No News is Good News (for Them)

Does anyone doubt that if Tunisia’s president had been overthrown by an Islamic Revolution, there would have been 24/7 coverage of it in US media?

Stories more important than almost everything on CNN and other US cable television news channels on Monday:

CNN front page

CNN Front Page

A new Tunisian government was announced, and whether the public is mollified might help determine whether unrest spreads in the Middle East. (See below). Meanwhile, new instances of people setting themselves on fire to protest unemployment and tyranny were reported in Algerian and Egypt. In fact, the whole Tunisian Revolution was barely mentioned in US mass media during the past week.

Ehud Barak tried to forestall the fall of the government of Binyamin Netanyahu by breaking from the Labor Party and forming a new small faction with 4 seats in Parliament. If only Netanyahu would fall, and new elections brought a less right wing government to power, some progress toward peace might be made. This development matters to the US.

An indictment was handed down by the tribunal investigating the assassination in 2005 of then prime minister Rafiq Hariri. It is sealed for the moment, but could implicate the Shiite party-militia Hezbollah and even Iran. I.e. it is a powderkeg.

Couldn’t our “news” channels give us some background, interviews, etc., about these key developents? It is almost as if the “news” corporations are trying to keep us away from real news by giving us fluff and narrow shouting matches. It is almost as if they think it is better if the public of the world’s most powerful country were not very well informed about US policy, labor protest movements abroad, and the dynamics of politics in US allies.

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37 Responses

  1. It is almost as if they think it is better if the public of the world’s most powerful country were not very well informed about US policy, labor protest movements abroad, and the dynamics of politics in US allies.

    It’d catastrophic for some fairly influential people if Americans en masse started to seriously question whether they were, in fact, the good guys as well as in fiction.

    Whether there might be some merit in having a workers movement with the strength and organisation to fight for improved working conditions, wages and social benefits which are forever under threat from the latest economic blunder of the ruling classes.

    Or if lying down with dogs might be the cause for the increasingly distracting itchy feeling they’ve been dealing with unsuccessfully for the last few decades.

    To address those concerns in order.

  2. I go way back to the days of Ernie Pyle and Daniel Shore when we assumed that part of our responsibility as citizens was to know and understand about our (U.S.) relationships with the rest of the world e.g. how we fit in. I get BBC news at 5 am and that is the only time I hear any mention of items such as you cited above. For more detail I have to go to the Internet and other papers, such as Aljazeera, Dawn, Le Monde, etc. It’s sad….more than that, it’s scary.

    • Yeah, not the least tiny bit intentional. No such thing as a captive “mainstream media” thingie. No cooperation amongst various stakeholders in the Great American Ripoff to keep the proles and anyone below Beta Plus rank blind to anything more than Dances With The Stars and those beautifully packaged and displayed Golden Globes in the receding bodices of those Versace gowns…

      Or were you tossing out a bit of that evil mindgame called “cynical irony” there?

  3. What we have here is multiple failures to communicate… that is, the government has failed to communicate that all bandwidth is a public resource that has to be used responsibly by the private entities that license it. As such they should have to keep the public informed, not just amused. The drift toward ‘infotainment’ has become a deluge due to the particular structure of the human body… the excited, sensitized brain produces adrenalin, which makes people more receptive to messages, in this case commercials. It is all about putting asses in chairs, and inducing some significant irrational reaction… fear, lust, greed, envy… then applying the stimulus in the desired directions… buy this car, this beer, this hackneyed right-wing cliche. In contrast with celebrity high-jinks, nostalgia, semiclad nubile young things… relevant economic and political information is boring, requires thought, takes time, and is often disappointing, challenging, a ‘bummer…’ in short, not entertaining, not a good platform for commercial messages. Our corrupt political system has permitted this, and we have permitted it, and thus are getting what we want, and deserve, instead of what we need.

  4. The difference between in-depth coverage of Tunisia and, say, Wolf Blitzer’s memories of Desert Storm is that sending reporters to Tunisia costs more–and maintaining a permanent bureau in North Africa costs a lot more. That’s a big reason why we don’t get in-depth coverage of foreign (or even Midwestern) news.

