Thu 27 Sep 2007
“All the News That’s fit to Print.” This is the masthead mantra of The New York Times, one of America’s most important and best funded newspapers. For college professors like myself, it is the paper of choice, if it must be a paper. Long Island’s Newsday is local and closer to Little League than Big League for this Yankees fan; as a periodical Newsday is a great source for buying used cars and finding the nearest cinema. I avoid The Post, except to fill in the chortle gap now left by the demise of once super-marketed Weekly Wierdo News (or whatever…). I also listen to PBS, which all things considered actually tries to grapple with issues rather than just sensationalize how far a baby can fall from a window and still survive. But, my comments today are not really about a particular news outlet. Liberal or conservative is not the issue; a gut reading reaction is. I start with the premise that news media are all in the same boat, sinking in cyberspace apart from the Times Elite crowd and its pay-for-view ilk, which is steaming over an ocean of ignorance on one fuel: profit. It may still be possible to try to limit news items to what is “fit to print”, but most of us have a fit with a lot of what does get printed across the spectrum of right, left, up and down.
It is the choice of fit in today’s NYT that I noticed. The top right column on the front page contains a report on Blackwater, which it seems is so trigger happy that the Pentagon is sending a special team to investigate (I hope they have flak jackets). This is newsworthy news, certainly not what the current crony-based administration wants to hear. The primary picture on Page One is of a Buddhist monk in Myanmar (which President Bush in his U.N. speech still thinks should be called Burma, but then I liked that Errol Flynn movie too). Imagine that: riot police not in the Middle East, religious figures in robes demanding peace. The front page also cuts across the pop-politico culture of the day: Rudi, the local boy and ground zero; text messaging of abortion rights; evolutionary science vs. intelligent design, and the end of a GM strike for good measure. If I only read the front page, violence and the Culture Wars rule the print.
Then I turn the page. Page 3, but not as Paul Harvey might tell it. For those who do not regularly read the NYT, page 3 is a sacred spot, reserved I think for a story that does not make the front page but probably should, a story that needs to be told, often a tragedy, sometime good old human interest. Today the page 3 story is the also-ran to a different kind of violence, tragedy that so easily leaves the press because it is in a backwater. Remember Somalia? Delta Force for the Clinton era, Ethiopian strafing less than a year ago, warlords vs Islamic militants. Perfect material for a video game and front page glare. But who is keeping the score on the refugees? Jeffrey Gettleman provides a riveting portrait of suffering. “Hundreds of thousands of people are still on the verge of starvation, pirates still roam the seas, teenage gunmen still roam the streets, and the promise of a functioning government remains a vapor,” he writes. It is a familiar scene, repeated in every era, always ready to break into front page ink if enough blood is spilled. Here is the Survival program reality tv can never really top, even if they scale the Great Wall of China.
Blackwater and the backwater (ironically a poor term for a country with limited water resources) are both tragedies, different mainly because of who is involved. The hired guns (shades of the Texas Rangers and I do not mean guys with baseball bats) flex their bulging tattoed arms that seem to be grafted onto guns in Terminator fashion. Some are former military personel, others just swashbucklers seduced by thousand bucks a day pay. It’s a little like the golden days of the 49ers (and I do not mean men bashing each other over a pigskin ball that doesn’t roll right). The question is whether there is law east or west of the Euphrates. In Somalia the guns are there, but the real problem is how to feed refugees. Same as Darfur, which has this suffering on even larger scale. Guns, but no one smelling like roses in either Iraq or Somalia.
I read today’s paper for a few moments, then I put it down. The actual content may vary with different names, new conflicts, but the story remains the same day after day. Forgive me Tolstoy, but it is not just a family affair: all tragedies are also the same even as they are all different. A corporate killing machine empowered by the government and operating outside military code: that is a recipe for the kind of disaster now reported in Iraq. Thousands of refugees forced out of their homes, family members killed or raped, starving in a land where Starbucks and Walmart have not yet invaded: another recipe for disaster (and I do not mean expensive coffee and cheap generic drugs). So what is the main editorial in the NYT? Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And before that it was the suggestion by Ahmadenijad, perhaps more than a little garbled in translation, that Iran does not have “homosexuals” the way we do in America. Both of these stories involve tragedies predicted by fear and a certain degree of outright prejudice on all sides. Both these issues will be breaking news for some time to come, although ironically those who are most vociferous against a nuclear Iran are probably the least offended by the killing of homosexuals.
Meanwhile, while I write this and in the time it takes you to read this, another Somali died of starvation.
Have a good day. Someone else didn’t. Chances are that someone else did not make the daily news.
Daniel Martin Varisco
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