Breadcrumbs and Circus Reruns: How and why US News gave Egypt Short Shrift (Cunningham)

Philip J. Cunningham writes in a guest column for IC

When the Roman empire fell into decline, the people were treated to bread and circuses. With America’s might on the wane, it’s more like breadcrumbs and circus reruns.

Just take a look at American news coverage these days; it’s rock around the clock infotainment. The latest mega story is the trial about a shooting that took place in Florida a year and a half ago.

A local tragedy, and yet it gets wall-to-wall coverage, day after day. The TV pundits go on and on about what they think the judge is thinking, what they think the jury is thinking and who they think is going to win and who they think is going to lose. They are the chorus to the tragedy, a shooting, converted into mass spectacle and spectator sport.

Criminal violence sells. It’s a central narrative of a country that puts more guns into more hands and puts more people behind bars than anywhere else on earth.

Given so many lurid cases to choose from, it takes a perfect storm of factors to transform a news bit from last year’s police blotter into the trial of the century. Enter George Zimmerman, who is standing trial for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Their inter-racial scuffle has been reconstructed and scrutinized over and over, second by bloody second, word by bloody word in prime time coverage.

During breaks in the much-trumpeted, heavily advertised, televised trial, wedged in between noisy commercials, there are news updates from around the world. Hey look! There’s some endearing footage of the American president, now touring Africa, dancing upon arrival in Tanzania. Wow, he can really move. Then there’s also some tidbit about some hacker dude named Snowden holed up in Moscow airport and what’s that? NATO air controllers scrambled to force the landing of the Bolivian President’s jet? Sounds a bit like the Zimmerman approach to controlling the space. Oh, and looky here, the hacker dude released some kind of secret documents, but hey, it’s the human angle, blame-the-messenger and the catch-me-if-you-can narrative that really gets the bovine pundits chewing the cud. And in between the cracks and commercials of the full Florida court criminal trial, there’s even a little something about some popular uprising in Egypt, or was it a coup?

Nightly news is top dollar billing time, so the bottom line makes foreign news a hard sell. Every second counts. No time to give it the Zimmerman treatment unless it’s smoking hot, unless it really sings, unless it has that extra special zing.

Burn baby burn.

There’s no denying that trials have a natural narrative appeal and that America is rife with racial tensions, but the media makes too much of such things. Trials such as that of OJ Simpson, and now this one, serve to turn up the heat and stoke civic mistrust, depriving viewers of other news while subtly dividing the public into irreconcilable camps. Who are you for and against? It’s not as much fun as the Coliseum or bread and circuses, but it serves a similar function. Keep the masses distracted and off-balance so as to diminish their attention and weaken their solidarity. If it’s a slow crime day, there’s always terror to stoke fear about.

Burn baby burn.

It’s news, unless it isn’t. The epic upheaval in Egypt was badly eclipsed by uneventful non-events in a TV light saturated courtroom until the July 4 holiday opened up just enough air-time for the day-after fireworks in Cairo.

Even essential news about the United States has been getting the short shrift, especially the shocking revelations of NSA abuse. It’s classic misdirection, stealing attention while emptying the treasury to steal secrets.

In both cases Obama and his foreign policy team have been caught flat-footed, and in the wrong, but don’t expect much in the way of explanation or apology. The White House has a non-answer to everything; spin, spin, spin.

But why fret about such things when you have a charming President who’s got game? There’s a little bit of something for everyone, nothing concrete of course, but a little symbolic something.

The media-pleasing president tours Africa, part work, part family vacation that sees him whisked him from one impoverished land to another, all inside the billion-dollar bubble of the Secret Service sterile zone. It’s only right that he should find little ways to pay back the public that supports his caravan with their tax-money. As a show of gratitude, working class American men and women can tune into the news and get some “wish you were here” postcards in the form of carefully crafted photo ops and that delightful video clip of the president dancing. Hey, he’s got some good moves. Smooth moves.

Dancing upon arrival in Africa is an odd American tradition, one of those obligatory things that would reek of being outright patronizing were it not so silly. Bill Clinton did it, so did Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State. Even George W Bush wiggled and wriggled and shook some booty for the cameras in Africa, looking every bit the bad white boy.

Despite the wars they’ve waged as commandants for global domination, when it comes time to boogie, the Clintons, Bushes and Obamas are just ordinary folk, after all. Just like us. Just like strangers on the bus.

Why, with all that presidential rug-cutting going on, did anyone sit still long enough to notice that trade between China and Africa trade has grown tenfold in the last ten years? And the Chinese don’t dance!

Beijing’s no-nonsense leaders come from a generation for whom gyrating in public brings to mind the humiliating “loyalty dance.” Even though times have changed, it’s hard to picture the proud, unsmiling Communist Party stalwarts Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping bouncing like bobbleheads on cue, and truth be told, the world is probably a better place if they never have to. But American presidents have to dance and dance they will. It’s what they do to be liked and its what their advisers think their followers like to see. And it makes for perfect TV. Brought to you live and in color, spectacles heralding the decline of an empire.

Dance baby dance.

Meanwhile, the world is on fire, rife with war, simmering conflict, open revolt and revolting inequity. Yet the mass media averts its gaze, instead choosing to titillate the viewing public, serving up with juicy bite-size bits of infotainment, freedom fries on the side, while the pressing issues of the day are ignored and the real news slips by unnoticed.

