At Year’s End, the ‘News’ Fails

The end of the year brings reflection on what happened in the past 12 months and what lies ahead. But these retrospectives usually offer no more context and often less than the thin gruel of news as the events played out, News Dissector Danny Schechter notes.

By Danny Schechter

The TV networks are hard at work in this last week of the year recapping their best footage to remind us where we’ve been. Researchers are combing the archives to find the best images for their annual greatest hits “package” which usually ends with a photo-montage driven by music of the politicians, entertainers and personalities who died in 2012.

As we watch, we ooh and aah and remember calamities that struck us like that well-named “Franken Storm” Sandy identified with that man-made monster Frankenstein and the shooting of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The networks will replay the 2012 elections that haven’t resolved the current stalemate, the “fiscal cliff.”

The Doomsday Clock from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists often seems more relevant than the TV countdowns to the New Year.

Oh, you know what else the networks will show the year of I-Phone 5 and I-Pad 3, the Olympics, and Gangham Style. We will hear about Kate Middleton’s rise and Whitney Houston’s demise and the ups and downs of the Chinese-American basketball player Jeremy Lin.

When it comes to the world, there will be a reference to the war on Iran that wasn’t, and the war that is ripping Syria apart. We may hear about China’s new leader, the mess in Mexico, and Hugo Chavez’s electoral victory and battle with cancer. The deaths in Gaza will be omitted.

There is unlikely to be any mention of the stories chosen by the Miami Herald’s Andreas Oppenheimer, who reminds us of a July 16 news report from Kuala Lumpur that negotiations for the completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which could become the world’s biggest and most ambitious deal of its kind, could be concluded by October 2013. What are its implications? Who stands to benefit? Who will lose? That’s not even in the news yet.

Or, “The Nov. 25 vote in Catalonia, Spain, in which about 70 percent of the people voted for parties that support a referendum for independence of the rich northern Spain region, triggering a chain reaction of secessionist moves in the 27-country European Union. Many fear that if Catalonia secedes from Spain, Corsica and the Basque region may seek independence from France, Scotland may split from Britain and Flanders and Wallonia from Belgium, among others. Economic turmoil could be followed by political chaos in Europe.”

Many of these past and impending events have been so awful that many us were almost looking forward to those Mayan prophecies of the world ending.

Those of us who hoped that President Obama’s election and reelection might usher in a little more justice and equality remain disappointed. Those of us who longed for a change we could believe in took to the streets to try to create it, only to confront the power of the police state the NYPD, FBI, et. al. Only now, with the disclosure of new documents, do we have a hint of how we were spied upon and lied to.

All of the “news” we get deals with specific stories and events, not trends and less visible forces that drive our economy and political system. We hear about issues, not interests. The newscasts lack context, background, analysis and interpretation. They are there to dumb us down, not smarten us up.

What the big banks do and don’t do is treated in terms only of discrete deals, not their role as channels of the influence for the one percent. It’s not news when regulators don’t regulate or when industries “capture” the officials meant to restrain them.

Guns in America are in the news, but not our vast armament industry that sells weapons including new drone systems, worldwide. The United States is always pictured domestically as “the homeland,” a phrase most famously used in Germany in the 1930s and in white-supremacist South Africa decades later. Americans see ourselves a nation while much of the world sees us as an empire.

As for the economy, all the talk of tax and trade policies soar over most  people’s heads as the business publication Wealth Daily reports in warning that pay cuts are coming for many Americans:

“Now that the very basic taxation and revenue proposals are converging in the fiscal cliff talks, politicians are fielding some entitlement program revisions. The changes are seemingly minute. On paper, we’re just going to have an even exchange between obscure equations that are basically similar.

“But that’s the whole point: If the general public can’t understand it, they don’t pay attention to it. If they don’t pay attention to it, they won’t punish politicians for it.”

The odds are that that the Libor conspiracy that manipulated trillions will be overlooked. Too hard to explain in ten seconds!

Increasingly, the most important underlying issues are found in the movies, in fiction, not “faction,” and certainly not on TV News.

In theaters now, we have a choice between two views of the impact of slavery in America: Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and Tarrantino’s “Django Unchained.” One focuses on corrupting the Congress to outlaw slavery and the other on the brutality of slavery on the slaves. The former traces a top-down reform as a matter of Constitutional theory, the latter, shows a bottom-up armed revolt against ugly racism.

The movie version of the musical, “Les Miserables,” tells the story of a failed French revolution in song, its barricades, not its values. “Argo,” meanwhile, briefly cites the reasons for the Iranian revolution but then celebrates the role of the CIA in rescuing Americans from it while reinforcing American hostility.

The film “Zero Dark Thirty” shows how the CIA tortures far more graphically than TV News ever did, but, then, it turns a pretty CIA analyst obsessed, not with capturing bin Laden but killing him, into a hero.

The movie doesn’t have the guts to condemn state-supported death squads and torture explicitly and may even have gotten the story wrong because what is called “enhanced interrogation” was not the critical element in finding bin Laden, according to the CIA itself as well as U.S. senators and many experts. One interesting casting choice was to have the actor who played mafia boss Tony Soprano on TV portray then-CIA Director Leon Panetta.

This holiday season is not a very cheery time in America what with a political stalemate in Washington, parents mourning the deaths of young children slaughtered in their classrooms, storms savaging the Mid-West and East, and the certainty of a less than rosy future awaiting us in the next year when the only option seems to be more austerity at home, more foreign intervention in wars abroad, and talk of a new global recession.

If there is a Zeitgeist, it’s not one of optimism. This is an angry and deeply polarized country in a world that seems to be imploding.

Happy News Year.

News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at News His latest books are Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street and Blogothon. (Cosimo Books) He hosts a show on ( Comments to [email protected]

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