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Letter to the NY Times: Good News, Bad News

By Richard Skidmore  Posted by Joan Brunwasser (about the submitter)     Permalink
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George W. Bush and his supporters in politics and the media are presenting the case that news outlets are focusing only on the bad, rather than the good news coming out of Iraq. This seems a desperate ploy to divert and dilute attention from the facts on the ground. It also seems to ignore what passes for news on a daily basis here at home.

Is it "left wing bias" that brings killings, abductions, car accidents, fires, and rape to our tv screens when tuned to the local "Nightly News"? That orgy of agony is repeated daily on every non-network news broadcast I've ever watched. Bad news trumps good both here and abroad, and politics has nothing to do with it.

Everyday bad news is news precisely because it is not good, because it is shocking, and because there is a fascination in that. The curiosity shown by our pace at crime and accident scenes as we walk or drive slowly-by is reflected in the ratings for such things on television. Everyday good news is not news because it is expected. The school is being built as planned, and its completion and ribbon-cutting will be noted in a photo-op and a paragraph. The other school, the one whose wall collapsed because the contractor failed to follow the building code, rates several investigative reports, outrage, and wide attention.

What we are seeing in the coverage of the war in Iraq are the facts--- not of bias, but reality. If in order to see a newly built school in Iraq, a reporter must be "embedded" in military protection to guarantee his or her safety, and on the way to the good news, must dodge the bullets and ambushes of "insurgents", "Baathists", rebel forces, "terrorists", "bad actors", and "religious extremists" to get there, then the "good" news is likely to make less of an impression on the reporter than the threat to his or her life. And if, as is sometimes the case, the reporter finds a pristine school, but no electricity, and therefore no children, how much "good" have they found in what can look like a pathetic ironic gesture?

A reason often brought forth to explain the discrepancy between Mr. Bush's rosy view of the Iraq war, and the media's realistic view, is that, as pundit Robert D. Novak recently said, "the intensity of the hatred ... toward George W. Bush by Democrats and by some of the people in the media is just so intense, and it begins to have a kind of an effect that affects people who don't hate him."

In October of 2001, after the attacks of September 11, George W. Bush's job approval rating rose to the highest ever recorded, peaking at 92 percent. Currently that rating stands at 36%--- a 56-point decline. According to the public, it is he, not the media, that is getting it wrong.
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Richard C. Skidmore barebone@gis.net
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