Stories with a sexual component have always been instant hits in the ratings, and things are only getting worse. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, last week, media coverage of Congressman Anthony Weiner and his pornographic tweets filled 17 percent of the "news hole" (space and time devoted by the media). The economy, by comparison, accounted for 11 percent. The Middle East also got 11 percent.
Actually, a greater percentage had something in common when you count stories on wieners of all kinds. Because a rapidly spiraling scandal involves the allegation that the embattled Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi ordered his troops to commit mass rape -- and gave them Viagra to help fortify them in this atrocity.
As we noted previously, that story has been reported widely throughout the world. As we also noted, there's scant evidence that it is true -- at least at this point. Moreover, it shows signs of being part of a larger disinformation effort of the sort that has always been part and parcel of war. (A war whose true purposes, as you can see from an earlier analysis we did, is consistently obscured.)
Despite reasons to be cautious, the media have picked up the Viagra Rape story with the sort of enthusiasm they showed for the Anthony Weiner saga.
The Weiner story at least turned out to be true. Though that doesn't mitigate how the media pandered to public voyeurism -- letting this one man's personal misdoings dominate and shut out more substantive reports, on things that actually affect us and our world.
The Libyan mass rape story is another thing entirely. As we have noted, the coverage has been characterized by recklessness and laziness. And in this case, much more is at stake than a single congressman's future.
Perhaps the Viagra Rape story will turn out to be true. But so far there is no real evidence. There is also no logic in believing that a man in Qaddafi's dire position vis a vis public opinion would order something like that. As brutal as he has been, there is no previous track record of him ordering mass rapes. And there are many reasons to be suspicious of the story.
Now comes the latest entry in the gullibility sweepstakes. From the hallowed BBC, of all places.
...Libyan charities say they are getting reports that in the west of the country, which is particularly conservative, Col Muammar Gaddafi's forces have tended to rape women and girls in front of their fathers and brothers.
"To be seen naked and violated is worse than death for them," says Hana Elgadi. "This is a region where women will not go out of the house without covering their face with a veil."
Ms Elgadi is in a group of Libyan volunteers offering medical help and HIV tests. The organisation is also offering to pay for abortions for women who have been raped in the war.
Well, Ms. Elgadi is "in a group of Libyan volunteers." But she is not a Libyan volunteer herself, nor simply helping victims. She is an expat with a mission. On her Facebook profile, she lists herself as "Hana FreeLibya Elgadi". She lives in London, and is an investment banker. Without in any way questioning Ms. Elgadi's intentions, the fact remains that she is a declared partisan of the forces seeking to overthrow Qaddafi, not an impartial or expert eyewitness.
More from the BBC piece:
"Time is against us," says Nader Elhamessi from the Libyan aid agency, World for Libya
"For the moment pregnancies can be disguised, but not for much longer. Many fathers will kill their own daughters if they find out they have been raped."