Op-Ed: The American media seriously needs to get a grip on itself

Posted Sep 12, 2010 by Michael Cosgrove
Now that 9/11 remembrance day is over, it’s high time that both the mainstream and citizen journalist press stopped selling cheap paper and hits and started putting right the serious damage they have done to their reputation.
Sunset over the Associated Press Building
New York: Associated Press.
Photo by wwward0
I did some googling today, and here are the results. ‘Mosque 9/11 site’ – 43 million, ‘Terry Jones Koran burning’ – 38 million, ‘Obama 9/11 remembrance speech’ – 489 thousand, and ‘Afghanistan Koran protesters’ – 285 thousand.
Notwithstanding my lack of scientific exactitude when googling, and in the knowledge that not all of those entries are necessarily relevant, the difference in the numbers between the first two subjects and the last two remains nevertheless sufficiently enormous to be considered as representing a conclusive trend.
Let’s take a look at what all this hullabaloo around the first two subjects was all about. In Pastor Terry Jones’ case, we had a hitherto insignificant self-styled pastor with almost no formal religious credentials and a minuscule following in an otherwise peaceful small-to-mid-sized American city who posted a college-kid style flaming comment on Facebook about burning copies of the Koran. It could, and should, have remained totally buried in the mountainous pile of similarly festering garbage posted on that site. But it didn’t.
It went viral on the site, and then the press made the monumental and irresponsible mistake of picking it up and actually reproducing its content, that which thrust it down the throats of the whole of the American public in hours despite its total banality. Jones was subsequently courted and then hounded by the sensationalist American press, TV and cable media as if he had done something exceptional.
Those articles in their turn ended up being reproduced on citizen journalist sites. Those sites, again mostly based in America or read regularly by Americans, further added to his sorry notoriety by relaying every single move he made and publishing even more inflammatory opinion. Then, as if disappointed by Jones' climbdown, they ended up having to content themselves with publishing the tawdry crumbs left by some brainless idiot who burned a few pages from the Koran yesterday.
The proposed creation of a mosque on the 9/11 site had the same effect, although it is of course a viable news story, unlike the Jones story, which was a totally fabricated issue. But despite the fact that a majority of Americans are opposed to the idea, it too was blown out of all proportion by the constant barrage of mainstream media and citizen journalist coverage, including –yet again – a liberal dose of headline-grabbing opinion.
The result of this irresponsible and almost flame-style journalism, or maybe I should have typed “journalism,” is that it has created a totally fabricated debate on the mosque which has encouraged and resulted in the needless division and ill-feeling that exists today. Damaging pro and anti Muslim spats are going on everywhere on both the Internet and in American society at large and the only people who can possibly benefit from all this rubbish are those unprincipled politicians who have proved themselves to be eagerly capable of stooping just as low as the level of the debate itself in order to glean votes from it.
Things are even more serious in Jones’ case. Not only does the whole of the above paragraph apply to him, but the American press has largely contributed to the wave of violently anti-American feeling all over the Muslim world and the scorn of the rest of the Western world for the American media’s gutter-press standards.
Those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan must be furious about this because they are the ones who risk the most from any retaliation engendered by it. And incidentally, where is the American right, normally so prompt to criticize anything published in the press which may put “our boys” at needless risk?
All over the world, military planners, government leaders (France has just upped its terror alert level as a result of this crass negligence), terrorist organizations and prominent church leaders in many countries have all had to deal with the fallout from America’s media meltdown. The European press, much more restrained in its coverage, can’t find enough scathing rhetoric to pour over all this shoddy journalism.
The irony of all this is, of course, that most ordinary citizens, including those with anti-Muslim feelings, would not have wanted this surge in anti-Americanism to occur, but it has.
The fault for this debacle lies squarely upon the shoulders of the American press and citizen journalism, which have deliberately milked this story for every hit and dollar they can get, throwing all their standards out the window in the process. Instead of giving these incidents the much more limited, measured, thoughtful and less inflammatory coverage they should have, they went recklessly overboard.
They should reconsider the way they present news and why.
I could also have commented the deaths of the people in Afghanistan who were killed as a direct result of this. I could have commented the relative absence of articles on Obama’s speech too.
But why should I bother? After all, those subjects don't sell.