Monday, October 08, 2007

Where is the “where is the outrage?”

I was mildly heartened this weekend to hear NPR’s On the Media lead with a Bob Garfield story about the shocking lack of shock at the revelation that, as the New York Times summed up its own reporting:

President Bush and his aides have not only condoned torture and abuse at secret prisons, but they have conducted a systematic campaign to mislead Congress, the American people and the world about those policies.

When I read in the Times on Thursday that the Bush White House and Justice Department had conspired to circumvent several laws—domestic and international—and provide their henchmen with the legal cover to perpetuate pointless and barbaric interrogation techniques, torture, I expected the exposé to be the lead story on every network news program that evening.

It was not.

I was not able to watch every broadcast, so I did not remark on it last week, but the Garfield piece filled in some of the missing parts and confirmed what I had only partially witnessed. The NBC nightly news with Brian Williams led with more of the “will he or won’t he” about the toe-tapping Senator from Idaho, Larry “Wide Stance” Craig; the revelation of the administration’s secret torture memos was the second story.

That was the highlight. As Garfield observed, neither ABC’s Charles Gibson nor CBS’s Katie Couric had word one to say about the new news that the Bush administration had worked out in secret a way to keep kidnapping and torturing. I watched with amazement as The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer could not find room in its newsie hour to examine the story (the program did pick up on it on Friday). And, needless to say, I was not surprised to discover that ABC’s Nightline thought it more newsworthy to run with two pre-taped pieces: one, a heartwarming tale of a young girl’s struggle with heart disease, the other, a giant infomercial for a New Jersey wine superstore.

Local newscasts paid the torture memos no mind, either.

With that deafening silence, I was surprised to read in the Times the following day that their story had caused an uproar. Maybe it had over cocktails in a bevy of Beltway watering holes, but it couldn’t be heard above the last slurps of a super-big-gulp across America’s broad media landscape.

That yet another horrific betrayal of all that we hold dear as a country by a band of greedy, cynical cowards didn’t cause an instant and intense shockwave to shake every branch of the establishment media isn’t, at this point, almost seven years in to the G. W. Bush Administration, really such a wild surprise, as much as I might want it to be. Rather, and sadly, at this place in history, I am surprised by the seeming lack of surprise.

Back in 2003 and 2004, when we first learned about “extraordinary rendition” and saw photographic evidence of the Bush torture regime in action, I was indeed shocked that such revelations didn’t cause the entire house of grimy, marked cards to topple. When it did not, when these revelations seemed to come and go without much more than a few weeks of elaborate lip-service from Congress and the establishment media, then, at that point, I did shout “Where is the outrage?”

Today, after so many more stories about so many more atrocities committed in our name with our tax dollars, I have stopped mouthing that simple plea. I understand all too well, as Alan Ginsberg did 50 years ago, that “Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.” And, I understand that a scant handful of corporations with a vested interest in currying favor with the powers that be control what, for better or more likely worse, critics on many sides have come to call the “mainstream media.”

That this mainstream media has little in common with mainstream thought is a bugaboo for another post, but that the occasional burst of solid professional journalism is now met with a cynical and all too collective “quelle surprise” is still news to me. And that we have come to expect not only the mis-, mal-, and nonfeasance of this presidency, but the lack of interest by the media and its consumers is sad news indeed.

So, it was a small consolation to find at least one veteran journalist who was, like me, outraged by the lack of outrage. That this tiny prize buoyed my spirits even a little is perhaps the most outrageously sad revelation of all.

(cross-posted to The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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