Who cares about John Edwards…Russia just invaded a country!

While the media is pouring over the whole Edwards affair, Russia has been sending in military forces into Georgia.  Now I grant you, what John Edwards did was horrible, and I feel for his wife.  But the media has a responsibility to report all the news and to focus on events that will have greater impact on its viewers.

So I ask you, which do you think may have a greater effect on American citizens?  John Edwards having an affair with a film maker?  Or, a military juggernaut invading small country in the Caucuses region?  Personally, I think its the latter.  Yet the media would sooner go the tabloid route.

The old greats wouldn’t have approved of Faux News style journalism

This is one the major problems with the mainstream media.  In its rush to maintain viewership, it has often denied what Edward R. Murrow once said “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire, but it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.” And of course this one from the CBS great one, Walter Kronkite: “Our job is only to hold up the mirror — to tell and show the public what has happened.”

Yes, the Edwards affair is news, and to political junkies it’s big news. It’s understandable to want to cover it, and perhaps have the pundits say something.  Though the value of a constant coverage of what is really a personal issue, I believe pales in comparison to other issues like Iraq or the environment.  One time, watching a documentary on the news, there was a part where a producer of I believe was ABC (this was when the late Peter Jennings was still alive) night time news said that they often would put some major world event stories on the chopping block in favor of salacious stuff.  This is a great disservice to the public, in my opinion.

Wag the Dog

When the whole Monica Lewinsky thing exploded, media outlets like Faux News and to a lesser extent CNN kept up the coverage almost on a 24 hour basis.  Disgraceful as it was, the whole episode served actually to distract the government.  I blame the media on this, as they increased the pressure, the White House had to put more resources in putting out fires.  This came at a great political cost, especially when foreign events came to the fore.  

When the Yugoslavian crisis escalated and NATO forces went in 1999, the President was accused of using the conflict as a distraction for the sex scandal he was facing.  His opponents, both on television and talk radio, linked the situation with the movie Wag the Dog.  This was dangerous, because at the time, Clinton’s party was not in power in Congress.  Had these allegations gotten out of control, opportunists in the GOP could have easily cut the White House at the knees in regards to funding the NATO operations.  Lastly, when a president loses credibility, he or she could find it more difficult on the world stage.  We can see this with the current monster, who the world neither likes nor trusts.

Events in the world, not the bedroom

Americans face a deficit in both interest and coverage of world events.  Often watching outlets like the CBC’s The National or BBC News (both available on the net for free, and the latter now on BBC America), I’m amazed at the coverage!  Yes, you could turn on CNN and watch someone like Christian Amanpour, who I may add has had some great reports.  The news networks do cover international stuff, but for every world event piece, it is outnumbered 9-to-1 with something domestic.  

Yesterday night and early today, thumbing through the news channels, I saw more coverage everything from Edwards, former NJ governor McGreavy and a missing 2 year old in Florida (the last one, I hope they do find that little girl).  Meanwhile the coverage on the current situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Georgia probably was less than 20 minutes.

And something else I noticed with these shows, its that you get the sense that it is US-centered. If there is an American connection, then it gets covered unless it’s something really big.  For example, if a train crashed in India and 40 people got killed, you’d be lucky if it had at least 1 minute of coverage.

The exception to all this, from what I’ve seen (and if I’m wrong here, correct me) has been from public institutions like National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Corporation.  It saddens me how many times I’ve heard folks bash these two outfits.  For years conservatives have lambasted PBS/NPR as dinosaurs or parasites deemed to be put out of commission.  For some in this country, their coverage of foreign of events has been equated as almost anti-American.  Ludicrous, I know, but one need only put on someone like Michael Savage or G. Gordon Liddy to hear what I mean (well, actually don’t, the guy’s awful to listen to).

News versus distractions

I’m not sure what the current casualty rate is right now in the battlefields in Georgia.  And I know I haven’t got the whole story and history on the situation.  The only thing I can say is that right now tank divisions are rolling across northern Georgia, and that someway somehow we citizens of the US if not the world, will be affected.  The world was affected by our illegal incursion into Iraq, and I’m sure history is rhyming again.  No one knows where this will lead next.

Yet tomorrow morning, at cafes and restuarant counters, folks will be talking about John Edwards.  I expect that Gary Heart’s name will come up again, probably from that bastard Limbaugh.  That the Right will somehow try and taint the Democrats, particularly Obama.

But it isn’t just conservatives, the game of distractions have been part of the playbook by those in power.  They want you to look over there and hope you don’t pay attention to things that could pose a risk to them.  Nevermind international events, economic news is often delivered in a fashion or manner with the goal of diversion instead of true information.  For example, the recent police raid on illegal immigrants at a meat plant, what did we hear afterwards?  The ire was mainly focused on the workers of the plant who were arrested.  But what about the owners?

