August 23, 2006
JonBenet, All the Time
regularly watches cable news knows that the medium is seldom a stranger
to excess. Whatever the major story of the day is, CNN, MSNBC and Fox
News can be counted on to cover it from every angle – including those
that are the most superfluous and irrelevant.
the sudden re-emergence of the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, the cable
news triumvirate may have hit a new low. Not only have numerous other
stories of major global significance been all but ignored, but the way
the case has been handled has been nothing short of shameful.
When it was
announced that John Mark Karr had confessed to the murder, the case
didn’t just become a major cable news topic. It all but took over all
terrible for two reasons. One, it’s not 1996 anymore. There’s a lot
going on in the world these days, all of it very important. The United
States is at its first-ever red terror alert, after the breakup of a
plot to blow up airliners headed into the U.S. from London. The
ceasefire in Israel and Lebanon remains tenuous, and liable to explode
at any time. Iraq remains an increasingly unsalvageable mess, while Iran
and North Korea continue their pursuit of nuclear weapons. And as the
first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, the specter of
further hurricanes remains.
cable news at least, we’ve heard very little about any of this in the
past week and a half. Instead, it’s been all JonBenet, all the time.
it’s not just that they do it. It’s the way they do it. That constantly
looping reel - you know the one - of JonBenet’s beauty pageant footage
is back and in non-stop rotation, seemingly hammering home the point
that the biggest reason JonBenet’s death was a tragedy was because she
was so damn cute. Ditto for Laci Peterson, Natalee Holloway and all the
other beautiful murdered women we’ve been hearing about non-stop, at the
expense of every other murdered non-beauty queen.
So we get
blanket coverage of insignificant events, and insignificant aspects of
those events. That’s why more time has been spent on what Karr was
drinking on the plane back to Colorado than, say, the war in Iraq.
course it’s a tragedy that a six-year-old girl was murdered. And,
there’s always some fascination with a murder that remains unsolved
years later. But there’s no way any reasonable person could suggest that
JonBenet’s murder was a significant event that has affected the world in
any meaningful way. Thus far in 2006, there have been nearly 250 murders
in Philadelphia, where I live. How many of those victims have been
mentioned on Fox News or CNN lately?
isn’t the only story that has me shaking my head about the news channels
this week. On August 14, Fox News reporter Steve Centanni was abducted
in the Gaza Strip, along with cameraman Olaf Wiig. Yes, an American
journalist, one who is extremely visible and well-known, was abducted
from an area known not only as a hotbed of Islamic radicalism, but as a
battleground in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
But then a
strange thing happened: The Centanni story was all but ignored, not only
by the mainstream media, but by blogs as well. This happened despite the
fact that when American journalists Daniel Pearl and Jill Carroll were
abducted, respectively, from Pakistan and Iraq, it generated constant
headlines. Even more strangely, Centanni was abducted the same week that
the Christian Science Monitor began publishing Carroll’s memoir of her
abduction. And even more strangely than that, the Centanni media
blackout happened while hundreds more media members than usual were in
Malkin, among others, has put forward the theory that, like everything
else, “liberal media bias” is to blame. But that doesn’t explain why Fox
News itself has barely spent any time covering the kidnapping of its own
reporter, or why the right-wing blogosphere barely touched this story
for its entire first week.
something worse going on here than liberal bias. It’s the need of cable
news to embrace sensationalism and shallowness at every turn. In times
of great global uncertainty, I wish our news outlets would actually
devote the majority of their attention to that, rather than to a
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