Wednesday, July 6, 2011

the media loves drama, not the truth, truth doesn't sell

yesterday, a young mother acquitted of killing her 2-year-old daughter. the outrage on twitter amazing. the public, for the most part, wished her hanged. it must go back to the days of the guillotine. the convicted rumbling through the crowd on the back of a cart. catcalls from the audience. a sigh of wonder as the blade falls and the heads drop into the basket. as one twitteree wrote on the present acquittal: the only good thing the jury did to keep their own names hidden.

actually, this kept the story from ending as expected, a boon for the newspapers. endless razzmatazz follows. long ago, after reading the classic the image by daniel boorstin, former head of the library of congress, i couldn't even watch the evening news on national public television. boorstin right, 80% of what we call news "speculation"  about what might happen now. in other words it's all fortunetelling foisted on an unknowing public. and i have to say, professional experts from universities most often  wrong, while writers of books tend to be the most reliable. 

all this brings back childhood revelations. a movie called the big carnival (ace in the hole) which i watched in 1951 at age 11. a seedy newspaperman exploits the tragedy of a man trapped down a mine, creating a whirlwind media feast at the scene. the man dies, the reporter stabbed by the dead man's wife. - i'm a kid raised on film noir! - and a couple years earlier i remember listening breathlessly to radio accounts of a three year old girl trapped in a well. alas, she died too. the recent Chilean miners luckier and the news hopping up and down with delight. 

all this comes to mind reading the latest rolling stone account of the amanda knox trial in italy: what's so sad about it, it reads like a henry james novel. the young naive american girl goes to europe, expecting the best of everyone, and gets taken for a ride by a devious european lover and society. try wings of the dove, a moving story on this theme. in amanda's case a prosecutor raised on films like halloween 3 at first concocted a savage sex ritual, setting the tone for international coverage. unfortunately for her, the judges in italy like to keep on good terms with each other and it's "speculated" she'll get a reduced sentence like the actual murderer, rudy guede, of 16 years instead of 26.

every hot story should be labeled: THE RUSH TO JUDGEMENT. yes, drama triumphs over truth every time. we've got more than one war to show for it.