Jewish World Review Feb. 17, 2004 / 25 Shevat, 5764

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All the news that's fit | We have become a nation obsessed with gossip and entertainment disguised as news. Otherwise intelligent, thoughtful adults can, without hesitation, tell you the color of Janet Jackson's tear-away bustier, cite the carat weight of the penitential diamond ring Kobe Bryant gave his wife, and describe the legal history of the Michael Jackson accuser's family. Janet Jackson's breast exposure received three times as many Internet searches as the 2000 election and 25 times as many as the Mars rover, according to the search engine Lycos. It was also the most replayed moment ever on TiVo.

"It's when something unusual happens that we start wanting to talk about it among ourselves," says Mitchell Stephens, professor of journalism at New York University and author of A History of News. "There were a lot of people who performed at the Super Bowl halftime show who more or less kept their clothes on. One person didn't. That was unusual. That was bizarre. [So] it became news."

According to L. Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, "News media is becoming more and more indistinguishable from tabloid outlets like the National Enquirer." Circulation of the National Enquirer, in fact, far outpaces that of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. Is it any wonder that many major news programs and organizations have blurred the lines between entertainment and important news events?

We Americans not only crave the unusual, we crave gossip. And we have long preferred the sensational to the substantive. But I can think of few times in recent history in which important subjects have received so little attention.

While many news organizations continue to focus on gossiptainment, they are all but ignoring such serious issues as our out-of-control national deficit, the depths of our government's unfunded and underfunded liabilities, which add up to tens of trillions of dollars, and the exporting of hundreds of thousands of American jobs to cheap overseas labor markets. Not to mention what is no less than an immigration crisis.

Just last week the Washington Times reported that al Qaeda is training hundreds of Islamic extremists in Kashmir and Pakistan and sending them to "sleeper cells" in the United States and that dozens of Islamic radicals have already been funneled through Europe to Muslim communities in America.

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Pop culture. Our society has reached a point at which none of us would be surprised if the average individual is more likely to know the name of Michael Jackson's defense attorney than that of President Bush's defense secretary. Even the war on terrorism has lately met with flagging interest on the part of the media. On the day that Jackson surrendered in California, there were two terrorist bombings in Turkey, protests in Miami over the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and a coalition-building trip to London by President Bush. Yet the event that dominated the news that day was the pop star's legal battle. Michael Jackson's legal fate has little to no bearing on most Americans' safety, their pocketbooks, or their children's future.

Stephens contends that if journalists did a better of job of covering the more serious issues, there would be more interest in them. "I think there are ways of making those stories more interesting," Stephens says. "Some of our best journalists are doing that now."

In a ratings- and circulation-driven industry, the news media are all too tempted to pursue the "sexy" stories at the expense of the profound and even critical news. As Bozell says, "The more you pander to the lowest common denominator, the more you drop that lowest common denominator. And the more that that descent continues, at a certain point, it's incumbent upon society to ask itself if this is how serious it really wants to be." And, Bozell contends, "it begins with news-gathering organizations getting back into news."

The news media, as an industry, can't afford to be dull. Nor can we afford to be irresponsible. It's time to balance the budget.

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Lou Dobbs is the anchor and managing editor of CNN's "Lou Dobbs Moneyline." Comment by clicking here.

02/04/04: American jobs must be protected
01/03/04: Dangerously dependent
01/27/04: Who's working for working Americans?
01/20/04: U.S. selling itself short with "free" trade
01/12/04: Bush on the wrong track with immigration idea
01/05/04: Business leaders should resolve to lead by example in 2004
12/29/03: Immigration needs stricter, not looser, controls
12/11/03: Trade deficit with China a big problem
12/09/03: Let our children be children
12/01/03: Broken borders pose a serious health risk
11/25/03: Free trade costs plenty
11/18/03: European Union is playing a dangerous game
11/10/03: This time, it's not the economy
11/04/03: Overseas outsourcing is an alarming trend
10/28/03: Spending so much time 'making a living', we don't live
10/21/03: As population soars, U.S. faces tough choices
10/14/03: Schools need to re-emphasize math and science
10/07/03: It's lonely at the top
09/30/03: Is America over-medicating?
09/23/03: Corporate execs need to stop selling out U.S. workers
09/16/03: The scandals just keep on coming
09/09/03: Let's get real on energy
09/02/03: Is free enterprise the answer to education woes?
08/26/03: Building the road to recovery
08/12/03: War on drugs is still a war worth fighting
08/06/03: An attack on progressive thought
07/29/03: Prosperity begins at home
07/22/03: Real earnings, or really creative earnings?
07/15/03: Flirting with disaster
07/08/03: It's good to be the king
07/01/03: Border disorder
06/24/03: Prairie dogs and mosquito bogs
06/17/03: Bullish on America
06/10/03: Retirement realities: we need new solutions — soon
06/03/03: Curing what ails us
05/27/03: America's export problem
05/21/03: Wall Street's new imperative: Integrity
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05/06/03: Optimism is unfashionable, but here's some anyway
04/29/03: Nuclear nightmare
04/22/03: Naysayers ignore signs of economic recovery
04/15/03: Game over--but for whom?
04/08/03: No more fool's games
03/31/03: United States must seriously review foreign economic and political relationships
03/24/03: Delusional Chirac may be a thorn in coalition's side, but new alliances are forming in response to 21st-Century threats without him and UN
03/18/03: Bush critics offer little more than hyperbole
03/11/03: Geopolitical visibility
03/04/03: Freedom: Our best export
02/27/03: Guns, butter and greasing the way
02/18/03: Looking for a silver lining
02/10/03: Space program remains a valuable investment
02/04/03: Hi pal, come back
01/28/03: Bush address a chance to bolster confidence
01/22/03: Here we go again!
01/14/03: Bush's bold bid
01/07/03: The only thing certain is uncertainty
12/30/02: No need to be so negative as new year approaches
12/23/02: NY's AG deserves credit for settlement
12/18/02: Critics of Bush nominees should tone down rhetoric
12/09/02: A lot rides on prez's Treasury pick
12/04/02: A fast fix for corporate credibility?
11/26/02: Urge to merge is hard to resist
11/19/02: Are we really so bad off?
11/12/02: Bush's lucky week bodes well for recovery
11/05/02: Wall Street firms treat investors as fools
10/29/02: Earnings estimates offer some hope
10/22/02: Economy's strength tied to national security
10/17/02: Harvey Pitt, get real!
10/08/02:Are we experiencing the fall before the rise?
10/01/02: Concerns about earnings are justified
09/24/02: Business leaders must abandon stall tactics
09/17/02: Wall Street's reality check
09/12/02: There's no better time for leaders to show resolve


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