Two stories that aren’t

Author: Barrett Rainey

There are times when the American media is an invaluable source of information, education and entertainment. But it can also make a major ass of itself. When it does, we get duds like the twin excesses now available to all – regardless of how you get your daily fix.

I’m a harsher critic than most readers/viewers because much of my life has been spent in and around one form of journalism or another. But that was then and this is now. Professional journalistic standards are a whole lot different these days. Lower. Much lower. Where they exist at all.

We’re daily being inundated by two trumped up “stories” that are almost entirely media creations: the Treyvon Martin case and the miscellaneous travels of Edward Snowden. Neither justifies today’s coverage.

First, Martin. Yes, he was a teen – a black teen living in Florida. Yes, he was shot and killed by a guy who saw himself as some sort of neighborhood protector – a guy with a Hispanic surname. So what? How many teens. – how many Black teens – are shot and killed in Chicago every week. Last weekend alone there were 19 Chicago shootings – most of them teens. Two weeks before – 18. In any given month, in just that one city, 40 or more shootings. Name one dead teen. Just one. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

So why does the media put Treyvon Martin at the top of our daily reading and viewing list? Day after day after day? What’s so special about the Martin case? Why does it get the attention it does when children – 4-5-6-8 year-old children are being killed on streets and playgrounds and little ones in baby strollers in Chicago and elsewhere daily? Why Martin?

My own thought is the media outsmarted itself on this one. While a certain amount of coverage in Florida was to be expected, the shooting happened during an otherwise slow national news period. There were the elections. But -for the most part – elections don’t sell papers or snare viewers until very close to voting. So the national media picked up the Martin story because it wasn’t Chicago. Or Newark. Or Detroit. A black kid killed in a mostly white neighborhood in Florida was – different.

But – once picked up – various media found themselves stuck with it. If there were new details – any new details – in a story they’d deemed worthy of such attention for weeks and weeks and they didn’t keep up, the competition would. The number of papers sold and the number of viewers watching are just that important these days. So CNN and Fox – and now MSNBC – are wall-to-wall with day-long coverage of a story blown completely out of proportion. Two of the three cable news channels have all but wiped out other – far more important – news in daytime. And recap all night. This week, for instance, the last live CNN news is 5 pm (PDT). After that, it’s all Zimmerman. And Egypt? Arizona fires? Anything else? Not a word. Zip.

Then there’s Snowden. The leaker. What he did was wrong. Not treason by a long shot. But wrong. For reasons we don’t yet know, he violated conditions of his private employment while working with very sensitive classified government information. Regardless of how morally justified he may have felt, his actions were wrong. He should be tried and punished under the appropriate laws.

But the media has become obsessed with where he might be in the world. If the guy goes here, so do hundreds of cameras and reporters. If he goes there, so do they. They even go looking for him where he isn’t! Now they’re sitting at the Moscow airport to see which way he jumps next. Before this is over, we’re going to know which brand of aftershave he uses and how much deodorant he applies daily.

Snowden and his whereabouts are NOT the story. What he did IS. But, here again, media bosses believe they can’t stop now. If Snowden moves, and this or that network doesn’t move with him, whatever interested viewers there may be might go to the other channels to keep up. Or readers may drop the offending paper to pick up the one still chasing along behind. That’s media “bean counter think.” Not professional journalism “think.” Certainly not mine. Gotta keep the numbers up.

Both stories are media inventions beyond the basic facts involved. Both are getting unwarranted amounts of coverage. Not because they deserve it but because central players in both have been elevated to some sort of sick celebrity status. Because the media has made George Zimmerman and Edward Snowden larger-than-life, both will have books written about them – movies made of their “stories” – they’ll cash in on the celebrity whether walking the streets or sitting in their respective jail cells.

Snowden will eventually come home and will likely do some jail time. As for Zimmerman, that’s up to a Florida jury. I’m more interested in who shot the latest child in a stroller or the one with pigtails swinging on a big city playground. I want to know if they caught the bastard and if he’ll ever walk the streets again. But I’m not looking to the national media to tell me. They’re busy elsewhere.

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