    And, of course, more people are interested in Kate Middleton’s dress.

    • Hi, John. Of course you are entirely correct that covering foreign news is a) expensive and b) a loss of advertising dollars, since it likely won’t produce high ratings.

      But in this case CNN’s Ben Wedeman did manage to get to Tunis, and his producers didn’t seem to put him on the air much, so they incurred the expense without gaining any benefit. And, I don’t know if you watch much cable news, but a lot of what they did put on couldn’t possibly have been more entertaining or interesting to viewers than Wedeman’s reports from Tunis. I mean, it was deadly dull out there.

      • Americans have to know what side to cheer for before they can let themselves be entertained. Once the establishment media tells them who in Tunisia will best serve American greed, it will all go down familiar paths.

        Narrative Accomplished!

  5. News at US mainstream media?? Wrong address. I stopped following/patronizing any and all US MSM ever since the Iraq war because they were complicit (BTW at the same time I also stopped supporting the Dems – because they too were complicit).

    There are plenty of non-MSM media outlets, including foreign news outlets, that allow me to remain tremendously better informed than most Americans.

  6. Yeah, but wait minute Prof….that is easy for you to write, but tell us, WHO IS DESIGNING Kate Middleton’s wedding dress? Inquiring minds want to know.

  7. The News Hour had nearly 10 minutes of coverage on the Tunisian situation and did a decent job. Kind of reminded me of the pre-9/11 days when they had pretty good coverage of the world situation, at least compared to the rest of the MSM in the US. I agree with Citizen, the foreign outlets are far superior and in most cases suprisingly un-biased.

    • PBS News Hour and BBC World News provide a good overview.

  8. Professor Cole: do you think it’s a question of corporate manipulation, or the fact people simply tune out of things that don’t mesh well with a simple worldview?

    People can choose between going to, or, and you can tell what’s popular by following the traffic. As it stands, if the news channels don’t draw eyeballs, they’re all out of jobs.

    It’s a lot harder to remedy wilful ignorance than simple lack of knowledge. Any ideas how to do it?

    • Ah, but there are still lots of folks out that haven’t heard of TMZ or Juan Cole, but instead go to FOX or CBS or CNN, etc.

  9. I understand little of what goes on in the US and why the US media seems so focused on celebrity news that really matters so little.
    But I do recall in late 2001, an Afghan-born friend of mine was quoted in a Denver Post interview as saying something like: “Americans are kept in a very low state of awareness” … about matters of importance in their own country and about what is going on in the world.
    After she said this and I quoted her to various US citizen friends, they became sooooo angry at me and her and ceased to associate further with me.
    I am amazed that so many US citizens think they are well informed.

    • I spent some 20 years living and poking around the states and provinces. With much of my time unlearning what I was taught and was damned sure of. It was like going back to a school based on truth.(?)

      My experiences confirm your position and I have the countless scars to prove it.

      With little curiosity and even less interest in critical thinking, much of the public has been molded by 30 second sound bites and constant attacks on the messengers.

      I’ve found it amusing(?) the spin that people are not influenced by violent video games, TV, movies and politically motivated calls for murder has been so successful. All the while the business section is telling us that company X just paid 2 million $$$$$$ for a 30 second ad on the Super Bowl.

      I characterize this as I do to the convicted person who believes in the 100% accuracy of the Christian bible.
      They are so terrified an agreement to a mere misplacement of a coma would lead to a deluge and any suggestion of a error(s)demands they either lash out or put their heads back in the primordial ooze.

    • To me the fact of their ignorance is less frightening than the idea that they think they aren’t ignorant. What the heck proof can they even offer an interviewer of their knowledge of the outside world?

      Maybe they think that their immediate comfort is literally the only thing that matters, that any consideration of the country’s future, the environment, wage trends, imperial decline or anything else would lead them to the discovery that they will have to make some kind of sacrifice. Just as they feel they already get guilt-tripped into a sacrifice whenever environmentalists or foreign aid activists or climate scientists bring home the bad news.

