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Fred's Views

Ho Hum

During the First World War, most news came days or even weeks after the event and was available almost exclusively through newspapers. There is something to be said about print. It forces you to think, at least a little, about what you are saying - and it provides you with some opportunity to revise before committing your "copy" to the presses.

In the Second World War, news came much more quickly and was propagated by both newspapers and the radio. Graphic depiction of the carnage was provided not only in the newspapers and magazines, but also on movie newsreels. But here too, except for radio, there was some time for reflection and editing.

By the time of the Vietnam war, news reports reached our living rooms through the evening news on TV. Our evening meals were disrupted with graphic representations of unbelievable horrors and atrocities that had taken place only hours earlier. TV news played some part in the growing antagonism to this largely futile conflict.

With the Gulf War, we got regular updates on the situation, although the media's coverage of the campaign was somewhat controlled by the military. I remember seeing a lot of information about that war, but I don't recall to what extent it dominated the air waves.

Now, however, it's hard to find anything but coverage of the war on the TV. Sure, many cable stations (obviously not CNN) are going about their regular broadcasts, most of the time, but the major networks have thrown their schedules into the proverbial cocked hat (which isn't exactly earth-shattering since they have recently taken up the habit of throwing programs all over their schedules as if on pure whim, anyway). I admit to watching quite a bit of the news on the war, particularly in those heady first days of the conflict.

But, for me, the excitement quickly faded. It seems the networks are bent on turning the war coverage into the ultimate "reality" show which, like all the previews of "reality" shows I have been unfortunate enough to view, gets very boring, very quickly. I have always aspired to the axiom that goes something like this: "If you've got something to say, say it and shut up. If you haven't got anything to say, don't say it." As frustrating as it can be, there is only so much news about the war. Tanks can only move so fast. Troops have to stop and get some sleep, some time. Planes have to be refueled and re armed. In short, 24 hour coverage means about 1 hour's worth of real news and 23 hours of repetition and drivel.

I know one of the problems is the necessity of keeping some information secret for military purposes - and I have no problem with that. Still, if you are going to display a map, display a map with some useful information on it - or don't bother. With all the coverage, I have never had a clear idea of what advances the coalition forces have made. But on the other hand, I have heard the same reports over and over again. I am drowning in a sea of minutiae with no clear idea of the "big picture". I can't see the forest for the trees.

Now every single soldier's life is important. But I have never subscribed to the notion that I have to share in an individual's pain. I know, that if I were unfortunate enough to suffer a personal loss, the last thing I would want is to have some moron sticking a microphone in my face and asking me how I'm feeling. But this is what "modern" news reporting has degenerated into. I feel for everyone's loss, but I think they should have the right to grieve in private. On a more objective (but somewhat callous) view: have you ever, ever heard anyone interviewed after a great personal loss or, for that matter, personal triumph, who has said anything significant; anything that somehow made the situation better? I certainly haven't. Violating a person's privacy in search of a few seconds' worth of a "sound bite" that adds nothing to the story is a travesty.

It is somewhat remarkable to get live reports from correspondents traveling with military forces; but how much significant news do they report? It is true that they brings us a better sense of the "flavor", if you will, of modern warfare - but real hard news? Not all that much. The networks are treading a fine line between providing the news as completely as possible to anyone whenever anyone wants it and over kill. The saying is "Familiarity breeds contempt" ("Contempt" here doesn't really mean loathing or hatred; it means disinterest, or perhaps, better, insensitivity.) The more we are exposed to anything, the more insensitive we tend to become. In some fields, such as police work, emergency services, or the military, some level of insensitivity is inevitable; it is necessary to preserve one's sanity. Yet, if one becomes completely insensitized to the plights of others, one can not do one's job effectively or humanely. So, too, if we, the people, become insensitized, through media over kill, we will withdraw ourselves from the war. It will become dehumanized. It will lose its meaning. We will be less able to effectively and humanely deal with the issue at hand.

I started out with the idea that the war coverage was becoming boring. Perhaps boring wasn't the right word. Perhaps I am already becoming insensitized. That would be a shame.

Copyright © 2003 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.

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