More robot customer-service

What in Sam Hell is going on in TV news?

A couple of days ago, Paul Krugman wrote a terrific piece about why Europeans have such different views than Americans about the impending war. Perhaps, he suggested, it’s not just that they have different politics. It’s actually that they have completely different information at hand — because they consume very different news media. European news regularly reports material that makes the Iraq situation seem more complex, like the fact that Hans Blix doesn’t support the war, and that the recent bin Laden tape includes major dissing of Saddam Hussein. In America, this type of stuff does indeed appear in newspapers. But on TV news — where the majority of Americans get their information — it’s a whole different story:

The coverage of Saturday’s antiwar rallies was a reminder of the extent to which U.S. cable news, in particular, seems to be reporting about a different planet than the one covered by foreign media.

What would someone watching cable news have seen? On Saturday, news anchors on Fox described the demonstrators in New York as “the usual protesters” or “serial protesters.” CNN wasn’t quite so dismissive, but on Sunday morning the headline on the network’s Web site read “Antiwar rallies delight Iraq,” and the accompanying picture showed marchers in Baghdad, not London or New York.

This wasn’t at all the way the rest of the world’s media reported Saturday’s events, but it wasn’t out of character. For months both major U.S. cable news networks have acted as if the decision to invade Iraq has already been made, and have in effect seen it as their job to prepare the American public for the coming war.

So it’s not surprising that the target audience is a bit blurry about the distinction between the Iraqi regime and Al Qaeda. Surveys show that a majority of Americans think that some or all of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi, while many believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in Sept. 11, a claim even the Bush administration has never made. And since many Americans think that the need for a war against Saddam is obvious, they think that Europeans who won’t go along are cowards.

I mostly read newspapers and web sites, and don’t watch much TV news. Lately I’ve begun to think this is a big problem, because I’m cutting myself off from the information that defines most Americans’ lives. So while I’m on the road in hotels this week, I’ve been watching tons of news TV — and it is totally freaking me out. My god in heaven. I’m not completely naive about TV news; in Canada, I hosted a TV show, and I’ve been a regular commentator on many programs. But still, I’m stunned by the tone of the crap I’ve been watching. Whenever the subject of the war comes up, the hosts — to a one — are snarlingly hostile to any critic, and utterly toadying to the Bush administration. Their obsequiousness towards authority would embarass a kid in Grade Two.

Check out this recent exchange between CNN host Tucker Carlson and Janeane Garofalo, when they brought her onto Crossfire to discuss “What does Hollywood know about the war?”

GAROFALO: Well, there’s no credible link between Iraq and al Qaeda. There’s no credible link between Iraq and 9/11. So, if you want those links, then we should be going to Saudi Arabia. Or if you want weapons of mass destruction and a dictator that starves his own people, we should be in North Korea …

There are hundreds of thousands of credible voices you could be talking to right now that are far more qualified than I. I am as qualified as anyone who has access to the Internet, satellite dish, international and domestic news, a library, a bookstore and newspapers.

So, you know, when the patronizing teaser for the show [says,] “What does Hollywood know about foreign policy?” Well I don’t know what the city of Hollywood knows about foreign policy, but do I know that a lot of people do learn and educate themselves about policy and I don’t have to be a policy expert to know that this will be a disaster.

The Pentagon has ordered 75,000 body bags this week.

CARLSON: Wait a second, Janeane.

GAROFALO: What does that mean?

CARLSON: Janeane, you were asking why am I patronizing? You said a minute ago that there is no evidence that Iraq has any links to al Qaeda. Yet you claim to read the paper.

Those claims are uncontested.

GAROFALO: No, they aren’t, Tucker.

CARLSON: Well, then perhaps you can answer this question. Then why has the head of the CIA, the secretary of state, the national security adviser and the prime minister of Great Britain all said we have seen the evidence that there are members of al Qaeda living in Baghdad [and that] there was an agreement between al Qaeda and Saddam. Are they all making it up?

The links between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are uncontested? What planet does this man live on?

The Planet of TV News, I guess.

(Thanks to Plastic for pointing out the Garofalo interview!)

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson