Thursday, September 22, 2005

What Is News?

Molly Ivins has, as usual, an excellent new column, this time on the ten most important topics not covered very well in the American media. She says:

I have long been persuaded that the news media collectively will be sent to hell not for our sins of commission, but our sins of omission. The real scandal in the media is not bias, it is laziness. Laziness and bad news judgment. Our failure is what we miss, what we fail to cover, what we let slip by, what we don't give enough attention to - because, after all, we have to cover Jennifer and Brad, and Scott and Laci, and Whosit who disappeared in Aruba without whom the world can scarce carry on.

The number one not-covered item is how the Bush administration moves to eliminate open government. Molly points out that this item has been hard to cover because the process has been in little drips and drops and at no one point in time has there been a clear major step towards an authoritarian government. But the results are all there for any journalist to see:

Gene Robertson, a great news editor, says we tend to miss the stories that seep and creep, the ones whose effects are cumulative, not abrupt. This administration has drastically changed the rules on Freedom of Information Act requests; has changed laws that restrict public access to federal records, mostly by expanding the national security classification; operates in secret under the Patriot Act; and consistently refuses to provide information to Congress and the Government Accountability Office. The cumulative total effect is horrifying.

The whole list is worth reading.

Another way of looking at the question in my title is by following foreign news sources. There are days when I think that the British, for example, live in a different world from the one we inhabit here; so different are the news that are discussed and the slant the discussion takes. If you can access news from several other countries you start getting a better understanding of what is omitted in any one of them, including the U.S..