Our Mass Media’s Distorted Priorities

So, I pick up The San Francisco Chronicle as I walk out the door this morning, and what do I see plastered across most of the front page? “A’s NEW ERA”. Mass coverage on the sale of the Oakland A’s baseball team to various and sundry investors.
As is my habit, I start reading the paper from the back pages (where the “real” news is) and what do I see on page A17 (second to last page)? “U.N. Study: Earth’s Health Deteriorating” … the AP article available through the SF GATE web site doesn’t have the most alarming statistic (the viability of 60% of the world’s ecosystem services are threatened), but you can see it as the lead paragraph on the latest entry on the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment web site. It appears that the print article in today’s Chron was based on this release.

Here’s the lead paragraph I’m talking about… hell, here’s the three lead paragraphs:

A landmark study released today reveals that approximately 60 percent of the ecosystem services that support life on Earth – such as fresh water, capture fisheries, air and water regulation, and the regulation of regional climate, natural hazards and pests – are being degraded or used unsustainably. Scientists warn that the harmful consequences of this degradation could grow significantly worse in the next 50 years.

“Any progress achieved in addressing the goals of poverty and hunger eradication, improved health, and environmental protection is unlikely to be sustained if most of the ecosystem services on which humanity relies continue to be degraded,” said the study, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) Synthesis Report, conducted by 1,300 experts from 95 countries. It specifically states that the ongoing degradation of ecosystem services is a road block to the Millennium Development Goals agreed to by the world leaders at the United Nations in 2000.

Although evidence remains incomplete, there is enough for the experts to warn that the ongoing degradation of 15 of the 24 ecosystem services examined is increasing the likelihood of potentially abrupt changes that will seriously affect human well-being. This includes the emergence of new diseases, sudden changes in water quality, creation of “dead zones” along the coasts, the collapse of fisheries, and shifts in regional climate.

Let’s have a vote: which is more important?
1. A change in ownership for the Oakland A’s.
2.A declaration by 1,300 scientists from 95 countries that human impacts on the planet have made “changes [that] have resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss to the biological diversity of the planet”, to quote Walter Reid, director of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.
I’m willing to be I know how most of you will answer. Why isn’t this front page news?
Is the Chronicle afraid of being seen as playing “Chicken Little”? Does it think the average reader won’t give a damn? Do they think that the average reader would be unable to understand that the Earth’s ecosystems are overstressed and some of them are on the virge of collapse? Or would it be too upsetting to the powers that be (corporate and governmental) to see the evidence of their collective malfeasance and mis-stewardship splashed across the front page?
… probably not. Setting aside the more paranoid of interpretations, it seems to me that the American newsroom has a major cultural problem – stuff like this just isn’t “news”. News is “dramatic”, fast-developing, “personalized” and personality driven… Terry Schiavo’s husk passing on is news… studies showing the 55 year old men without health insurance are 40% more likely to die than those with it are not. There’s no immediate crisis, no fast breaking story to continually update… sure, there is a “human interest” angle that might result in a feature, but it isn’t worth a headline or a series of stories from different angles. Or… could it be?
“World’s Primates On The Verge of Extinction: Defenders Call It Genocide”, “Antarctic Ice Pack Breaking Up: Shipping Threatened, Sea Levels May Rise Significantly”, “Water Tables Sinking Rapidly Across Planet, Food Harvests Threatened”‘, “Energy Demand From China Threatens To Drive Prices Through Roof”, “Asian Pollution Blocks Western State’s Progress Cleaning Up Air”… are headlines like these not attention grabbing enough?
What would happen if a major U.S. newpaper started putting ecological news like this on the front page of the paper nearly every single day… how long would they be able to keep it up? Indefinitely? (there’s certainly enough news of the sort to do this on a regular basis) … would circulation crash? (I somehow doubt it.) Would advertising disappear? (Probably not – the capitalist will sell you the rope you use to hang him.)
How much would it cost for “the left” to buy a leading newspaper in a major media market and start running headlines like this? While a pretty intensive session with Google was unable to pin down any specific numbers, it seems reasonable to assume that one could be bought for $200 million. Seems like this would be a cost-effective investment.
Or could we do this even more cheaply … by making this “news” ourselves, among the blogging community? Could we flog the story of the looming death of the planet into the mainstream media, like we’ve done with so many other stories? Or do we, ourselves, not see this as “news”, as “blog worthy”?
Hmm… it seems the verdict is split. I was about to start sobbing uncontrollably, when Daypop and Blogz produced one and zero hits respectively, when Technorati saved the day and produced 29 hits. 26 in the last 24 hours or so. Of course, a number of them are folks ranting about how the most important aspect of this is how it promotes “free markets”, but most of the others seemed to “get” the idea that this is a significant report. … maybe the blogsphere simply needs time to react? I hope so.
I guess I’m not alone in my thoughts on this… Jumping on the Bandwagon has also commented about the lack of coverage in major media about this.
Two more tidbits:
a) wonder why your newspaper seems so threadbare?
Read this article (found it while poking around for info for this one): Valuation of the newspaper publishing industry
Here’s a choice quote: “successful companies have reduced total payroll costs from 40% of revenues to 30%” (the Times-Mirror company is cited as an example)
b) totally off topic: John C. Danforth (conservative Republican former Senator from Missouri) says, ” Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians”… and that this is not a good thing.
Thomas Leavitt

