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The Limits of “Man Bites Dog” Stories


News of the ordinary also makes the cut in media outlets, of course, but it?s not what sizzles, and it?s not apt to get onto front pages or prime-time broadcasts.

But journalism has the challenge of simultaneously tracking what?s usual and unusual. One complication is that important ongoing realities may occasionally receive a lot of attention as a result of media whim. A certain social ill might suddenly get a burst of national publicity because editors at the New York Times decided to make it a page-one news feature.

The division of labor between journalists and politicians, in fact, is more apparent than real. Both are shaping public perceptions. Both directly affect the likelihood of electoral victory and defeat. Neither is inclined to openly acknowledge that they need each other to ply their trades. And in general, to a large extent, both are slurping their livelihoods from the same corporate troughs.

?In the American republic the fact of oligarchy is the most dreaded knowledge of all, and our news keeps that knowledge from us,? Karp wrote. ?By their subjugation of the press, the political powers in America have conferred on themselves the greatest of political blessings — Gyges? ring of invisibility. And they have left the American people more deeply baffled by their own country?s politics than any people on earth. Our public realm lies steeped in twilight, and we call that twilight news.?

It?s not unusual for the economic system of the USA to take the lives of people simply because they don?t have the money to pay for medical care, nutrition or a roof over their heads. It happens all the time, and it?s rarely news. At the moment, this may be the season to be jolly, but countless Americans will be braving the cold overnight for want of cold cash. It?s not unusual — in fact, it?s part of what makes this country not so great.

And, as a practical matter, journalists are part of the story. Their reporting decisions can shift the public view, if only momentarily. They shouldn?t wait for some flashy or unusual event before proclaiming a Really Big Story. The momentous news about the typical is right in front of us, every day, hidden in plain sight.

Norman Solomon is co-author, with Reese Erlich, of ?Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn?t Tell You.? His columns and other writings can be found at.

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