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Friday, August 25, 2006

Just Say No to JonBenet

Last week, guess which story topped the national evening news on ABC, CBS, and NBC? JonBenet Ramsey. Who was the big guest on Nightline and the Today Show? JonBenet Ramsey’s father. What story made front-pages of America’s newspapers, including The New York Times? You got it.

It wasn’t the war in Iraq or the tenuous truce in Lebanon, or even 10 million kids here at home who lack health insurance. It was JonBenet.

Contact the News Anchors at ABC, CBS, and NBC, and tell them we’ve had enough JonBenet by signing this petition.


Featured Comment by fizzy: You know why Lebanon isn't bigger news? It's a rerun. So is Africa, and Republican vs. Democrat, and Arabs we don't like, and young African-American men killing each other at civil-war rates. And they're like The X-Files: at one point we cared how the story was going to turn out, but they just kept making up more outrageous stuff just to keep the series on TV. We like conclusions. These stories don't show any sign of ever having one.

And JonBenet is fascinating stuff: the whole bizarre universe of the child beauty pageant. The Svengali parents creating the mini-me-but-better. The hyper-OCD mom, too tightly wound to have a real child. The evidence that seems too obviously fake to really be fake. The apparent bungling by the police that any mystery-novel reader could point out. The curiously dispassionate response by Dad when the suspect was captured. The very fact that a rich white girl was murdered (which, even ten years later, still would be front-page news in any big city in America). America thinks that no one is looking out for that little girl, from her parents to the police. We want to see how the JonBenet Show ends up.


Blogger Olaf Ulrich said...

Who the heck is JonBenet?

12:56 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"Who the heck is JonBenet?"

A 6-year-old girl who was murdered in her home in Colorado 10 years ago or so. She was very pretty and a child "pageant" contestant, and the case has been constantly in the news over the years--one of those very sensationalistic soft-news celebrity-style hysterias that take on a life of their own. A child molester has recently "confessed" to the crime, and the press is treating it like the capture of bin Laden and the revelation of the identity of Jack the Ripper rolled into one. It's complete pap, nothing but a distraction from actual news.

We have a very serious problem with the news in the U.S. All the major news outlets are now owned by giant corporations, which are quietly larding the news with propaganda and "distractions" and causing serious stories and follow-ups to be under-reported or buried. Just the other day, for instance, the FCC was finally forced to investigate "fakes news"--news stories passed off as objective journalistic reporting by television stations that was actually sourced from government and corporate propaganda.

It was simply not reported in the mainstream media. Another story that I've been following is the case of three supposed "terrorists" arrested with thousands of cell phones who were supposedly plotting to blow up a major bridge. The real story is quite different, but, by "indirection"--overreporting the initial rumors and then failing to follow up with the truth--the media has managed to make it seem like a bondafide terrorist event, and so it remains in most news watchers' minds (insofar as they are aware of it at all).

I'm not sure what the biggest problem facing the U.S. actually is, but corporate control of the media certainly makes my top five.


1:28 PM  
Blogger Robert Roaldi said...

I grew up and live in Canada. U.S. mythology was always presented to me, in popular culture at least, as individualistic. As one of its traits, this manifested itself in free market competition. There even used to be anti-trust laws, if I recall, to insure competition. Checks and balances were in place. Now, near-monopoly corporations run everything. What went wrong? Who was asleep at the wheel?

1:56 PM  
Blogger chantal stone said...

Thanks for this Mike....
It's about time the new media take notice, and realize that there are REAL stories out there that people NEED to hear, as opposed to the fluff they'd rather hear.

3:33 PM  
Blogger jim witkowski said...

While you're at it, can you do something about Paris Hilton? Among the people I know, no one has ever expressed an interest in what she says or does. Even the media makes fun of her antics, but somewhere in the paper, on the news Web sites, and in the broadcast media, she pops up almost daily. For a supposedly stupid person, much like Thomas Kinkade, she is a master of self marketing.
There is far more interesting people and things to waste my time on.

3:58 PM  
Blogger UncloudedBeing said...

The media is entertainment. It provides no real content. Well, not since the news departments were forced into generating revenue for their already rich overlords.

Just turn off the TV and leave it off.

Or move to Canada, France, or Italy. :)

5:36 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Thanks for this, Mike. Viewing this JonBenet thing from across the Atlantic, my needle wavers between 'mildly nauseating', 'silly', and 'totally irresponsible'. We've seen this story briefly flash across the broadcast news, bracketed by 'this is what the Americans are riveted by', and that seemed reasonable. the fact that Americans are riveted by the story is certainly informative.

We do complain about news coverage here, partly for the same reasons you complain about it there, and partly because even the struggles of the BBC to be disinterested avail little against the icons of the age: Israel besieged, paedophiles on the loose, Muslim fanaticism.

Here's some news from the UK I want to share with you in this dyspeptic mood: mainline news carried the revelation that 30% of people in the UK believe in creationism. This has a 'put that in your pipe and smoke it' character for many of us. Or better---as my father-in-law commented as Sampras laid down a particularly fierce serve at Wimbledon---'pick the bones out of that one.

But wait a minute. I don't actually think that 30% of Brits are creationists. Many fewer than that ever go to church. It's more like 30% of people can't actually think of anything more complicated or convincing than creationism on the spur of the moment. A testimonial to ignorance, perhaps, or lack of curiosity, rather than to conviction.

So in that vein, I suppose that the JonBenet thing is less deleterious in itself (though my needle has settled down on 'prurient' (='itchy') by this point in my comment) than just business as usual, infotainment, might just as well crack a beer and play solitaire.

So back to your point: there is a lot of other news that deserves attention. Compare, for example, deaths on the highway with deaths from homemade bombs.

Do you think it would help if I, an economic migrant from the States, were to sign the petition?

5:47 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

We live in a capitalist society and signing petitions does nothing - we have to play by capitalist rules and that means do not watch when the news runs stories on Jon Benet.

They run the story because it gets ratings.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Robert Roaldi said...

Matthew wrote, "They run the story because it gets ratings."

I know. Sad, isn't it? That isn't what news and public affairs is about.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Single stories about psychos and/or little girls take up most of the world's communication space, and these are the stories that are really irrelevant. While congress passing a simple law might not sound half as concerning but has a far greater negative impact on us all (this happens worldwide, I'm not talking about USA).
And let's not get started about really important stuff exploited for sensationalism.
Media has long ago outgrown it's true relevance, I'm affraid.

11:23 PM  
Blogger John Roberts said...

The major TV networks and newspapers are driven by the twin forces of profit, and their chosen political agenda. That meant death for true journalism decades ago. If you depend on these sources for your news, you get what you deserve. Thankfully, there are other sources available for worthwhile and reliable news information.

Although I really don't care what ABC or The New York Times chooses for their lead story, I signed the petition anyway.

6:31 AM  
Blogger robert e said...

In case anyone still had doubts, certain TV "news" operations that week revealed, to varying degrees, sensibilities of lurid supermarket tabloids. Much of the coverage was more escapist reality TV than news--like an interminable episode of COPS--certainly not journalism. These operations sold some of what reputation they had left for a ratings spike.

I was as outraged as anyone at the abuse of medium, but I also think that as a result the public has a better idea of what comes out of where, and that at least is a good thing. And so the transformation continues.

1:49 PM  

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