Monday, December 30, 2019

My Log 775: Dec 30 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 210: The distortions of the 24-hour news channels; some reflections from a career not that much devoted to breaking news; hoping, as always that no one drops THE BOMB


I guess it becomes more or less second nature for a guy who, like me these days, is just sitting and waiting for something to happen, to reach the conclusion, in face of the bewilderment spread by the 24-hour news channels, that nothing of any importance is really going on.
Yesterday I was watching the BBC World News, which claims to be the world’s leading source of breaking news, only to be confronted right off the top of the newscast, with the information that one person had been stabbed in some kind of home-invasion in New York, and somewhere else two people had been stabbed to death by a crazed attacker. (I did not make these examples up: they were hammered at me repetitiously every half hour for the rest of the day.  I interpret their presence at the top of the newscast to mean that, in the opinion of the army of journalists serving these channels, nothing much was happening around the world.)
Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, these channels pour out information like this. They never miss an accident, no matter where it may have happened. In Chile, some truck has run off the road, killing three people when it overturned on to a car it has collided with; in Zimbabwe, or some such African nation,  a mob of people has killed four when they have raided some food shop in the hope of getting something to eat for Christmas; in Australia, the entire population seems to be engaged in fighting forest fires, or, if not actually forest fires ,at least scrub fires, already covering hundreds of square miles of territory, having consumed 140 houses, and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people; while just outside of London an abandoned baby’s body has just been found in a dumpster, and a deranged couple had been arrested and are to be charged with causing bodily harm, with graver charges to follow.
(I hasten to say that I have made up all these examples from the above paragraph, a confession designed to forestall your beginning to think that I myself might be terminally deranged, sitting here with nothing better to do than collect examples of news-channel delinquencies.)
More important news does creep in from time to time: for example, someone might give a talk pointing out that the United States is en route to losing its hegemonic grip on the world’s affairs, while wallowing in a morass of muck and slime that they have themselves played the major part in creating (through the use, for the most part, of the gun and missile as their major weapons for pursuing peace, most of this precipitous decline in influence having come to notice by their having fallen into the grip of an immoral, narcissistic, lunatic with only a vague idea of what he should be doing in the eminent post to which he has  somehow --- no one is quite sure how --- he has been elected.)
One has only to try to summarize this global situation in a single sentence, as I have done above, to recognize that it is a situation virtually out of the control of ordinary people everywhere, among whose utilitarian ranks I am nestling in the hope of never being recognized as the fraud pretend commentator that I am.
I spent a good part of my working life as a reporter charged with bringing the news to the people. I realize, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, how fortunate I was that my career as a news-gatherer preceded the arrival of the 24-hour news channel, and the hand-held telephone by which a minion in some remote office could summon me, his acolyte out there on the ground of some front-line conflict, who would in these modern times have been irrevocably trapped by the need to respond to the minion’s every request and whim, no matter how irrelevant they might appear to me to be with my better local knowledge of the situation.
There are now endless studies that have proven the built-in bias with which almost every news-outlet in the world is guilty, just as a matter of course -- I am thinking here even of the most reputable papers --- The New York Times, The Times of London,  The Guardian, The Washington Post ---- most of which have run through drastic changes of ownership that have left them in the control of major corporations only peripherally interested in the business of news and information.
Many years ago I reviewed for Canadian Forum the ground-breaking book Manufacturing Consent, by .Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, in which, with chapter and verse, all pretensions of the mainstream press to be objective, or even interested in  distributing a rough approximation of the truth, were exploded once and for all.  It wasn't the first such book to demolish the pretentions to objectivity of the mainstream press, but it was by far the most authoritative, to such a point that the book is still in print 32 years after its publication in 1988, and has been the subject of various follow-up, piggy-back illuminations on film and TV, but without, I have to admit, having yet forced any nation to give up its desire to have the ultimate weapon of self-destruction.
  During my tenure as a correspondent for a Canadian newspaper in London, England, I had reviewed a study by a midlands university (I believe it was Sheffield, or Leicester or thereabouts)  of the coverage given by the newspapers to a proposed visit of anti-nuclear activists to England for a huge international conference designed to pressure the British government into abandoning its ownership of the nuclear bomb, or its hosting of American nuclear-armed vessels.  That work showed, just as conclusively as Chomsky/Herman’s work did two decades later, that in advance of the event, the press erected a formula --- namely the expectation of violence during the event --- which they eventually used as the framework within which the whole event and its coverage was to be interpreted. Virtually nothing of the coverage dealt with the argument of the protesters that Britain should abandon its ownership or hosting of any nuclear weapons ---- the actual coverage dealt almost entirely with speculation (in advance) of the possibility of violence, the search for violent incidents as the protest marches became real events, and the triumphant discovery of a tiny number of the protesters who threw the occasional brick through the occasional window, thus proving the accuracy of the medias’ expectations.
Well, this has taken me quite far from my opening of this piece. If any readers have made it thus far, all I can add for them is Wot the hell wot the hell! toujours gai, toujours gai. No one has dropped the ultimate  bomb, post -Nagasaki, and all we ca do is hope that this continues. .even far beyond my lifetime.










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