Philip J. cunningham

15 Responses

  1. Read all about it in Guy Debord’s “The Society of the Spectacle”

    Debord defines the system that is a confluence of advanced capitalism, the mass media, and the types of governments who favor those phenomena: “the spectacle, taken in the limited sense of ‘mass media’ which are its most glaring superficial manifestation”

    link to en.wikipedia.org

    link to antiworld.se

  2. Wow.

    Brilliantly written, incisively argued. What a piece!

    For all the elements of Ninteen Eighty-Four that are now real; the wealthy, western parts of the world are very much more Fahrenheit 451 than Orwellian. Materialistic, childlike, distracted.

    Thanks, Juan Cole and Philip Cunningham.

  3. What exactly would you want the ‘American public’ to do about events in Egypt. Not to mention that just recently a reporter in the crowd was stabbed to death while trying to bring America the coverage you seem to think we should be paying more attention to. You act as if American society has somehow regressed to that of the Roman Empire of Caligula. Egypt, quite manifestly is not even up to the Age of the Englightment yet. They are still killing each other over religion.

  4. The media has turned he Zimmerman trial into a circus but the other factors are not trivial, especially given the history of criminal acts against black people. Zimmerman killed an unarmed 17 year old black kid and he would have gotten away with it without a strong social protest. Afterward, the state of Florida was left with no choice but to bring charges against Zimmerman.This is much, much different than the Simpson trial and freeway chase circus. If someone can murder a just turned 17 year old black kid walking back from a convenience store and get away with it, I expect to see more protests like we saw before Zimmerman was charged. THIS IS A BIG DEAL.

    • Silly Jack, all the True Progressives know that stories about violent racism are just a distraction from the media-genic President’s incompetent foreign policy. The media is protecting him, you see, to distract us from the black helicopters, chem trails, and Benghazi -er, I mean, Cairo.

      • Obama’s incompetent foreign policy started with his “war of necessity” escalation in Afghanistan. Many knowledgeable people, including Juan Cole, knew General Petraeus’s COIN strategy was doomed to fail. Anyone who believed defeating the Taliban was a “war of necessity” was just ignorant but none of that has anything to do with the Zimmerman trial.

        Without social pressure on the net along with many demonstrations, this killer would have not even been charged. That didn’t happen for several weeks after the murder. He shot to death an unarmed 17 year old black kid walking back to his parents condo from a 7-11. IT’S OUTRAGEOUS THAT A YOUNG PERSON CAN BE KILLED LIKE THAT. Zimmerman ONLY outweighed him by 80lbs.

        “SILLY JACK?” I must have hit a nerve. Are you one of the chem trail people. I live just south of Area 51. The aliens crash landed at Roswell 66 years ago, yesterday. Hillary Clinton was born a few months later. SHE MIGHT NOT BE FROM PLANET EARTH. :(

        THINK ABOUT IT.

      • Even Pres. Obama cited the Trayvon Martin tragedy, indicating that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon.

        It was politics pure and simple. Exploitation by outsiders of a tragedy impacting not only the Martin family but that of Mr. Zimmerman.

        As a legal matter, the prosecution will be fortunate to get a conviction on a lesser charge than murder.

        • You’re correct. Obama playing politics with this was exploitation. He’s the perfect politician, always looking for an opportunity to gain an edge with the public. However, the facts in the case speak for themselves. Zimmerman killed an unarmed 17 year old black kid walking back from a convenience store. Zimmerman was much larger person, had a weapon, and followed Martin even after the 9/11 operator told him not to do that. His claim of Martin’s surprise attack does not add up.

  5. Mr. C, I believe the American public knows that “…the world is on fire, rife with war, simmering conflict, open revolt and revolting inequity….” It is the way things are and it will be getting worse, not better. So, most of the public just “turns it off,” for that which is perceived as being more entertaining.

    Carpe diem. You only live once. So, live the best you can.

  6. When did you start re-running Michelle Malking columns?

    In both cases Obama and his foreign policy team have been caught flat-footed, and in the wrong, but don’t expect much in the way of explanation or apology. The White House has a non-answer to everything; spin, spin, spin.

    But why fret about such things when you have a charming President who’s got game? There’s a little bit of something for everyone, nothing concrete of course, but a little symbolic something.

    The media-pleasing president tours Africa, part work, part family vacation that sees him whisked him from one impoverished land to another, all inside the billion-dollar bubble of the Secret Service sterile zone. It’s only right that he should find little ways to pay back the public that supports his caravan with their tax-money. As a show of gratitude, working class American men and women can tune into the news and get some “wish you were here” postcards in the form of carefully crafted photo ops and that delightful video clip of the president dancing. Hey, he’s got some good moves. Smooth moves.

    You tell ‘em, Professor Palin.

  7. This is a well-written depiction of the true state of the nation. It is somewhat unbelievable and hard to accept but true. The United States has failed to be the strong nation that treasured morals and values it once was.

  8. “The United States has failed to be the strong nation that treasured morals and values it once was.”
    I don’t disagree that we’ve failed but how far back do we have to go to get an example of America treasuring morals and values? When were those halcyon days?

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