Sifting the News: Throw out the Flour, Save the Lumps

By | November 12, 2015 | 0 Comments

When I was a child, I loved to watch when my mother was baking. I had little interest in the process, but great interest in the results. I recall her sifting the flour to remove the lumps. Of course, she discarded the lumps and used the sifted flour to prepare the smooth, lump-free dough.
This childhood image stayed with me. It helps me analyze what happens when TV and newspaper reporters tell us “the news.” Are the mainstream media giving us the whole story, or are they sifting the news? And if they sift it, are they giving us the flour or the lumps?
Years ago, TV news was rather boring. A reporter sat behind a desk and told us what happened that day. Sometimes there were film clips illustrating the events, but there were few video cameras and hence few “live” reports.
Local news included crime reports when the crimes were particularly noteworthy, but most crimes were unreported or listed only in small newspaper stories. There was no attempt to “spice up” the news with details of horrible crimes.
On the contrary, there was a tendency to downplay crime news so as not to alarm people. Until I became a medical student and rotated through the emergency department, I was unaware that my “peaceful” city of San Francisco was the scene of shootings, stabbings, and beatings galore. There’s nothing like a throat cut ear-to-ear or a close-range shotgun wound to the back to dispel one’s naiveté. Years later, when I see a violent scene in a movie, sometimes I think I can smell blood.
Local news was just that – local. We had to watch network news to see what happened elsewhere in the nation, including crimes and serious accidents. If a major event occurred, there usually was film. But there was little tendency to give details of tragedies or major crimes elsewhere in the nation, much less in other nations.
During the unpopular war in Korea, there were daily reports, but reporters saw themselves as Americans. They didn’t consider themselves neutral observers, whose job was to help us see things from the enemy’s point of view.
Our victories were emphasized, our defeats were downplayed, and our casualties were reported but rarely shown. Reporters seldom interviewed unhappy American soldiers, and it would never have occurred to them to interview an enemy official – and treat his statement as if it were as credible as the statements of our own officials.
In other words, our news was slightly sifted, and some of the lumps were removed. As a result, we were reasonably well informed, but not frightened or disheartened.
Then things changed. During Vietnam, the mainstream media turned against the war, and against Presidents Johnson and Nixon. From then on, our “news” has contained less flour and more lumps.
Now local TV news is colorful, in both good and bad senses of that word. Anchors are good-looking and represent various ethnic groups – but almost never represent the overweight, the homely, the elderly, or the disabled. News stories are very short. There is just enough time for a brief video clip of a smashed car, a bloody victim, or a weeping family.
Male reporters and anchors wear business suits and may have gray hair, just as they did in years past. But female reporters are almost all young and good looking. Unlike their predecessors, they wear sleeveless blouses, often low-cut, and look like they are dressed for a cocktail party, not for business. This is called “feminism.”
If an accident or a crime is particularly gruesome, there it is in “living color,” whether it happened locally or somewhere else in this nation of 321 million people. This makes us feel connected to our fellow Americans. But it also gives us the impression that violent crimes, terrible accidents, and natural disasters are happening all around us every day.
No wonder many people need tranquilizers to retain some semblance of calmness. No wonder many people believe the violent crime rate is higher than it ever was, and higher in America than in any other nation. No wonder President Obama declares that mass murders do not occur in other developed nations, and most people are so ill-informed that they do not realize his statement betrays either gross ignorance or a feeble notion of truthfulness.

● In fact, the U.S. homicide rate peaked in 1980 (under Jimmy Carter) and never again reached that level, though it came close in 1993 (under Bill Clinton).


● In fact, our homicide rate is about the same now as it was in the 1950s and early 1960s, a time that was considered so peaceful as to be boring.

● In fact, many nations in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa have higher homicide rates than the U.S.

● In fact, armed security officers and citizens often deter violent crime. A friend claims that the shooter first planned to attack Charleston College, but changed his mind when he discovered that it had armed security officers, and attacked the AME church instead. Might there be a lesson here?

But it is almost impossible for many people to believe these facts, even if you show them the data. How can they believe the figures, when they see awful violence on TV every night just before bedtime? Of course they are frightened. In some, this fear inspires calls for stricter laws, sometimes too strict. In others, the fear evokes feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
Both overreaction and apathy are harmful and inappropriate. In order to cope with reality, we first need to know what reality is – not some exaggerated and distorted version of reality, designed not to inform but to excite, to entertain, and to get higher ratings.
There is one exception to “If it bleeds, it leads.” There are at least 23 “honor” killings each year in America. But to discover this alarming fact, one can’t rely on the mainstream media, which go to great lengths not to appear “Islamophobic.” If political correctness and ratings conflict, p.c. usually wins. How revealing of the media mindset.
What is true in America is also true abroad. When Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, reporters and networks vied with one another for access. To get access, some made indecent efforts to please Saddam’s officials by covering up evidence of his government’s atrocities. This isn’t speculation – it has been admitted by CNN and by the former Baghdad bureau chief of the New York Times.
Yes, “our” news people acted like propagandists for Saddam. They minimized, or hid entirely, evidence of his rape rooms, torture of children in front of their parents, torture of athletes who failed to win competitions, and other choice tidbits. So when movie stars and congress members went to Baghdad and praised Saddam, they weren’t laughed out of town – people didn’t have the facts.
But after we invaded Iraq, these same networks, newspapers, and reporters told us how we were failing. American casualties were shown whenever possible. Their weeping families were interviewed. Disaffected soldiers aired their gripes in public. The negatives were covered up for our enemies, but emphasized for us. This is called “journalism.”
These “news” people said little when President Obama, against the advice of his generals, withdrew all U.S. troops from Iraq. But now that Fallujah, Ramadi, and other cities our troops purchased with their blood have fallen to ISIS, these same people either shrug their shoulders or blame George W. Bush.
How many of the 16 recent recipients of the Medal of Honor can you name? Can you name even one? Have you seen stories about them in newspapers or on TV? If not, what does this reveal about the mainstream media?
Misdeeds by a few troops at Abu Ghraib? On the front page of the New York Times for 32 consecutive days. But deeds of heroism and self-sacrifice? On an inner page, if they are mentioned at all. You want to see how a hero should be honored? Watch the last part of the video of Mark Donaldson being awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valor in the British Commonwealth, for his service in Afghanistan.
Have any of our recipients of the Medal of Honor been given such a tribute on network TV? No? Why not? What’s wrong with us that isn’t wrong with the Aussies?
In short, the “news” we get is sifted. When it suits the media – when a president of their party is in office – we get the flour with few of the lumps. But when “evil” Republicans can be blamed, we get every lump they can find, internationally and nationally, with little of the flour. And because ratings are the only priority, we get every lump they can find locally as well.
No wonder people believe that violent crime is at an all-time high, and that stringent new laws are needed. No wonder people think that Iraq was hopeless from the start, and that Obama was right to get out. No wonder people think that America is more violent than other nations, and needs to be “fundamentally transformed.”
No wonder the cake is chewy and indigestible. The good flour was thrown out, and all we got was the lumps.

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