John Mark Karr is one sick puppy â€“ a school teacher who fantasized that heâ€™d engaged in consensual sex so passionately with six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey that he a
And television news in our country is one ravenous beast â€“ abandoning any notion of journalism, proportion or decency to again prey upon JonBenetâ€™s corpse for ratings and profit.
God only knows what combination of hurt and mental illness went into producing the sick puppy. On the other hand, thereâ€™s no mystery about what created the media beast: corrupt government policies combined with corporate greed.
Make no mistake: The media beast is every bit as compulsive and out of control as Karr, who may yet end up behind bars for child pornography. But the beast is free to maul again and again.
For 10 days, TV news has fixated on this imposter-culprit as if he were a world-historical figure â€“ like Nelson Mandela emerging from prison, only bigger. TV tracked Karrâ€™s travels across the globe, telling us what he ate for dinner, analyzing his attire.
To extend Karrâ€™s allotted 15-minutes of fame into a 10-day ordeal, TV news ignored important stories of war, environmental degradation, corruption, citizen activism. Instead, TV viewers were offered hundreds of hours of single-minded examination and debate on one burning question: did Karr do it? The inquiry was relentless and aired all sides.
If only weâ€™d had such in-depth, full-spectrum debate when the Bush team was dragging our country into war based on pretense.
I worked in cable news just prior to the
By contrast, no one will get into trouble for this embarrassing 10-day spasm of overwrought Karr coverage. . .as long as ratings were good and coverage was cheap. If so, news producers can expect congratulations for a job well done.
Tabloid stories involving sex, crime or celebrity are preferred by TV news management today. These stories are inexpensive to cover, since speculation by alleged experts can fill fill up hours of airtime. And tabloid stories typically donâ€™t offend anyone in political or economic power, including corporate sponsors and media owners.
But aggressively covering an administration bent on war can cause all sorts of problems. Especially for a media conglomerate that has business pending before the Federal Communications Commission. Especially when that media titan is lobbying the FCC to allow it to grow even more titanic â€“ as was happening in 2003 exactly at the time the Bush White House was launching its invasion of
During the run-up to war, I was a senior producer on Phil Donahueâ€™s primetime MSNBC show, the most watched program on the channel, until it was terminated three weeks before the war began. An internal NBC memo soon leaked out, complaining that Donahue was â€œa difficult public face for NBC in a time of war. . .He seems to delight in presenting guests who are antiwar, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administrationâ€™s motives.â€
Stick to tabloid stories and your TV career will flourish. Be skeptical about officialdomâ€™s war motives and theyâ€™ll show you the door.
Iâ€™ll never forget my first day of work at MSNBC headquarters in the spring of 2002. As I entered the buildingâ€™s central corridor, I saw a number of framed posters celebrating highpoints of the channelâ€™s early history. The first one: â€œThe Funeral of Princess Diana.â€ Then: â€œDeath of JFK, Jr.â€ On the opposite wall, I saw â€œColumbine Shootings, Live Coverageâ€ and â€œThe Concorde Crash.â€
I remember thinking: If these are what MSNBC considers its highlights, what were its lowlights?
TV news owners and management love stories that keep viewers passive, on the sidelines — as spectators. They fear the ones that might motivate us to take action, on the field — as citizens.
Active, informed citizens seek out (and build) independent media. Theyâ€™re the kind of pesky activists who intervene in FCC decisions and fight to diversify a mainstream media system thatâ€™s been surrendered corruptly to a half-dozen conglomerates.
TV news is trying desperately to hold onto its audience of passive consumers: those who know everything about John Mark Karrâ€™s dinner of pate and chardonnay, and next to nothing about the court ruling that Bushâ€™s warrantless wiretapping is unconstitutional.
Last night, with cable news anchors looking ridiculous over their 10-day JonBenet binge, one MSNBC host seemed to need a scapegoat. If not murder, she asked a legal expert, couldnâ€™t Karr at least be charged with â€œconspiracy to set off a media frenzyâ€?
You see, the 10-day hijacking of the airwaves was not her fault, or her bossesâ€™ fault. It was Karrâ€™s fault. . .TVâ€™s version of â€œthe sick puppy ate my homeworkâ€ excuse.
Jeff Cohen http://jeffcohen.org/is the founder of the media watch group FAIR http://www.fair.org/index.php, and author of the new book, Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/097606216X/sr=8-3/qid=1146516370/ref=pd_bbs_3/002-5161334-4221647?%5Fencoding=UTF8.