6 thoughts on “Our Mass Media’s Distorted Priorities

  1. Excellent article. And I don’t know the answer. Using myself as an example, wondering how many people are reacting just like I have, the sad truth is that I don’t subscribe to any newspaper any more. At first my excuse was: people steal my copy and I’ll pick one up on my way out. After a couple of years of slowly realizing I was picking up a paper, more or less at random, because I wanted to know what was on TV that evening, and the “news” was simply filler around that all important TV listing, I stopped doing that, too. TV’s so insipid and awful I’ve stopped caring what’s on. No listing for C-SPAN anyway, and even that’s become too right-wing to watch.
    If I wanna be in a brain-dead stupor, I still turn on the TV. Like yesterday, when all the news was about those in a brain-dead stupor. There actually were a few sound bites about the ecological report, but you had to bleed the thing dry to find them. I get my news on line now. Very few ads, and it’s free.

  2. Sounds like me when I look at the LA Times in the morning. Welcome to Typepad by the way. Beats blogger anyday as far as I’m concerned.

  3. Howdy! The new site looks to me to be running well, but you might want to fiddle with how you get to the comments & the extended article a bit as it is a little confusing. Also the comment box is a bit out of kilter, at least on my screen, especially with the font enlarged.
    Anyway- I no longer get a paper either, and I suspect you’ll get a lot of responses to that effect. So I wonder how effective buying a major would be, overall. But it seems to me that there are several reasons news of this sort- and even worse (if you follow Antarctica, you’ll know that the West Antarctic Ice sheet is currently going unstable, after appearing solid only four years ago, and this sheet contains 16′ worth of sea level rise which appears likely to happen fairly rapidly)- seems only to be accessible to those who actively look for it.
    First, it is seldom immediate news- its not going to happen in a couple hours, or tomorrow, so it gets shunted to the back pages; “We’ll print it when the rising sea level floods our basement…”
    Second is denial- the papers would get a largely hostile response from a large proportion of the conservative readership, which they’d rather not receive. Remember that the rethugs (representing the large corporations) have been attacking environmental science and environmental action for 30 years as being “toxic to your job,” and this endless campaign has paid off in overt hostility on the part of lots of folk. I’ve tried many times to bring up this sort of information to various people, and almost across the board they don’t want to hear that their personal long-term plans aren’t going to work out, or need to be changed. They’d prefer to hope that some miracle of technology will save the day, so they won’t have to change anything themselves.
    Keep in mind also that there are very few independent papers left; most have been gobbled up by fascistoid megacorps. The people appointed to run the papers are not going to keep their jobs by exposing the bosses’ other business ventures to public pressure.
    Third is “don’t rock the boat;” If your newspaper depends on advertising income from stable businesses, you aren’t going to want to print much that tends to cause readers to change their buying habits, because your revenue will dry up. And the dire enviro news of late *should* cause folk to change what they do, and what they plan to do (buy) in the future.
    Yet- this news NEEDS to be presented, up front and over and over again. Right now I just don’t see how that can be accomplished. Even in the lefty blogosphere it is normal to find a lot of resistance to presenting this material as a whole- not just isolated local issues most people can ignore. One could, say, do a regular diary on Kos, but would it be promoted often enough to get the regular attention the issue demands? Probably not.
    How do you advocate for Social Security stability in 2080, using financial projections based on the current situation, when at the same time you are acknowledging that by 2050 the costs of global warming will have most likey bankrupted the western world (rendering those projections meaningless)? How do you advocate about THAT when it now appears we will be hitting Peak Oil in the next couple years, when US natural gas is already in steep decline, and thereby vastly increasing the price of any environmental mitigation projects one might like to undertake?
    What it comes down to is, how do you wrench a huge, complex culture (spread over 200 nations, a few thousand languages, and who knows how many contradictory religions) with enormous vested interests, from its current course (blindly headed for self-destruction) onto an *entirely* new course- and do it in about a decade? That, I can’t tell you.

