Skewed perspectives

The right wing blogs seem to be fixated on the Nick Berg story, and how little attention it’s receiving compared to the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal. One giggle-inducing post I read goes so far as to claim that the blogs broke the story and are keeping it alive, in steadfast defiance of the mainstream media and their obvious detemination to sweep it all under the rug. Well, let’s see. I first heard about the story when I checked in to Yahoo news and saw it posted there, shortly after it was filed. I learned more about it in above-the-fold, front page stories in the New York Times; on the evening news, where it led the newscast a couple of nights in a row; and on cable news, where it was discussed ad infinitum. If blogs had a role in breaking the news, I’m a little vague on what it might have been. (Note to interested parties: linking to a story someone else has reported and filed does not constitute “breaking” that story.)

As for keeping it alive while the mainstream media steadfastly ignore it — well, go back and re-read that first paragraph. Look, I’ll try to go slow here for the benefit of the easily confused: the prison abuse story still has huge unanswered questions. Is this standard operating procedure throughout the “secret” prison system? What the hell are Americans doing running a secret prison system anyway? Who in the chain of command knew this was going on? Where does the CIA fit in? How about the “private contractors”? Asking these questions is the way an open society maintains its checks and balances. People who don’t understand that would have happily overlooked Watergate, My Lai, you name it.

The Nick Berg story, on the other hand — a terrible thing happened, it led the news for several days — there’s not much more to say (unless you want to delve into the contradictory accounts of Berg’s detention by U.S. forces, but somehow I suspect that’s not the angle that interests the warbloggers). This was a terrible, terrible event. Anyone in this country who pays the slightest attention to the news has heard about this story, and is appalled and disgusted by it. What more is there to say? I am hardly an apologist for the mainstream news media, as anyone with the most passing familiarity with my work is well aware, but it’s just not their job to open every newscast chanting “four legs good, two legs bad” over and over again.

To summarize: the prisoner abuse story continues to dominate the news because it is an ongoing story with many unanswered questions about the actions of our military and our government — questions of direct relevance to our democratic system. And information keeps dribbling out. Congress is given access to unreleased photos, and various politicians hold press conferences — news is generated. Trials are about to commence, the defendants and their attorneys give contradictory statements to the media — more news. See how that works? The Nick Berg story, by contrast, has been covered thoroughly, and we’re all horrified by it — but there’s just not much more there for the media to report at this point.

(…Frankly, it occurs to me that I saw a lot of footage this week of reporters standing outside the shuttered home of Berg’s parents, speculating as to whether or not funeral services had been held yet, discussing the parents’ criticism of the US role in their son’s death, and any other angle they could come up with, doing their absolute damndest to milk the story for all it’s worth. I don’t know in what parallel universe it was “ignored”, but here on planet Earth it got plenty of attention. And if some new information or new angle on the story comes to light, you can rest assured that it will get plenty more.)

…in case the preceeding is still too complicated for the comprehension-impaired, Mark Kleiman explains it…very…slowly…