaster stories rule, while
insider-Washington and foreign stories languish. Barely a quarter of
Americans say they pay "very close attention" to anything. Nothing new

What is most shocking, particularly when considering the steady diet of dirt
we're constantly force-fed, is how little people care about celebrity
scandals. Just 8 percent of Americans said they were following "very
closely" the events surrounding Michael Jackson's child-molestation trial
when it began in February 2005, a number that rose to only 12 percent the
following month, after the television networks all but relocated their
headquarters to Jacko's backyard.

Lord knows, it's not easy for a journalist to interest a mass audience in
the issues they need to understand to be good democratic citizens. This has
always been the challenge to those charged with not only the protections of
the First Amendment but also the extremely profitable access to the public
airwaves. But what can possibly be the argument for giving people junk they
don't even desire?

Thomas Patterson of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government did a study of US
news media from 1980 to 1999 and found that news stories that had no clear
connection to policy issues increased from less than 35 percent of all
stories in 1980 to roughly 50 percent in 2000, and taking all news outlets
into account, approximately 25 percent of news stories contained a
moderate-to-high level of sensationalism in 1980 compared with nearly 40
percent in 2000. And yet the period Patterson studied was a Golden Age
compared with the present.

According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism's News Index for the
first week in June of this year, for instance, the fifth biggest story of
the week was the on-again, off-again incarceration of Paris Hilton. On
cable, Paris ranked number three and on radio, four. Still, her story was a
piker compared with the death of the no-less-famous-for-no-good-reason Anna
Nicole Smith. According to PEJ, during February 8 and 9, coverage of Anna
Nicole Smith's death made up roughly 60 percent of the morning news shows.
To say nothing of the wall-to-wall cable coverage it received. And yet,
according to Pew, viewer interest in Smith's death ranked in the bottom
third of stories covered that quarter, not only way below the number of
people who claim to follow closely the news about Iraq but also below those
who continue to maintain a deep interest in global warming. (Cable's
attention to the Iraq War ranged from a mere 8 percent of coverage on Fox
News to 18 percent on CNN during the second quarter of 2007.)

No less misguided is the news business's pursuit of a public it believes has
shifted rightward. While it may be a staple of punditry to assume Americans
have grown more conservative in recent decades, the data disagree. As
political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson observe, "It is striking
that across all of the major left-right issues, one is hard pressed to find
any evidence that Americans are markedly more conservative today than they
were in the recent (and even relatively distant) past." No doubt the
political system has moved rightward. Careful calculations by political
economists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal demonstrate that the average
Republican member of Congress was 73 percent more conservative in 2003 than
his 1973 counterpart, and his Senate colleague was approximately twice as
right-wing. While the Poole/Rosenthal calculations find the average 2003
Democratic member of Congress to be 28 percent more liberal than his early
1970s counterpart, this is almost entirely due to the sudden political
extinction of the party's conservative Southern wing. Non-Southern Democrats
have actually traveled a bit to the right. Meanwhile, on most issues, the
majority of Americans have actually moved slightly leftward--leaving the
center of gravity of the political system well to the right of the public on
issue after issue.

What appears to be going on here is not a rise in the size of the audience
that prizes Fox News-style nonsense. Rather, it's that the proportion of
people who get their news from traditional sources has sunk significantly.
Given their relative paucity of production values, talk-radio and cable news
programs can be profitably sustained with audiences that are a fraction of
those required by broadcast and entertainment programs. The fact that most
Americans find themselves increasingly alienated from the system that Rupert
Murdoch, Roger Ailes and Rush Limbaugh have pioneered has not led their
competitors to rethink the content of their broadcasts, only to focus more
intensely on what remains of their diminishing audiences. Given the tendency
of so many reporters to follow the herd news of the day--Edwards's haircut,
Hillary's cleavage--the net result is a perversion of our political process
in pursuit of an understandably alienated American public.

Can you imagine a worse way to run a democracy?
(End quote)
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