  4. I have a possible solution to the slop we are getting that is called news. Stop buying the newspapers! When they get hit in their profits then they will take notice. As a capitalistic society, business runs on profit and comes to a screeching halt without it. Big business owns the newspapers, radio and TV news media and without some kind of good (money) reason, they will not stop supporting the consertive administration by omiting any news that might make the administration look like the liars that they are. But….if their profits are attacked by a giant loss in sales, then they will sit up and take notice. We could also make a list of the products that are advertised on certain news stations, call these companies and inform them that we will no longer buy their products until the news media is allowed to give us the same information that the rest of the world is seeing. Did you know that there are TWO CNN reports? One is for us and one is for the rest of the world. The one for us is mostly pap. The one for the rest of the world actually shows the injured Iraqi people, including children, the injured and dead Americans, the fact that there is only ONE school in Afganistan where girls are allowed to go to and that the women in the rest of this “freed country” are still wearing full, head to toe covering. I think it’s about time that we were given the same news that is available to the rest of the world and the only way to do this is by hitting the corportations that own the news media right square in their collective pocketbooks.

  5. Until the United States’ terrorists and assassins are stopped in their
    tracks, the world cannot rest. Human beings are presently tortured,
    imprisoned and murdered by the fbi and the cia worldwide for no cause;
    this will not stop until the global population demands the surrender of
    the homicidal sociopaths who dominate U.S. political and economic
    policies. The concept that if the U.S. is let alone (or with its
    puppet allies) to be armed with nuclear weaponry in order to allow the
    rest of the world to live in peace is total lunacy. The United States
    used the nuclear bomb, threatens to use it again, and will in fact use
    it again to attack any nation which remotely threatens the U.S.
    stranglehold on the world.
    Under the best of scenarios (as viewed from the perspective of non
    conforming-belligerent nations), however, the world cannot defeat the
    U.S. war machine. Any attempt to prepare to do so will be met with
    total destruction of the aggressor. Even today the U.S. has another
    weapon (other than conventional) which can theoretically wipe out,
    instantaneously, any cache or bank of unfriendly technologies which may
    pose a threat to the U.S. or its allies: the laser beam fixed in
    positon in outer space can accomplish this little task just fine (see
    world in a box at http://www.sosbeevfbi.com).
    The real issue , I think, is how
    to stop all weaponry on earth from being used and at the same time to
    afford all human beings alive some hope for peace and stability
    everywhere and for all time. The formation of a one world , one people
    Humane global government must be studied and proposed. The tyrants of
    any given country cannot be entrusted with Human Rights and Individual
    Freedom issues ever again. This means that the people of the world, not
    their respective governments, must embark on mankind’s most ambitious
    odyssey: the journey toward permanent peace and harmony on earth and
    the uncompromising realization of Human Rights for all. This can be
    done; such a goal is not simply a dream. What appears as an
    unattainable dream is that the United States or any other government
    on earth will someday stop killing and torturing people and allow them
    to live in peace , mutual respect and love.
    Whereas the present government of the United States (feigning
    leadership) openly and without the slightest pretense of respect for
    human life and in complete disregard for universally accepted standards
    for basic human rights, engages under color of its national flag in
    murder, torture, imprisonment and terrorist practices against the
    THIS COUNTRY (THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) and as such deserves not a
    respectable place among the family of nations and more significantly
    merits nil when the final account of Humanitarian efforts be tabulated
    by all that is holy and graceful in the universe.
    We the people of the world hereby prevent the fbi, the cia, the
    militia, or any other government agency (or person) of the United
    States (or any other country) from dictating the terms of our surrender
    unto their authority, custom, culture, power now and for all times; in
    furtherance of this recognition, the world’s population forthwith seeks
    to expose such dictatorial intent (and the techniques employed in
    support of same) by public investigation which serves on a continuing
    basis to protect and to defend the people of the world (now and in the
    future) from any form of inhumane governance. EVERY MAN/WOMAN.
    As people discover the immoral, cowardly and macabre character of the
    agents, operatives, handlers and associates of the fbi/cia (as manifest
    globally in the killing/torture techniques used by these sociopathic
    assassins to insure compliance to new world order dictates) we may not
    reasonably expect a merciful redress from foreign and domestic freedom
    fighters forced from desperation to employ against US equally
    aggressive and abhorrent stratagems. Geral Sosbee Some of the torture
    tactics used by the fbi and the cia require analysis and discussion.
    Among other websites see…. http://www.sosbeevfbi.com
    http://www.deepblacklies.co.uk/remote_behavioral_techology.htm The
    failure of the global academic community to engage the topics included
    in the above listed sites reflects the decadent mentality of those who
    pompously and pretentiously presume to carry the banner of
    enlightenment for our civilization. Any questions ? geral sosbee

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