Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My space debate: Talk radio birth redux

The Democratic candidates debate, in which My Space users asked questions, was a redux for me. I had the same reaction decades ago when I first heard Rush and his ilk: what guts to ask those questions. Talk radio impressed me more. It was a real breakthrough because it came when news media power was nearing absolute. UPI had one foot and more in the grave and our nation was nearing a news monopoly, where it is today when it comes to gathering and distributing news. Comment is another matter. Thank the net for that. With that nod to technology made, it was still obvious that the major news media sets the agenda, even though it is more difficult to limit it. We saw two women ask if they could be married (Can the president change that situation?). No one asked what reporters should have asked when the mayor of San Francisco married same sex couples: Does "marriage equality" mean an end to anti-polygamy laws? On Iraq: because of our military limitations (no draft because we don't believe in ourselves anymore. '01 wasn't '41) can the present situation be seen as positive for American interests?
Overall, there was a certain "look-at-me" quality about those who finally got through the screeners. At least no one asked, as that girl did of President Clinton, what kind of underwear they wore. Now that I think of it, I wonder if Hilliary wears granny pants?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

How do you spell Tet in Arabic?

Will be interesting to see how the media handles the latest outrage in Iraq, the suicide bombing of 100 people that U.S. General David Petraeus said may have been an attempt to "grab" headlines and create a "mini-Tet." The coverage of the Tet offensive in Vietnam remains one of that war's more controversial chapters. The AP gave America a history lesson in its dispatch about Saturday's death toll when it said the general referred "to the 1968 offensive that undermined public support for the Vietnam War in the United States." You bet it did. It also "undermined" support for the news media. If truth is the first casualty of war, will newspapers and network TV news be the last casualty of the Vietnam War?
Critics shouldn't be too hard on the reporters who covered the Vietnam War in the field, guys like Joe Galloway of UPI. Covering a war must be the ultimate challenge for a journalist. The editors in the safe havens of time are a different matter. They let too many unquestioned assumptions stand. Westmoreland certainly asked for it by insisting in the pre-Tet days that the war was going in favor of the allies. His intelligence was faulty. Sound familiar? Why, however, does the media allow its own intelligence to go unquestioned? Today we have heard WMDs repeated so often we forget the invasion was called "Operation Iraqi Freedom," not "Find the Damn WMDs." I find it fascinating that when it refers to the war's rationale the media never uses the words conained in the "eve of battle" statement issued to our troops prior to the invasion, which barely mentions WMDs, and then only in past tense.
I doubt the Internet would let the news media get away with what it did in 1968 when it allowed the fighting to become a major American defeat, instead of a draining of Viet Cong powers. Or that the people failed to raise up, or that the ARVN, in a real surprise, fought well. No, what was burned in our minds was the siege at the Embassy, the words of the aging Walter Cronkite who gave his imprimatur to a stalemate, and the street execution of a Communist insurgent. I doubt few people recall much about these incidents other than the pictures. If there is a lesson here, it is that print surrendered the journalistic high ground to photos. The pen was no longer a reporters best tool. Today, even less so.
Saddest of all was the reporting of the Communist massacre at Hue during Tet. Not that it wasn't reported initially. But years later the public recalls only one massacre - My Lai.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Thanks to media, Title IX was a "stealth law"

Much hoopla over the 35th anniversary of Title IX. A 35th anniversary? Usually we get hyped over a 25th or 50th. The media must be making up for lost time because it was truly a quiet lapdog when the legislation made its way through Congress. Title IX is one of the best examples of a "stealth law," something that becomes law without you knowing it. In "Faces of Feminism," Sheila Tobias notes that there was little opposition to Title IX when it was debated in Congress. Nevertheless, she writes that "Rep. Edith Green (D-Ore.) "discouraged feminists from lobbying too publicly for the bill, lest attention be drawn to its wide-reaching powers. She was right to do so."
Today those "powers" are of concern to backers of men's sports that have been dropped at some schools, but when Green put the lid on many people thought Title IX meant women could not be barred from a team. After all, the newspapers carried many stories about girls who were good enough to play on boys teams or how a girl was discriminated against when she was barred from a boys team. There were occasional stories about boys being kept off a girls volleyball team or something, but they received little coverage and cries of "boys will take over" were accepted without much comment.
Now it is taken for granted that equality of money is the main issue. However, I find it odd that "separate but equal" is never used in stories about Title IX. I wonder if Green would get away with her tactic in today's Internet world. The MSM can set the agenda, but it can no longer limit it.