      So why did people ever commit to sacrifice for a better future or better world? Have our capitalist masters engineered the opposite of the Revolution of Rising Expectations that we used to hear about? Is this a Reaction of Falling Expectations, where we feel we will be suckers if we vote for long-term solutions instead of short-term war, that we’re Alice running the Red Queen’s race as fast as we can just to avoid losing economic ground and we can’t afford to stop to help our comrades fallen along the way?

      It does not seem our behavior can change except by a catastrophe that brings everything to a stop.

  10. I used to consider this statement:

    “The mainstream US media act as a filtering engine at the service of the US government policies.”

    The province of unimportant fringe groups at the service of the extreme left.

    The keyword here being “used to”.

    Since 1995, it is fair to say this has become a fact of life that is steadily getting worse. Truth be told, a lot of Americans appear to like it that way. Just go to any web site that provide news about the fate of Gulet Mohamed and read the comments section. The bile, venom, hatred and vitriol thrown at this kid who has not been charged with any crime, who can’t get back to his country by secret order of his own government is just insane.

    Yet, the mindset harbor the stench of “if the government is after you, you must’ve done something wrong!”

    Man! A populace so eager to condone potentially grave injustices. The wet dream of any dictatorship in the making, isn’t it?

    Got a 2nd passport?

  11. I agree. It was a bizarre experience on Friday watching/reading about the events unfolding in Tunisia while CNN was covering something having to do with jeopardy and a robot. All day the coverage jumped from one fluff piece to another. Although I always find it frustrating the lack of coverage on international events in the us, the poor Tunisia coverage has
    seemed particularly egregious. At the same time, the while thing has caught everyone off guard. Also there’s the ignorance factor. Many Americans are starting from scratch, news agencies included. Step one: go to map
    and find Tunisia. One notable exception is PBS newshour. Awesome coverage last night!

  12. I remember when the cowboys in the cowboy movies I liked as a kid went to mexico – they’d line up at the bar, and there would be these tiny little mexican a foot shorter than them – all the mexicans were like that, tiny, except for the really fat bandido the cowboys would kill at the end of the movie, after which the grateful (tiny) villagers would thank the cowboys.

    I think Americans still see middle-eastern people (except for brave, spiritual warrior-heros like Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Leiberman) as tiny people, and whose countries we can ride into if we need to, administer an ass-kicking if one is needed, and ride away.

    The notion that the world is a way more complicated place – one in which millions of people hover on the edge of starvation, one in which people hate their corrupt tyrants – that’s a kind of scary idea, and one that really rubs raw on the prejudices I forged watching the afternoon movie on channel 4.

  13. The USA MSM is the worst in the wold: a-spins the news; b-advertises itself (ad nauseam)as the-best-free press in the world.

  14. “Surely, this is just the usual US indifference to events outside its borders.”

    That’s my thought. Navel gazing, nation style.

  15. 25% of Americans can’t read or write. Nearly another 25% can’t read a newspaper article and understand what they’ve read. The majority of the above can’t fill out a job application. 30% of college graduates can’t read a complex article and understand what they’ve read. Something like 40% never read another book after graduation.

    I don’t have much of a social circle anymore but the few I do meet won’t talk about anything beyond “it’s cold out today”. The common answer to, almost, anything is “too depressing”. Decades ago, I began to look at the news media as entertainment rather than “news”. When I saw the media as a business, I realized it is delivering what we’ll buy and, frankly, about the level of conversation we can cope with. I suspect, if I had the ability to examine, all empires at their peak are filled with an ignorant, pampered, silly population who are incapable of thinking at all. I figure those who manipulate our system for their own profit simply are seeing suckers ripe for the picking. As the old saying goes, CYA. No one else will.

    • Actually, Zeke, most of us talk sports. It’s the only thing that it’s safe for white strangers and black strangers to talk about in an elevator, or red-staters and blue-staters to talk about at an IHOP.

      A sports league is a safe, artificial world of corporate countries who have regularly scheduled wars in which no one gets killed, and of course the desire to win is so great that fans tolerate black guys getting paid millions when they despise kids no different than those athletes in the streets. Revenue is socialistically split between the owners and a player draft makes sure no team goes out of business (or moves to China), but the American fantasy of capitalism is maintained by the competition on the field itself.

