Media Follies (march 29, 2001)
Blue Dog Press

By Michael I. Niman


Cheney’s Health vs. Your Health


Two weeks ago the U.S. Congress voted to rescind the nation’s new Ergonomic Protection Standard – an OSHA rule designed to protect U.S. workers from repetitive stress injuries, which was developed after a decade of studies and deliberation.  The TV networks, however, devoted over six times as much reporting time to Dick Cheney’s cardiac “event,” than to the issue of repetitive motion injuries and congress’ rescinding of the ergonomic safety standards.   During the same week, CBS spent 23 minutes of national “news” time reporting on their new “Survivor II” game show series.


The biggest story of the week, according to the Tyndall Report, an independent monitoring agency that measures network TV news coverage, was the Santana High School shootings.  Cheney’s health came in second with a now familiar mixed bag of school violence stories coming in a close third.  Not counted in the Tyndall Report are the countless precious minutes of local newscasts also consumed by a litany of silly fear mongering “could it happen here in Western New York” type school violence stories.


While we were distracted, congress not only scrapped the ergonomic safety rules, but also passed the core legislation for Bush II’s tax cut for the wealthy, and passed a new bankruptcy code authored by credit card industry lobbyists, with MBNA Bank, the largest corporate contributor to the Bush campaign, reaping among the greatest benefits.  And the little Bushman himself took the stage and reversed his campaign promise to cut carbon dioxide emissions.


The bottom line is, if you want news, turn the damn TV off. Take your $20 George W tax cut, chip in with a friend, and buy yourself a subscription to The Nation ( or In These Times.


Florida I


More news from the presidential election that just won’t go away: According to The Palm Beach Post, who just completed a recount of undervotes, Gore won Florida.  The current consensus among media agencies participating in the recount is that Gore won, depending on what method and standards you use to count or not count those pesky dimpled chads and their ilk, with a plurality of anywhere from 3 times to 100 times W’s Katherine Harris certified lead of 537 odd votes.  Ironically, it now looks as if Gore might not have won based on his requested six county count of under votes (you might have heard early media reports that he lost the Miami Dade undervote count)  – his victory is emerging from a statewide count of under and over votes.  This new info raises additional questions about the Democrats’ botched recount strategy.  In all, this is the grand finale to the story of the century.  Where are the TV cameras now?  Even the newspapers involved in the count are afraid to ruffle feathers by calling it what it is – a recount.  They prefer the sanitized phrase, “building of a database.”


Florida II


Guess what?  Florida is out of water.  No surprise here.  People started flocking there generations ago, not for the rain, but for the sun.  As Buffalo’s winter drags on, local meteorologists and their quack counterparts have been exalting the sunshine state’s beautiful weather.  Well, of course there is a downside to all that golden sunshine.


The downside is drought, the drying up of the Everglades, wildfires in what used to be swamp land, lowering water tables, disappearing aquifers and sinkholes, to name just a few of the current problems facing Florida.   Blame it on the riotous congressional aides who might have taken a wee bit too many showers after flocking to Florida in the aftermath of the election.  Or maybe it’s the wrath of god – judgment day for their electoral shenanigans.


But seriously.  We know what this is all about.  It’s simple:  Over development.  For over thirty years environmentalists have warned us that this day would come.  Deforestation has crippled Florida’s natural rain machine while thirsty subdivisions sucked its aquifers dry.  This is more than an innocent drought cycle.  This is an environmental catastrophe that’s been generations in the making.


None of this, however, is apparent to readers of The Buffalo News’ front page Sunday (3/18) AP story,  “Florida: so dry it hurts.”  They do a good job describing the devastation but they’re mum on the causes, going as far as to run the story under the heading “weather,” instead of “environment.”  So let’s get this one thing straight:  in these days of global warming, aquifer depletion and over development, weather as we know it, is no longer a simple random act of god.  The story continues with a jump under the subhead, “Lawns are suffering.”  Damn.  They just don’t get it.


Whose Taliban?  Our Taliban.


News stories should not start out with a headline describing a government as a “regime” or subhead describing the subjects of the story as “zealots”.  Pejoratives should be reserved for opinion pages (such as this one).  This rule holds true even when writing about the Taliban of Afghanistan, as The Buffalo News (AP) did on March 18th. 


Loaded headlines aside, the story goes on to describe the litany of human rights violations the Taliban are guilty of, and focuses on how the Islamic world has condemned the Taliban, who control over 75% of Afghanistan.  In this area, the reporting is solid.  It falls apart, however, with the line, “The Taliban emerged in 1994, promising peace…” But where did they emerge from?  The Taliban did not just happen.  They emerged from the Cold War era U.S. trained, armed and funded Afghani anti-communist Mujahidin movement.  The U.S. bears a good deal of responsibility both for the military triumph of the Taliban and for the litany of atrocities they are responsible for.  Reporters writing about Afghanistan should know this history.  Readers deserve to know this history.  It’s central to understanding the issue – without it the story is suspiciously incomplete.