The list goes on and on, and probably will continue unless we act.  The Rightwing have been protesting the Fairness Doctrine, but frankly I think that is the first piece of medicine.  The public airwaves, even if transmitted digitally, are exactly that…the public’s airwaves.  Most of our internet infrastructure was invested by the people.  Regardless of the mode of broadcast, we should demand better accountability.  Faux News, CNN, even MSNBC should be beholden to the needs of the public.  The public has a right to information and above all the truth of what is going on.  

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  1. I have a pertinent comment, but: this is between John and Elizabeth Edwards.  Everything else–all the punditry, all the sophistry of the blogosphere–is merely voyeurism.

    In a (mentally) healthy nation, a pol’s escapade outside marriage would be irrelevant.

    What does that tell you about where we live now?

    • Valtin on August 11, 2008 at 12:10 am

    This is a very complex and dangerous situation. To even pose it as “now” Russian tanks are rolling in is to echo U.S./Nato propaganda.

    The South Ossetian province of Georgia is not ethnically Georgian. They have sought their independence and/or autonomy from Georgia for sometime now. (Think of Georgia as a kind of baby Russia, with its own oppressed ethnic groups.)

    It was Georgia that reneged on an autonomy agreement and referendum with South Ossetia. (There is another breakaway Georgian province in the mix, too: Abkhazia.)

    Now, both Russian and the U.S./NATO are cynically utilizing the conflict as a proxy for their own great power confrontation. This is dangerous stuff, similar to the use of the Serbs, Bulgarians, Turks and Greeks in the Balkan Wars that preceded World War I. The lust for U.S. dominance in every corner of the world is the major destabilizing factor of our time. In the east, it has stirred up the hornet’s nest of radical Islamic fundamentalism (after first courting the very same insurgents it supported against a then Westernizing Soviet Union, and then abandoning them).

    In old Europe, nationalist and revanchist causes rooted in centuries-old resentments and inequalities are being cynically manipulated by the U.S. and NATO allies and Russia. The last time such matchsticks were lit within Europe itself we witnessed the horror of the Bosnian War, with its genocide, concentration camps, and massive relocation of displaced civilians. The time before that… World War I.

    From the UK Guardian:

    Vladimir Putin, the Russian president turned prime minister, in his public statements seemed to put more importance on Georgia’s ambitions to join Nato. At its summit in Bucharest this year, Nato agreed that Georgia would become a member of the western military alliance, which would not have gone down well with the Kremlin.

    What is not in dispute is that Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, overplayed his hand or walked into a Russian trap, but that is almost besides the point. James Sherr, an analyst at the Chatham House thinktank, argues that what the episode shows is Russia’s determination to protect its owns interests whatever it takes….

    On Politico, Ben Smith looks at how Barack Obama and John McCain, the two US presidential hopefuls have reacted to the crisis. He notes that Obama took a very mainstream position, calling for negotiations, but that McCain took a much more confrontational stance towards Russia.

    Then we have this from Steve Clemons at The Washington Note on “American culpability” in the crisis:

    My own view is that the U.S. has displayed a reckless disregard for Russian interests for some time. I don’t like Russia’s swing to greater domestic authoritarianism and worry about its stiffened posture on a number of international fronts — but Simes convinces me in his important Foreign Affairs essay, “Losing Russia,” that much of what we are seeing unfold between Russia and Georgia involves a high quotient of American culpability.

    When Kosovo declared independence and the US and other European states recognized it — thus sidestepping Russia’s veto in the United Nations Security Council — many of us believed that the price for Russian cooperation in other major global problems just went much higher and that the chance of a clash over Georgia’s breakaway border provinces increased dramatically.

    By pushing Kosovo the way the US did and aggravating nationalist sensitivities, Russia could in reaction be rationally expected to further integrate and cultivate South Ossetia and Abkhazia under de facto Russian control and pull these provinces that border Russia away from the state of Georgia.

    At the time, there was word from senior level sources that Russia had asked the US to stretch an independence process for Kosovo over a longer stretch of time — and tie to it some process of independence for the two autonomous Georgia provinces. In exchange, Russia would not veto the creation of a new state of Kosovo at the Security Council. The U.S. rejected Russia’s secret entreaties and instead rushed recognition of Kosovo and said damn the consequences.

    Now thousands are dead. The fact is that a combination of American recklessness, serious miscalculation and over-reach by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, as well as Russia’s forceful reassertion of its regional national interests and status as an oil and gas rich, tough international player means America and Europe have yet again helped generate a crisis that tests US global credibility.

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