      Now consider that one of the worst crises ever faced by the Byzantine Empire was a civil war that broke out between two athletic associations, the Blues and the Greens, which sponsored various sports teams in Constantinople. Bread and circuses – the proles had no vote, so they turned rabid enthusiasm on their sports instead until the Blues and Greens became entangled with the empire’s political factionalism and accusations of favoritism. Massive rioting and burning ensued.

      Or to use a fictional example:

      Jonathan! Jonathan! Jonathan!

  16. I think the problem stems from this belief ..”the world’s most powerful country” [and variations of]
    If you are the ‘worlds most powerful’, ‘the only superpower’, ‘the greatest nation on earth’ then why would you need to bother with anything else?
    Its really not good if you start believing your own propaganda …some little countries will start doing things you don’t know about (until after) and others will start kicking your butt – and you won’t know where they hell they came from…and while you’re putting down those minor insurrections(with the greatest military the world has ever seen) the worlds other “greatest superpower” ( the one that’s been buying your country) will move in and take over your shop and put up a sign that reads ” Made in China”.

  17. I don’t believe there is a specific formula that we can pinpoint when it comes to corporate media. A couple things that we know for sure is that their primary objective is to either make money, or are used as a vehicle by the government to coerce the masses when deemed necessary to fit the government agenda of the time. This scenario was extremely evident when the US was trying to win public opinion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We were bombarded 24/7 with propaganda for those wars. The media during this period had very good ratings. I believe it is possible to manufacturer demand for almost anything and news is no different. Of course war coverage tends to sell, but that does not mean that people would not be interested in hearing about a modern day revolution in North Africa. The main reason for not highlighting the coverage is because it does not fit within the agenda of the US government. It would be in bad form to highlight positive attributes of Muslims and Arabs, because that does not fit in neatly within the confines of US discourse.

  18. Juan,

    Have you ever published the names of dictators and their respective countries the U.S. does and doesn’t support? And analyzed why they might fall into one camp or the other?

    Have you ever published the names of democratically-elected leaders of whom the U.S. regularly denies legitimacy because he/she doesn’t bow and scrape?

    Doesn’t history demand a scorecard?

  19. We’ve had the Corporate States of America for a while. An informed electorate does not fit into their plan.

  20. Recently, during a documentary on CNN about Taliban, the Norwegian journalist was asked by host Anderson Cooper, you are “Humanizing” them after a scene in which Taliban leader was playing with his son & daughter, about 3 & 5 year old respectively.

    In May of 2005, a young blonde girl was mysteriously disappeared on the tiny Island of Aruba. Fox news stationed Greta Van Susteren on the Island to give live reports for almost six months. (How an American can disappear in Aruba, because it never happens in the USA)

    What happened in Tunisia, CNN just could not dehumanize “Islamic Terrorists” & since no American Blonde was involved so for FOX News, it was of no importance to cover.

    PBS, as “P” stands for “Public”, did good job to inform the Public.

    While the American news media & US, UK governments shout that in many Muslim countries press is not free, it is government control, so what is the difference when American free news media does not report what happened in Tunisia. Who is controlling the so-called free news media?

    American news media stands shoulder to shoulder where the government controls the news media.

  21. I listended to Juan Cole and Amy Goodman on Democracy Now and Unfortunately their was some misinformation in their post. While it is true that TV on Cable carrying U.S. news are for the most part is not worth watching period having in general virtually no foreign news and no foreign correspondents anywhere the internet provides a rich source of Foreign TV. AlJazeera streams 24 hours a day on Also French 24 carried at least in Boston has decent coverage of foreign events as does the BBC. There is a streaming version of BBC World News. Even CNN International when foreign coverage is broadcast is better. Both French 24 and Al Jazeera had detailed coverage of Tunisia. Still not explained anywhere is what forced Ben Ami to leave. Undoubtedly it was the generals of his own Army who said they would not support him or so it was rumored.

    • Alan, listen again. We both said you had to turn to the internet to get the news. We simply pointed out that the US cable ‘news’ networks were useless in this case.

  22. I would like to add that if WikiLeaks had as much to do with fomenting the rage that lead to this revolution as was reported, we’re all in Assange’s debt. If the same happens in Egypt, he’s a shoe-in for a Noble.

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