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A couple of weeks ago, I was up late at night reading and sort of listening to/watching the news in the background, as I often do, and because I live in Canada, the channel I was watching was a Canadian 24-hour news channel.

And one of the big stories that night was about the release of the Council of Europe's report confirming that the US has used extraordinary rendition to transfer prisoners captured Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries to secret prison camps in Europe, including in Romania and Poland, where they were held and tortured. The World Socialist Web Site quotes the report as follows:
“What was previously just a set of allegations is now proven,” the report began. Providing a portrait of lawlessness on an international scale, it noted, “Large numbers of people have been abducted from various locations across the world and transferred to countries where they have been persecuted and where it is known that torture is common practice. Others have been held in arbitrary detention, without any precise charges leveled against them and without any judicial oversight—denied the possibility of defending themselves. Still others have simply disappeared for indefinite periods and have been held in secret prisons, including in member states of the Council of Europe, the existence and operations of which have been concealed ever since.”
Now you might think that what I'm about to rant about would be the secret prisons, but I'm not. I've already done that elsewhere.

No, I'm going to talk about what I saw when, just out of curiosity, I turned the channel to look at the seven or eight other 24-hour news channels I get via my superduper cable package. Now surprisingly, the European channels including the Beeb, were giving appropriate coverage to the report. Even though, because it was about three in the morning when I was doing this, it was already, quite literally, yesterday's news on that side of the Atlantic.

But what do you think I found on all but one of the US 24-hour news channels?

If you guessed Paris Hilton and her emotional, medical, personal and legal woes, you are 100 percent correct. (Incidentally, I forget what the other US "news" channel was covering, but it wasn't news, not even American news.)

Just to be fair, I switched back a couple of times during the night, looking for anything - even a crawl at the bottom of the screen - that suggested this story was getting any significant degree of coverage.

Didn't find a thing. The whole night long, there was nothing on the US news but Paris Hilton and a few other pseudo-news stories about celebrities, sensationalised crimes, or both.

Interestingly enough, a few days later, [livejournal.com profile] glaurung_quena pointed me here to Making Light, the blog of Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and a comment made there by PNH about Paris Hilton as news distraction. And that blog (going, oddly, full circle) refers to an article here at the World Socialist Web Site about "why Paris Hilton."

Now, I really do wonder, why Paris Hilton? Or any of the rest of what all too often seems to pass a journalism, particularly on the US media that I can access on cable (which also includes all the main US broadcast networks and their newsmagazines, plus local news from the actual affiliate stations I'm getting the network news on).

I'm not saying that Canadian news, or what little international news based in Europe that I can access, doesn't have its share of sensationalism, puffery, silliness, and plain crap. But I do not believe I'm being biased when I say that there's less of it. And that the slant is different - for instance, many of the Canadian news stories I've seen about Paris Hilton were framed as stories about the nature of the coverage that the story was receiving, so that there was at least some attempt at social commentary in among the pointless tripe. But it does seem to me that, at least via the medium of television, the American people are not getting nearly as much news content as seems to be available through Canadian and European television.

And I do wonder why. It surely doesn't have anything to do with comprehension - I'm quite convinced that the average American is just as capable of understanding a nuanced geopolitical assessment of a news event as anyone else on the planet. The American news media seem to be saying that this kind of "infotainment," however, is what Americans want, because this is what they will watch and hence this is what the advertisers want to pay for because this is what Americans want to watch, and I'm sure we've gotten into some kind of circular reasoning here... and I really don't know if that's true or not. But for whatever reason, there really doesn't seem to be a lot of news - or at least what I am accustomed to thinking of as news - on the US TV that I have access to.

And the fact remains, that unless I want to perform a little, totally unscientific experiment like the one I've just described, the only US news organs I know of that carry anything like the kind of news coverage, analysis and commentary that I can get all over the place in Canada are The Daily Show and The Colbert Report - and even those, I watch on Canadian channels. ;-)

Date: 2007-07-02 03:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] guyindkny.livejournal.com
I think one of the most telling indicators of the state of American news is the Cult of Lou Dobbs. The man blatantly editorialises and censors content to suit his bias, makes up facts to support his arguments, and quite openly "advocates" positions in contradiction to all pretension of journalistic ethics. And yet he's lauded and given awards left, right and centre, and has a prime-time slot on CNN. And after him, Wolf what's-his-name worries about Paris Hilton and Brangelina, while Nancy Grace whips the nation into a state of paranoid frenzy. Welcome to American news--abandon hope all ye who channel surf here.

Date: 2007-07-02 07:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] morgan-dhu.livejournal.com
I think my favourite is Ann Coulter - although as far as I know, she doesn't actually have a "news" show of her own, but just appears on as many right-wing new/talk shows as possible.

I will never forget the time that Bob McKeown interviewed her for The Fifth Estate and she kept insisting that Canada had formally entered the Vietnam War on the side of the US, no matter how many times McKeown said, as politely as possible, "I'm sorry, but you are completely wrong on that."

What actually scares me the most is that there is no longer even a pretense of providing documentation for the assertions that are passed off as news - the whole "talking points" theory of news - which assumes that if you get everyone to say the same thing over and over again, people will believe it (a somewhat more sophisticated version of the Big Lie) - seems to be winning out.

Which bring us so close to a version of Orwell's Newspeak that I don't even want to think about it. Except, of course, that I do.

The war is going well. The chocolate ration has been raised to 12 ounces from 15. All hail Big Brother.

Date: 2007-07-02 08:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] guyindkny.livejournal.com
Talking points are the new messaging from Canada's New Governmet™. If they keep saying it often enough ("There are no mistreated Afghan prisoners," "There is no need for a public inquiry into the RCMP," "Gordon O'Connor is doing a fine job," "Implementing Kyoto will devastate our economy," et al.) then it must be true.

The chocolate rations have been doubled from four grammes to two. Doubleplusgood.

Date: 2007-07-02 09:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] morgan-dhu.livejournal.com
As far as I'm concerned, Canada's New Government (TM) can't become Canada's old government fast enough. Not that I'd actually expect all that much more in the way of actual progressive policy from the Liberals, but at least they don't make me sick while they're doing it.

Date: 2007-07-06 08:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lavendertook.livejournal.com
Oh, this is absolutely true and has been the case for years--we have no free press broadcasted on television. If I want TV news, I look for a broadcast of the BBC on the public television station. Why I don't bother much with the TV.

Date: 2007-07-09 08:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] morgan-dhu.livejournal.com
This scares me, especially with respect to the US. Because most people get their news from TV, and if the news they are getting isn't actually news...

Oh, I guess that's how Bush got re-elected. :-(

Date: 2007-07-10 05:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lavendertook.livejournal.com
Yup, that's how it works here.

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