CNN Acknowledges Its Sources

The Daily Show last week was analyzing how the news media—particularly picking on CNN—is dealing with the lack of reliable information coming out of Iran, regarding the recent election.

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Irandecision 2009 – CNN’s Unverified Material
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Now, I definitely prefer US news media to tell us something about the rest of the world, rather than the usual MO of pretty much ignoring anything outside US borders—unless we’re bombing it. But at some point, just admit that you don’t know anything, and come back to it in 24hrs. Or, if you only have 15min (or 2min) of actual reportage, then keep it to that, rather than padding it out for non-stop coverage. Sure, the world has sped up a bit, but it still only moves so fast—sometimes, it takes hours, even a day, for a significant change to occur.

Anyway, Jon Stewart’s core point is that CNN is making a big deal of how “unreliable” their current reporting on Iran is, yet their other reporting isn’t actually any better. But I’ve got to say, I’m not exactly surprised. The “need” to fill up the airwaves 24/7, and be more interesting than the competition, has simply compounded a problem that’s been around for a while.

I remember specifically the reporting on the Columbine massacre, oh, what, more than a decade ago? At the time, CNN reported the shooters’ involvement with “Dungeons & Dragons“. Now, in fairness, I don’t expect the mainstream media (or public) to understand, much less ascribe importance to, the differences between RPGs, computer “roleplaying” games, computer adventure games, and any number of other less-popular fantasy-/scifi-related game-like entertainments. Hell, many fans of, and participants in, these games argue over the nomenclature, and which things are alike and different.

However, when none of the actual sources had said anything of the sort, that just means that somebody was injecting details that weren’t there. All Things Considered got it right—they referred to the shooters as playing “computer games”, “video games” (vague, but not untrue), or “first-person shooters”. But putting a proper noun in for a common noun, when the proper noun isn’t even in the same category, is just plain makin’ shit up. That is not the reporter’s job. You can’t go from specific to super-general, and then back to a different, arbitrary example of that generality, and call it facts. Imagine if someone were to be accused of a crime, and they were a frequent participant in local amateur theater. And the news media reported that the person was a long-time NRA member, radical gun-rights advocate, and frequent Civil War re-enactor. And that the reason they had committed their crime was because they were a re-enactor. Which doesn’t particularly make sense even if the connection existed, but is particularly inane when the accused doesn’t actually participate in that hobby.

Ok, yes, the reason this one stuck in my craw so badly was because it was smearing RPGs unnecessarily. I mean, even more unnecessarily than the fact that whatever games those kids engaged in were quite possibly cathartic, not catalytic. If they’d just said “roleplaying games”, thus conflating tabletop and computer games, and not understanding that Doom and Final Fantasy aren’t really that similar, I’d’ve been merely disappointed. But, nonetheless, the real issue was that, for all I know, they’re making gross errors and unwarranted conflations and simplifications all the time, and I just don’t happen to have the expertise to recognize them. That’s not good reporting, and not worth my time. So, to summarize, I’d pretty much given up on CNN a decade ago, and that was the only TV news I hadn’t already given up on, at that time.

But what got me writing this, in addition to wanting to share the great Daily Show clip, was that, by coincidence a day or two after I watched that broadcast, i re-listened to an episode of To the Best of Our Knowledge, “Dumbing Down, Smartening Up”, and the 2nd segment specifically addresses the 24hr news culture. The guest talks about his essay “Megaphone Guy”, and makes several really excellent points. And, along the way, he talks about basically what I said above: when you have 24hrs to fill with news, instead of 30min, suddenly, you expand what constitutes “news” until you fill up the 24hrs—even if, previously, you weren’t having any trouble fitting everything newsworthy into 30min. He cites the OJ Simpson trial as the dawn of this new age, though I would’ve said it started with the first Iraq War. Either way, we somehow manage to expand the coverage of non-news, and yet still can’t manage to fit in sufficient coverage of the rest of the world outside the US.

To the Best of Our Knowledge is pretty much always worth listening to, so, here you go.

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