The “24/7 media culture” that dominates TV news today will be tested if America goes to war with Iraq, an associate editor and op-ed columnist for The New York Times said recently in Honolulu. Frank Rich said journalists may very well “march in lock-step” with the Bush administration’s view of events.
“This is a hinge moment in history but also for the news media,” Rich said in a recent talk co-sponsored by the East-West Center Media Program, the Honolulu Community Media Council and the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. “The media will be tested,” he said, adding that he was unsure how the story would be handled in a “24/7 format.”
Rich said there have been tremendous changes in the news culture since the 1991 Gulf War with the development of round-the-clock TV news coverage. Fox News, CNBC, MSNBC, CNN and Internet have changed the way news is gathered, presented and defined.
What he called today’s “mediathon” is dominated by one story at a time that is “souped up with technology” and relies on logos, theme music and instant “stars.” Rich listed the O.J. Simpson trial, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., and shark attacks as examples of “binge stories.”
The media sometimes resorts to “soap-opera” angles “with absolutely no news at all” to fill airtime when there are no news developments, Rich said, even going with stories that prove to be false.
The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 were “a wake-up call,” he said. “The media performed very well,” staying away from “rumor and innuendo.” But it’s since fallen back into “binge stories” such as child abductions.
Now coverage is focused on the “countdown” to war and has ignored other stories such as the economy, dissent against the war and conflicts with North Korea. “They’re all part of a complicated picture… It’s not just about the main story but how all the stories fit together,” Rich said. “I don’t know if that fits well with the 24/7 format.
“The Bush administration notices. It’s very clever in sticking to one line.”