Interesting date, March 3, 2006: 03+03 = 06. See why I never had dates in college?
The state of the news business in the US is a matter of some importance. I want to share with you the gist of a conversation I had with a booker for one of the cable nets on Tuesday afternoon.
Remember, the people who book guests on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox have to fill something on the order of 16 hours per day – in three and a half minute blocks, with two people per block.
So, I’m sitting in my office and I get a call from a booker wanting to know if I would be available that afternoon (I was – other than being actually on the operating table having my cardiac arteries bypassed again I am always available) and would I be able to talk about the current situation in Iraq (I could).
The question which was going to be debated was whether the Western press is, in effect, inciting Iraqis to wage a civil war by claiming Iraq is on the verge of a civil war.
I said that, as I had have some experience with the Iraq situation, I was very well qualified to engaged in this discussion and laid out my theory.
1. This business of whether covering an event either changes or, in fact, creates the event has been around for a long time. During the riots of the 60’s in the US – when no one suggested we were about to collapse into a civil war – the discussion was: If there were no TV cameras, would the riots even happen?
As there were TV cameras (film cameras, for the most part, in those days) we could never test the theory.
2. Non-Western media on the ground – including Al Jazzeera – were much less likely to give us the “on-the-brink-of-civil-war” construct. This, from an on-the-ground observer:
Western press kept saying we were on the edge [of civil war], and made it out like it was going to happen at any time while the pan-Arab/Iraqi media were focusing more on statements from clerics and leaders.
Pan-Arab outlets were putting the blame on the US, but not going on and on about civil war, while the Iraqi channels were talking about unity, etc.
3. The situation, although not calm, has stabilized a great deal and the Iraqis pretty much did it themselves. This, as opposed to the US moving in entire brigades, to do the job.
4. The news business at the front end of the 21st century, is built on a foundation of hyperbole: A swan drops dead in France and it is further evidence of the BIRD FLU PANDEMIC!
5. A piece about upgraded water systems, or increasing electricity supplies is not going to get a reporter on the front page of the NY Times nor at the top of the hour on CNN or Fox. About the second time a reporter brings in a story about the improving test scores of school children, or the re-emergence of the Iraqi middle class, he is going to be packed off to run the bureau in downtown Norway.
The booker said, “That’s just what Marvin Kalb [who is certainly no fan of this Administration] said.” To which I replied, “Then it must be true.”
She said she needed someone who disagreed, so that the debate would be “more black and white.”
“There is no black and white on this,” I said. “I gave you the right answer.”
She thanked me and hung up.
I’m going to see if I can get Marvin and me booked on a cable network in Norway.
On a the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A short bio of Marvin Kalb; a GREAT Mullfoto; and a Catchy Caption of the Day which will make you throw your slide rule against the wall.