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Reporters sound like politicians

Matt Zalaznick

Since Sept. 11, print and broadcast news organizations, even the most reputable, have been more and more eager to tell Americans how they should feel. Like pandering politicians, reporters, in their campaigns for ratings, want us to believe they feel our pain. And they usually tell us to feel heartbroken or afraid – unless we’re supposed to be excited by a celebrity wedding (or divorce) or some baseball player’s absurd new contract. Of course, we’re also supposed to feel patriotic about the various wars the Bush administration isn’t telling the truth about. Or we’re supposed to feel edified after a shallow political “discussion” in which the squawking heads are shrieking over each other. News is supposed be about what’s happening. There’s room for analysis and opinion in their proper places. But the line between the cold hard facts, commentary and commiseration seems to vanish with each major “catastrophe.” More and more often, reporters spice up their dispatches from disaster zones with loaded words like “sadly” or “unfortunately.” Even the death of a single individual is called a “catastrophe.” On the other side of this psychological spectrum, they call every do-gooder a “hero.” When football great Reggie White died in December, news reports lionized him as a great religious moralist who didn’t curse in the locker room. Almost every report left out his very public attacks on homosexuals. A story in The New York Times, for example, described a sentiment that the tsunami was south Asia’s Sept. 11. Huh? On Sept. 11, 3,000 people, a tiny fraction of the population of the United States, were killed in an act of war in small parts of two cities that make up a tiny fraction of U.S. territory. The tsunami killed more than 80 times as many people in two separate continents, and even that’s a tiny fraction of the region’s population. Even PBS’ news hour, by far the best news report on television, lost its head in the wake of this terrible wave. One hyperventilating reporter on the scene in south Asia said the destruction was unprecedented. Never before had such devastation been wrought on unsuspecting people, he gushed, frankly sounding thrilled. What about Auschwitz? What about Hiroshima? In the early part of the 20th century, floods in China killed millions people – more than once. Tens of thousands died in floods in Haiti last summer. Tens of thousands of people died in an earthquake in Iraq. No fund-raisers were held in the Vail Valley. Along with telling us how to react, the media tell us less and less about local conditions that may have contributed to the misery. Americans were giddily distraught during the Ethiopian famine of the early ’80s? We were shown countless pictures of starving children, but the mainstream media spent very little energy reporting how the Ethiopian regime was partly responsible for engineering the famine to wipe out its enemies. Similarly, few news reports have talked about the political problems that may have contributed to the death toll in some of the south Asian countries battered by the tsuanmi. Indonesia is considered one of the most corrupt nations on earth. Two of the most devastated areas – Indonesia’s Banda Aceh province and Sri Lanka – are in the midst of long-running, brutal civil wars. But now I’m going to break my own rule and tell you how to feel. All Americans should be worried because – as the war on terror continues, and after the next member of the Axis of Evil is invaded, after the next batch of Americans is killed on American soil – the news will take another step toward becoming a national group therapy session. Americans will be even more clueless about the world’s dangers than they were in that carefree summer before Sept. 11. All Americans should scrutinize their news reporters as aggressively as their news reporters must scrutinize the stories they report and the personalities they cover. City Editor Matt Zalaznick can be reached at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com or 949-0555, ext. 606. Vail, Colorado


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