What did the news media get wrong or miss in the year that is ending? We focus on the big stuff.
Recently, we promised you a list of the stories the media missed. After inviting suggestions from our readers, and giving this some good, hard thought, we’ve come to this conclusion:
It’s not so much a challenge to identify important stories the media missed. They are to be found everywhere. What’s hard is to find transformative or substantial stories the media actually got right—really right, by being bold and going wide and deep.
Truth be told, the media misses most of the real stories—or at least the stories behind the facile, thin inquiries that prop up wobbly headlines.
In any case, here are five prime examples of things that could and should have been widely shared with the public—but weren’t. Keep in mind that these are just a few examples from untold possibilities. They’re also hints at the stories we intend to pursue ourselves.
Presidential Elections: The Conventional Script…is Baloney:
Every presidential election, the media tries to foist a tale of two individuals battling passionately over values and ideas. It’s almost a given that these candidates rose to our attention in an “every child can grow up to be president” America.
There’s scarcely any acknowledgment that, long before we ever hear of these people, our “choices” have already been carefully picked over by special interests hoping to secure their continuing advantages.
There’s also scarcely any acknowledgment that once someone becomes president, all the promises are off the table. Barely a mention that while campaigning is one thing, surviving a presidency is another thing entirely.
What’s Behind the Wars?
Time after time the media have sold us some story on the honorable, “humanitarian” intentions behind some war and the circumstances that led to it: from “targeted” sanctions (that end up penalizing ordinary people) to “surgically precise” bombardments (that end up causing “collateral damage,” like dead shepherds and dismembered guests at wedding parties).
Privately, most journalists would likely concede that wars are, overwhelmingly, about securing resources—and for the benefit of the party launching the war, not some suffering people in the distant land.
The media’s inability to level with the public is nothing new, but its seemingly inexhaustible ability to forgive and forget past lies—and to promote new ones—is something to behold.
This is no doubt why a sizable percent of the population still believes Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11.
And why the public didn’t listen when—before the war in Iraq—UN inspectors and other knowledgeable people were saying the country did not have WMD.
And why, after the war, people like Karen Hughes could assert without fear of contradiction, that “everybody in the world thought Iraq had WMD.”
It’s just easier to report what powerful people are saying…and then when they turn out to be wrong, urge everyone to “move on.”
Climate Change: Where’s the rest of the story?
Unless 99 percent plus of the world’s scientists are smoking the strong stuff, our planet is on a collision course with devastating change. Even those who don’t buy the entire analysis must admit that this would be an issue we’d get wrong at our peril.
How bad, exactly, is the situation, what are the root causes, what is being done about it, and how effective are those measures? Seems kinda-sorta an important story, worth covering day in, day out, like the stuff the media is so good at—like which sports star was penalized and which movie star rehabbed.
But the environment is so…boring, media bosses warn. Global disaster unfortunately lacks “zing.”
The Growing “National Security” State: Is it in Our Interests?
If you haven’t noticed, the population of this country is gradually being locked down or locked up or looked at or patted down one way or another. Whether we’re being monitored, prosecuted, surveilled or tracked (and whether by government or the business world), we’re told this is actually done in our interests. More safety, more consumer opportunities, and so on.
The proven benefits of giving up so much privacy and freedom have been minimal. And, as anyone who has lived in an authoritarian society will tell you, this is not stuff to trifle with. Yet coverage of this meta-topic has been piecemeal and episodic at best. As for the literal cost of all this—well, forget it. No running tally provided by our media.
What Are Good Values?
We hear an awful lot in the media about people who become famous or who make insane amounts of money, about cool new things and ways to amuse ourselves, about shocking and bizarre antics that make us go click in the night.
But how often do we hear about doing the right thing? The few examples presented of heroism and moral rectitude are almost always those in the “standard acceptable” category—actors very publicly adopting babies from developing countries, wealthy people further burnishing their brands by giving some of their disposable billions for non-controversial measures, etc.
Yet where is the discussion of risk-taking against the system in a meaningful way—where individuals challenge the self-centeredness and safety-seeking that defines our times? We’d love to see some celebration of these true patriots and inspirations in our midst. Although a Mandela or a Snowden sometimes attains celebrity (and even, in the former case, goes from villain to saint), most of these noteworthy figures are not, to this day, household words. And they should be.
At WhoWhatWhy, we’re committed to looking into these things—not just once, but again and again.
After all, everyone’s time on this planet is limited. Why not start with the things that actually matter? Surely nationally and globally consequential topics are worth our energies, and our attention. And yours.
We all can do better in 2014. Let’s get a move on.
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