• In the US, legendary network news of record, CBS, explores outsourcing newsgathering to CNN. This is the broadcast equivalent of The New York Times subcontracting its Op-Ed page to the Fifth Grade debate team in Mrs. Gilbert’s English class. Edward R. Murrow’s ghost is aghast.
• In France, the midday half hour France Inter radio news devoted 29.99 minutes to breathless coverage of the Olympic Torch being assaulted by Tibetan and human rights protesters in the street of Paris. It was a team effort to broadcast this political theatre, but the laurels went to a sports announcer dragooned for this “news” event, and his segment of the coverage sounded more like the narration of a photo-finish horse race than a news report.
• In the US, two live TV days were devoted to coverage of the testimony of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, testifying that the US was (a) staying the course; (b) returning on success; (c) accomplishing its mission; or (d) none/all of the above. Their non-news was pre-empted two days later by President Bush announcing that his successor would have to deal with the entire Iraq mess.
• Meanwhile, in France, with everyone properly transfixed by the Olympic torch, Parliament debated the deployment of an additional contingent of French troops to Afghanistan. In any case, the debate was just for form; President Sarkozy was sending the troops, no matter what.
• Also in France, there was a mini-scandal over what a junior minister said about her boss the minister, accusing the Minister of Environment of “cowardice” for his handling of a bill dealing with GMO crops. For days, it was nearly impossible for the normally sentient French citizen to find out exactly what was in the bill; what appeared to be important was the controversy, not the underlying facts.
It’s dog-bites-man banal to state that the media often has its priorities totally cockeyed. Well of course. The Mainstream Media is often accused in the alternative blogosphere of toeing the Bush Administration (or Sarkozy government, or whoever) line. That may be true in many instances. Bread, circuses, and Olympic torches have been around for a few millennia, and the public’s ability to be distracted by moving images and bright colors, as opposed to dull text and important facts, has only increased with time.
Meanwhile, speaking of bread, you can’t have been awake without having heard that several countries, including Egypt, Haiti, and Senegal, have had riots over the skyrocketing price of basic foodstuffs. By “basic,” I’m talking bread. Wheat flour. Rice. Corn. Corn – you mean that great “green” raw material for “bio”-ethanol? Even the American head of the World Bank, former Bush Administration official Robert Zoellick (photo, courtesy World Bank), said this week that government subsidies to “burn” food crops for fuel are a recipe for disaster. The one “silver lining” story out of this was outlined on French TV and radio by French Ambassador to Senegal Jean-Christophe Rufin (like his boss the Foreign Minister, a doctor, and formerly of Action Against Hunger, an NGO). Rufin said that subsidized exports from the US and Europe had displaced locally grown crops in many developing countries, but that the current inflation in world food prices will encourage importing countries to again grow their own crops. The problem is that this will take years.
I have a suggestion for the financial luminaries meeting in Washington this weekend. End, immediately, subsidies for crops used in ethanol. Overnight – well, quickly anyway – the corn and other grains destined for distillation into fuel for Humvees could be added to the declining world food reserves. Ethanol prices might go up and the fuel become scarcer, but which is more important: rioting throughout the world and the specter of starvation, or feeding the West’s (read American) appetite for consience-cleansing “green” fuel?
It was a hell of a week for the news. But you might have been mesmerized by a little flame...